Posted by: hencorner | February 26, 2015

Is your milk Fairtrade this Fortnight?

Milking cow‘Get off your horse and drink your milk.‘*
 *John Wayne
It must have been over ten years ago when we profiled Fairtrade Fortnight at our church with a breakfast feast of homemade breads to accompany the Fairtrade selection of jam, chocolate, coffee, tea, sugar, etc. It tasted good and we felt good.

Then a friend asked me if our milk was fair trade and my response was a confused ‘You can’t buy fair trade milk, can you?’ my friend encouraged me to look into it and this conversation was probably the spark that began the ethos that we now try to live by at Hen Corner.

Whilst it is a very good thing to be supporting farmers in developing countries as they try to earn a living wage and we benefit from food that we just can’t grow here, it’s really important to look into the issues that our own farmers face here in the UK as well. I’ve written about this before, but sadly, it’s being reported, again, that the supermarkets are demanding lower prices per litre and pushing many farmers out of business. Farmers Weekly expressed concerns last month that we could lose 1,000 British Dairy Farms in the next 12 months based on the current numbers of herds being sold at auction as farmers sadly throw the towel in. So why this problem? To explain it simply, most of us buy milk on a regular basis and supermarkets are determined to keep this staple purchase as low as possible enticing us into their stores to spend more of our hard-earned pennies on their other stock. Those of us are who are choosing to pay a little bit more for organic milk allow some farmers to care for their herds in the best possible way and the extra income often helps the business stay afloat.

Sugar SnapBritain is an island, we used to be able to produce food for ourselves from our own green land, OK it wasn’t great during the war and you had to be creative with your ration book, but if we continue to import food that we can produce here, simply to satisfy our love of strawberries at Christmas and asparagus for New Year, we become less self-sufficient and more reliant on other nations to feed our growing population. Remember the sugar snap peas from Kenya that perished in its areoplane due to the Icelandic Ash Cloud in 2010? If anything is easy to grow here in England, it’s peas and beans (see mine, left!) This great article by Rosie Boycott, written at the time, sums up similar concerns, but things don’t seem to be changing. A recent report revealed by the National Farmers Union states that, at current rates, just 53% of the nation’s food needs will be met by produce from UK farms in the next 25 years. This concerns me very much. Do we as consumers understand the risks for our future, it’s food provision and it’s financial independence? We have power in our pound, can put our money where our mouth is, and ensure that our children understand the decisions that we are making.

So how do we respond to this? Well for us as a family, we try to produce as much food as possible from home; this helps us understand and value the hard work that goes into farming, appreciate seasonal food and save up to £1,200 a year. Then we try to buy as much food as we can from British organic farmers, via Abel and Cole and choose Fairtrade products, where possible, when buying imported foods. To help you, our friends at Country Living Magazine have outlined the milk situation and are naming the supermarkets that cover the cost of milk production, let’s do what we can to reverse this trend.

Maybe it’s time to ask Andy, again, if we can have a milking goat here at Hen Corner?

FFF Skylar

Coming up at the Corner

If you’d like to visit us here in London, we have courses running right throughout the year.  Families, Feathers and Fun are the next sessions coming up, kindly promoted by Country Living Magazine, and we are planning sausage making, family pizza, pasta courses and many more over coming months. Would you like to be amongst the first to bake in our new kitchen?

Other News:

  • We took the family to Chatsworth during Half Term and loved the free range chickens in the farmyard – we’ve got our eye on a few new breeds to try hatching soon
  • Our weaker colony of bees seems to have grown stronger over recent weeks and I’ve made up 20 new frames for the Beehaus, ready for a spring cleaning ‘Shook Swarm’ next month
  • West London Mum published this lovely article about us in Local Spotlight

Jobs for this week:

  • Approach local schools offering to bring chickens into the classroom for Easter sessions
  • Dress the raised beds with compost for warmth and nutrition
  • Start chitting some potatoes, ready to plant next month

Have a good week yourself…Hen logo good

Join us on the Journey!

Posted by: hencorner | February 16, 2015

Take Two: Another Home Brew

“Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.”*

*Benjamin FranklinIMG_2271

Yesterday afternoon as I sprayed our fruit trees with a winter wash, as natural insect control, I looked at the forlorn bare branches and wondered what this season would hold for them. We have apples, pears, peaches and plums, figs, grapes, almonds, berries and currants; all capable of producing fantastic harvests if the weather is for them and the pests, including the naughty squirrels, are kind.

Since we’ve been producing our own food, I have been so much more aware of the weather and can look back and explain the fortunes of our harvests by the sun, rain and wind that they were blessed with.

2013 was the late summer, it didn’t really start until July, and many apple farmers experienced a famine due to the cold wet spring that significantly reduced the pollination rates. Our harvest was quite good that year as the bees only had a few metres to fly to reach our heritage trees and risked the raindrops for the rewards of nectar and pollen.

