1. The River Cottage Market Garden is coming to Hampton this year – what is it, and where did the idea come from, and what messages do you hope visitors will take from it??
The River Cottage Market Garden encapsulates the way we grow food for our kitchen and cookery school at River Cottage HQ in East Devon. It’s a celebration of the fun and satisfaction of growing your own veg and fruit. It’s also practical and accessible as we are trying to grow food successionally and at a reasonable scale so we can supply the kitchen. So, we use a no dig system where we grow a lot of our seedlings in our polytunnels then plant them straight out into our well-composted beds. We also grow as much as we can from our own saved seeds.
I hope people will be inspired to grow more food at home and realise that it can be done in a way that contributes significantly to your kitchen, without a massive amount of effort.
2. River Cottage was founded almost 20 years ago and sustainability has been close to your heart for a long time. How has your approach to living, eating, and growing sustainably changed over that time?
I think that what began as an adventure of learning and discovery has settled in to a way of life. At home we have a veg patch a bit smaller than the one at River Cottage but we are still growing a lot of our own food. We are also raising chickens, pigs and goats for eggs, meat and cheese. And I still find time to go foraging and fishing. I’ve tried to be less busy with “work” - i.e. teaching, writing and filming, so that we have more time together as a family. But we do spend a lot of that time gardening and looking after our little farm.
3. How are you making sure your garden at Hampton is sustainable?
We are working closely with RHS to make sure the plants for the garden are grown locally and organically, and that as many of them as possible are replanted elsewhere after the show. We are also planting up part of the garden for pollinator friendly flowers and perennials, and I’m excited that the garden will also feature one of Matt Somervilles “rocket hives” (visit @beekindhives) which are now part of our natural approach to bee-keeping at River Cottage.
4. What are the most important steps gardeners can take towards sustainability and lowering their carbon footprint?
Obviously growing from seed is better than buying veg seedlings from a garden centre. Having said that, growing any veg is more sustainable than buying imported veg, and buying veg that’s already growing is a great way in for novices veg growers. And so it’s been good to see at my local independent garden shop that many of the veg seedlings are grown by them on site, and even potted fruit trees and shrubs carry labels saying "grown in the South West.” I would also encourage people to make their own compost, as it’s such a valuable asset when you are growing veg. And if you are buying it, make sure it’s peat free and ideally organic.
5. Do you think that growing your own food can have a tangible impact on people’s health?
There are numerous studies that show gardening is good for your health, both physical and mental, and that’s as you’d expect from the moderate exercise and being outside in nature. But I’m also convinced that growing your own veg and fruit takes these benefits to another level, as long as you make a commitment to cook and eat what you grow! Vegetables and fruit can’t get healthier than the ones you grow at home without pesticides. There’s also a huge amount of pride and satisfaction involved that is a real boost to people’s resilience and self-esteem.
6. If you could change one thing about the way we grow and consume food in the UK, what would it be?
I would put a veg garden in every school and make lessons in what healthy food is, and how you grow and cook it, part of the national curriculum.