Plumbles and crumbles: a case study of the power of social media in helping a community food initiative

I’m a member of Transition Chichester, part of a network of local environment groups addressing the challenges we will all face because of peak oil.  An element of this is looking at how we can increase the availability of local food and take full advantage of sources that already exist.  One idea is to set up a local Abundance project to gather and make use of surplus fruit.

Back in March I came across these messages on Twitter from someone calling themselves @CrisisCrumble :
Crisis Crumble is now on Twitter! Watch our plans unfold to create a bumper harvest for the homeless of West Sussex! #homeless #chichester
Spread the word: This autumn we will accept apples, pears and berries to make Crumbles for those in Crisis #homeless #chichester
Too many apples on your tree? Donate them to us and we’ll make crumbles for those in crisis. Hence the name. Sign up #Chichester #homeless
Do you have an apple tree? Do you find yourself with an abundance of fruit come autumn? Donate them to us and we’ll put them to good use!

As well as tweeting as @DMinTransition I tweet as @TransitionChi on behalf of Transition Chichester.  I tried to make contact with Crisis Crumble – clearly there was someone of like mind in the area and we didn’t want our Abundance project to duplicate or be at cross purposes with them.  Unfortunately they didn’t respond.

 In mid April @TransitionChi tried again:
@CrisisCrumble Who are you? #Transition #Chichester are hoping to set up an Abundance Project to deal with gluts of fruit.
And on 9th May they responded:
You’re 100% right. Abundance was a direct influence. We’re a small bunch who hate waste. 100% not-for-profit. 100% volunteers

During May things really took off!~
When @StonepillowChi, a local shelter for homeless and vulnerable individuals, put out an appeal for help with a street collection at the end of the month, Crisis Crumble answered the call.  Stonepillow also asked “You work with apples, have you considered vegetables, bakes etc? we have lots donated to us.”  Understandably Crisis Crumble replied “Great idea, but one simple crumble step at a time.”

  • They also got in touch with @AndysFish – a local fish & chip shop run by the son of the proprietor of another fish & chip shop, @lafish_chi , a prominent supporter of Stonepillow among other good causes.
  • The Crisis Crumble website went live! – created by @iaingriffin of Wizz Kidd
  • @trimmtrabdeano, a local friend of Crisis Crumble, also lent his virtual support.
  • Crisis Crumble tweeted “Looking for the simplest apple crumble recipe going. It’ll feature on the website.”
  • CrisisCrumble’s Matt and Bec met TransitionChichester (represented by @DMinTransition and @passion4planet ). They kindly tweeted “Great to meet up with @TransitionChi on Tuesday – an inspirational bunch. We shared some ideas and learnt about each others’ plans.”
  • Crisis Crumble’s Deliciously Simple Apple Crumble recipe was posted on their website
  • @AndysFish donated 10kg flour, 10kg sugar, and 5 kg butter!
  • Local cake maker extraordinaire (just one of her many talents too numerous to list here!) @FlourVonSponge offered to help make crumbles
  • Crisis Crumble found time to shake buckets for @StonepillowChi in Chichester town centre

Progress in June:

  • By the middle of the month there was a possibility that Crisis Crumble might have the use of a professional kitchen to cook the crumbles!
  • A week later the first fruit donation was announced, from Marjory “Granny” Kell – surplus rhubarb, raspberries and plums. Crisis Crumble were ready to start crumbling – in the nicest possible way!
  • @RedRasbery (Sonia Rasbery, local veg growing expert and friend of Transition) offered the produce of her huge old cooking apple tree in her back garden. “Always have more apples than we use. How do I donate when ready?”
  • @VCACD (Voluntary and Community Action Chichester District tweeted “This is a brilliant initiative! will keep an eye open for apples in the park!”
  • 20th June “This is a big day for CC – our first crumbles will be assembled tomorrow and hopefully out to crisis shelters the day after that…”
  • Next day “This batch are Rhubarb and Plum Crumbles or as Mrs Crumble calls them Rhubarb Plumbles!”
  • AndysFish “Can we buy them and the money go to charity or is it a case of feeding the homeless?” Crisis Crumble replied “The original idea was give them to crisis shelters to feed the homeless. But let’s see what happens in the future, great idea tho”
  • Crisis Crumble: A massive donation of sugar has just been dropped off by the lovely people at mudfoods.com Their savoury pies are to die for! [I can vouch for that – I buy them from Chichester Farmers Market!]
  • 22nd June “First donation delivered! Thanks all involved. And we seem to have developed a nickname The Crumble People.”
  • Next day: Stonepillow said “our sleepers last night enjoyed your crumbles!! A big Thank you & to @AndysFish for supplying the ingredients to help!!!”
  • AndysFish “just spoke to my fruit and veg supplier and asked if he had any apples to be thrown. THE MAN FROM DELMONTE HE SAY YES” “Mr Terry Pasquale on the Bognor Road you’re a good man and today’s hero “
  • @lafish_chi: Good to see the chip shops in #Chichester helping charitable causes @AndysFish
  • “The CC kitchen has been a hive of activity. We’ve so far produced 48 crumbles for one shelter and will deliver apples to others”
  • @AndysFish asked do you have a big car? I just collected 6 large boxes of apples. Around 40kg’s of the blighters.  A plea went out to Transition Chichester members and others, for help making crumbles or prepping this huge quantity of apples and among others @KateLassetter, local ace copywriter, social media expert, and fan of all things creative,  offered her mum’s services: “ I’m sure mum could do some, she’s a master crumbler.” @TuppennyBarn , local organic smallholders, offered their surplus blackcurrants when ready.
  • Stonepillow tweeted “Thank you for your kind donations of apples & crumbles. They’re going down a storm!!”