2014 was the warmest year on record with our bees swarming in April as though it were June, we had loads of apples but unfortunately they ripened and fell whilst we were on holiday in August leaving us with none for Cider Sunday in September. You know, I do think they should bring National Apple Day forward from 21st October, especially in our warmer cities!

Fortunately, our annual event went ahead with friends and family bringing contributions that we could crush and press but as we had nothing to bring to the party we sent the fermenting juice home with those who had brought in apples by the crate. As usual, we were left with bags of pulp which were destined to make Apple and Chilli Jelly, but on this occasion we decided to try our hand to a recipe for Apple Wine that would use the leftovers from the first home-brew to create another. We filled our largest drum with the apple leftovers topping it up with water to draw out the final juices and flavours, then after a week we strained the liquor and added chopped raisins, lemon juice, sugar, yeast and a cup of tea (for the tannin). This was left to ferment under an airlock for several months; in fact we didn’t get round to bottling it until after Christmas. But the result? My goodness, this stuff is great! Comparable to a fine dessert wine, it is rich and sweet and complements both cheeses and all kinds of delectable treats, it was wonderful to drink some, with pudding, as we celebrated Andy’s birthday this weekend with lunch in the conservatory warmed by the early spring sunshine. Will we make it again? Oh yes, two home brews from one stash of apples – absolutely!

FFF Skylar

Coming up at the Corner

If you’d like to visit us here in London, we have courses running right throughout the year with three places left on Saturday 28th February for Families, Feathers and Fun. March then welcomes the builders to create a fantastic new kitchen that will facilitate a wide range of sessions exploring artisan cooking skills and we are back outside with the chickens in April, kindly promoted by Country Living Magazine.

Other News:

Jobs for this week:

  • Prepare the full schedule for our building works; our new food courses will be starting as soon as it’s finished
  • Plan some Half Term fun for our family, hopefully checking out some other kitchen gardens!
  • Make up some more brood frames for our honey bees so that we can change them next month as a part of a swarm and disease management programme

Have a good week yourself…Hen logo good

Join us on the Journey!

Posted by: hencorner | February 9, 2015

London Calling…

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”*

*Samuel Johnson Buchanans

I received a Tweet recently that said that they loved all that we are doing, guessing we were tucked away in the countryside, then on realising that we were here in the city of London thought it all the more awesome! I guess that most of the stuff we tell you about is based on country skills and experience, so here’s a post dedicated to our beloved London.

On Wednesday, after a school governors meeting, food shop and emails I packed up some Honey and Piccalilli in a gift bag to take on a special visit to artisan cheesemonger Rhuaridh Buchanan who has a wonderful shop with on-site maturing rooms in Porchester Place, Westminster. We shared stories and a soft goats cheese and discussed how Buchanans could get involved in the local community, maybe by supporting schools and inviting students to come and discover more about their cheeses; how they are made, how they are cared for and most importantly how they taste. I think I discovered a hidden gem and certainly made Andy’s day when I arrived home with a goodie bag to share in front of the fire for supper. Thursday found me training a group of London school teachers in how to ‘Keep Chickens and Bees in School’ then the weekend brought a wonderful surprise; we discovered that we’d been named first in 10 of the Best Courses in London, with Claridges Masterclasses placed as number two. Once our new kitchen is installed, we will be offering a much wider range of food based courses refining our artisan cooking skills as well as our garden based chickens and bee keeping sessions.
Finally, today, after cooking twenty Full English Breakfasts at our local Winter Night Shelter, I baked a cake to share with Guerrilla Gardener and author Karen Liebreich. We had linked up on Twitter, as she is the brains and muscle behind Abundance London, but when chatting we discovered so many other connections it was surprising that we hadn’t met up before, ideas were buzzing and I’m sure that you’ll find us working on joint projects in the future.

FFF Skylar

Coming up at the Corner

If you’d like to visit us here in London, we have courses running right throughout the year with three places left on Saturday 28th February for Families, Feathers and Fun. March then welcomes the builders to create a fantastic new kitchen that will facilitate a wide range of sessions exploring artisan cooking skills and we are back outside with the chickens in April, kindly promoted by Country Living Magazine.

Other News:

  • We’ve been confirming our talks and cookery demonstrations for the Country Living Spring Fair next month
  • After checking the bees – one colony looks stronger than ever, but one seems weak and vulnerable – I hope they make it through…
  • The Horniman Museum have asked to bring our hens along to a Chirpy Chickens event – come and say hello in the Easter holidays!

Jobs for this week:

  • Meet the other Bee Keepers at Kew Gardens and start planning for the season ahead
  • Give the fruit trees a nice Winter Wash to keep them in a tip-top condition
  • Gather the ideas from RAW Unlimited and plan the new website with our designer

Have a good week yourself…Hen logo good

Join us on the Journey!

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