Friday, 23 October 2015

The Bloody Ploughman returns to Penkhull- actually it probably never left.

'People get used to me suddenly shouting stop the car! whenever I spot something,' I'm standing in the large and surprisingly modern kitchen of Penkhull village hall talking to Jayne Fayre, a quietly competent woman with an interest in 'feral foods.'

These, she tells me are the fruit and vegetable varieties that have fallen out of favour in the decades since the supermarkets persuaded us that all apples have to look like the sort of thing Snow White gets fed by the wicked witch in fairy stories. They still exist in hidden corners, on the edge of town in the places people rush past in their cars on the way to somewhere else.

Places, Jayne tells me, like Sideway on the edge of Stoke, between the council incinerator and the Britannia Stadium, where she recently discovered fifteen apple trees, each one a different variety, growing a few feet away from the busy A 500.

The thing that has brought us both to Penkhull on a chilly Monday evening is the rare apple discovered in an until recently secret location in the village.

It is, she tells me, the product of someone grafting together a Bloody Ploughman and a type of French crab apple first brought to these shores by the chef to Henry VIII. The tree had gone undiscovered, largely thanks to being shrouded with ivy, on a piece of land off Trent Valley Road belonging to Western Power Distribution that was home to a pig farm some one hundred and fifty years ago.

The tree is in remarkably good condition given its age, and the fact that at some stage in its history someone took a hefty chunk out of it with an axe, the crown needs to be dropped, Ms Fayre says and the ivy wants cutting back, but it could be good for another century and a half.

Last year apples from the tree were used to make cider for the village's new years wassail and there are plans to brew up another batch for 2016. It should be an interesting taste experience for the discerning drinker since the small, dark red and unevenly shaped apples have a flavour all of their own; sharp and yet also sweet.

Later that evening the residents association discuss how the Penkhull apple could be part of a 'tree strategy' for the village, it will certainly feature in the 'feral foods audit' for the city being prepared by Jayne Fayre in partnership with Keele university. There is talk of selling cuttings for people to plant in their gardens and using the produce to make cakes and more cider for thirsty morris dancers.

I don't doubt that this and more will happen, Penkhull is a 'go ahead' sort of place. A village that has staged its own pantomime almost every Christmas since the thirties, puts on a mystery play every summer and is home to a brass band and a ukulele orchestra.

What stuck in my mind and is still there days later as I write this is the phrase 'feral foods', or rather the idea behind the term.

We have access to a stable supply of food that would have been the envy of even our recent ancestors and yet we are astonishingly poorly fed. Open your newspaper on any given day of the week and you will be met by a parade of stories about children (and not a few adults besides) growing obese on a diet stuffed with salt, sugar and chemical additives.

You will also be reminded of the growing politicisation of food, in a country with pretensions to be seated near if not at the top table of world powers there are food banks in every town and teachers worry about their students coming to school hungry.

Somewhere along the line we have lost touch with the value of food, with what it should mean as a part of our culture. Television presents it as an element of the lifestyle porn by which we are so obsessed; the right wing media uses it as a stick to beat parents struggling to raise a family on the minimum wage because they haven't the money or time to cook from scratch.

Like those 'feral' apple trees the idea that food is something that nurtures the body and the soul by bringing people together has been overgrown by the strangling ivy of hypocrisy and prejudice.

The audit of 'feral foods' being carried out by Ms Fayre is, I'm glad to say, more than just an academic exercise. When we met on Monday night she told me that her real passion was for using growing and cooking food to help people on low incomes regain control of their loves and a sense of purpose.

Perhaps the 'Penkhull apple', that unlikely splicing of the Bloody Ploughman and the crab apple brought over by the cook to a king famous for his feasting could be part of that process. Reminding people that apples don't have to be perfectly red and round whilst tasting like wet cotton wool.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Greens take the no to TTIP message out onto the streets.

Members of North Staffs Green Party will be holding a street demo against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in Newcastle town centre this weekend,

TTIP is a trade agreement between the EU and the United States that has been largely negotiated in secret and could have a devastating impact on the public services, employment rights and the environment.

Trades unions, professional bodies and parliamentarians across Europe have expressed concerns about the impact of TTIP. In a speech made in 2014 Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said it represented 'huge threat to our hard fought for standards for the quality and safety of our food, the sources of our energy, worker's rights and our privacy.'

Green Party members taking part in the demonstration have expressed their own misgivings about TTIP:

Jade Taylor, who owns a graphic design business based in Newcastle said she was 'concerned' about the impact TTIP would have on animal welfare standards 'particularly the use of bleaching in the poultry industry.'

Sean Adam, a party member and former parliamentary candidate said he was concerned about the possibility of large corporations being able to take the UK government to court if it passes legislation that may harm their profits.

He said 'A large US corporation recently took the Canadian government to court and won on the basis of a treaty similar to TTIP, the British public need to realise the impact allowing this agreement to go through could have on our public services and the independence of our parliament.'

Campaigns Coordinator for North Staffs Green Party Adam Colclough said that the demonstration would be 'just the start of a concerted campaign against TTIP,' which he described as being a 'truly dangerous threat to the environment, worker's rights and democratic government across the continent.'

He went on to say the party would be keeping the momentum going by gathering signatures for a petition and asking public questions on related issues at full council meetings.

The demonstration will take place outside the Guildhall in Newcastle town centre from 10.30 am on Saturday 24th October.


Friday, 9 October 2015

TTIP represents a threat to the freedoms underpinning our democracy.

Green Party members in North Staffordshire are set to take part in a month of action in protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

TTIP is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States, the negotiations to set it up have been shrouded in secrecy with parliamentarians across the EU being given only limited information as to what it will entail.

Campaigners fear it may include provisions to allow large corporations to sue governments for bringing in legislation that hit their profits.

Speaking in 2014 Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said TTIP would 'blow apart the power of our democratic decision making,' she went on to say that it represented a 'huge threat to our hard fought for standards for the quality and safety of our food, the sources of our energy, worker's rights and our privacy.'

Green Party MEPs have also spoken out against TTIP, Jean Lambert said it was a 'myth' that the partnership would create more jobs and that there was no guarantee those it did create would pay a living wage.

Keith Taylor said the deal was 'favoured' by large corporations because it would 'slash regulations that protect our environment and health' and that it represented 'a serious threat to democracy in our country.'

Concern has also been expressed about the impact of TTIP by the Centre for Food Safety, the Royal College of Nursing and the European Students Union, with regard, respectively, to food safety, large American companies gaining access to the NHS and education funding.

Molly Scott Cato MEP, the Green Party spokesperson on financial issues said 'the proposal to protect corporate interests against the democratic interests of citizens must not be allowed to stand.'

She added that 'The Greens are totally opposed to TTIP, which threatens to undermine our ability to protect the high standards of environmental protection, employment rights and animal welfare we have come to take for granted.'

Adam Colclough, Campaigns Coordinator for North Staffs Green Party said that TTIP 'represents a serious threat to the fundamental freedoms that underpin our democracy; putting the profits of large corporations ahead of the interests of individuals and communities in a way that is potentially disastrous.'

He added that it was 'scandalous that the public and parliamentarians across Europe are being kept in the dark over what the agreement will contain, if it doesn't operate openly the democratic process does not work.

Green Party members are going to be taking part in a range of campaign activities over the coming month including holding a protest in a local town centre to raise public awareness about TTIP.

Adam Colclough said ' We want to make people aware of the impact TTIP could have on their lives and to coordinate local protest activity.'

He added that ' the rights guaranteeing our freedom are something we hold in trust for our children and grandchildren, we should not allow them to be diluted in the name of big business making a profit.'