Crisis Crumble found time to post about their burst of activity:

  • “Lastly on the run 14 crumbles and a tray of red apples to one of our favourite schemes. Thanks to Mrs Crumble and of course @AndysFish
  • A fabulous local hospice has received tray of shiny red apples with which they’re going to make crumbles
  • Big box of apples given to a Chichester church for their homeless Sunday lunch. Quote “No one ever gives us food donations” Share the wealth
  • 48 apples crumbles delivered to a homeless shelter in Portsmouth. Bemused was their first reaction, thankful their second.
  • @DMinTransition deserves a massive #ff for the support from day one of Crisis Crumble. Ideas, inspiration and great networking. Thank you.  [Not quite from day one, but I was glad to help and touched to be thanked at such a busy time for them!]   I replied with “Thank you so much! Well done to both of you for putting your inspiration into practice.”

In the middle of the last week of June, I emailed Matt and Bec to ask if they still needed help with the prepping.  They replied:

Hi Diana, it all went well thanks. Because they were all due their use by date we had to get rid of them quickly.
In the end we made 48 crumbles for Two Saint Mill House homeless shelter in Portsmouth, we gave a tray of apples to St Wilfrid’s Hospice, a tray to St Pancras Church for their Sunday lunch for the homeless, 12 crumbles and two trays to St Josephs in Chichester.
All in all a result.
Have had a few emails of support from transition people and an offer of blackberries which we may take up.

A major lesson from this is that we all know of fruit going to waste and now we know how they can be put to good use.   This has all happened before Crisis Crumble expected to get started in autumn.  The arrival in the last few years of social media has helped this sort of initiative grow and thrive, encouraging the use of lateral thinking and putting people in touch.  I’m sure this could be replicated across the country.

Posted in Abundance project, Cookery, Environment, Gardening, Green living, Local food news, Transition Chichester, Vegetables | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

It IS easy being green!

Kermit the frog has a lot to answer for.  The title of his song about being a frog (“It’s not easy being green”) has been taken up by green “sceptics” who think it’s too much effort to adopt green habits, or that if you aren’t prepared to dedicate your whole life to environmentalism it’s not worth bothering at all.

In my opinion there are all sorts of things we can do that will make a difference, and it doesn’t matter if we can’t or won’t do everything.  I’m not going to repeat all the energy saving / recycling / composting tips here – we all know what they are or we can find out easily.  All I’m saying is do what you can, do it now, and stop complaining!

Posted in Environment, Green living, Transition Chichester | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

An inspiring talk by Joy Larkcom at West Dean Gardens

At the end of February I attended an inspiring talk by Joy Larkcom at West Dean Gardens near Chichester.  Joy is the widely acknowledged guru of salad and oriental vegetable gardening and the huge range of salad leaves available nowadays, and the popularity of the cut-and-come again technique of salad growing, is due in large part to her efforts.
60 people from the area and beyond gathered to hear her speak, to watch a cookery demonstration by local food writer Rosemary Moon, eat lunch, and hear a Q&A succession with Joy, Rosemary and the West Dean garden supervisor, Sarah Wain.

Joy explained how she, her husband, and two small children toured Europe in the 1970s with a caravan, investigating salads and vegetables that were unheard of in the UK at that time.  She studied old techniques and old varieties, sending back to the HDRA (now Garden Organic) and the National Vegetable Research Station (now Warwick HRI) at Wellesbourne.  She found all sorts of varieties that we take for granted today: red chicory, curly endive, lamb’s lettuce, lollo rosso ….  Her practice of bringing back seeds has continued throughout her life, with visits to the USA, Australia, China, and elsewhere, as has her experimentation with how to grow them first in Suffolk and then more recently in West Cork, Ireland.  It took some time to persuade the seed companies to stock her discoveries, the oriental vegetables more so than salads.  Eventually Chiltern Seeds produced a catalogue with oriental vegetables that they had never actually grown themselves.

Joy’s talk was full of practical advice and here are some of the key points:

  • if starting a new vegetable patch, start composting from day one; even partially rotted compost will benefit your crops
  • grow according to your needs and interests – do you want to grow basics for the family or concentrate on gourmet crops?
  • shelter from even light winds increases yields by 30%. A windbreak needs to be 50% permeable rather than solid
  • succession sowing of crops such as radishes prevents you from being overwhelmed by things you can’t eat all at once
  • the point of a piece of broken glass is ideal for sowing tiny seeds sparingly!
  • many leafy salads and vegetables are best grown in late summer to prevent bolting
  • many leafy salads and vegetables are hardy, such as mibuna, mizuna, and pak choi
  • pak choi and otheers can be eaten at every stage – as seedlings, mature plants and sometimes the flowering shoots
  • sowing in modules  (widely used at West Dean) protects the seedlings against weather, slugs, and transplantation shock
  • potager designs make the vegetable garden prettier – beds don’t have to be rectangular. Planting in groups with equal spacing is better than rows for keeping down weeds

Joy then went on to show us some excellent slides from her travels and her own gardens, including the wind breaks she created which were very much needed for her garden on the West Cork coast.

Now it was time for Rosemary’s cookery demonstration of rhubarb crumble with aduki beans, stirfry using blanched redbor kale, onion, walnuts, chickpeas, and chilli jelly, and a salad of tomatoes, oranges, chicory and olive oil. Her demo style is great as she talks very easily while preparing everything.

Lunch was some excellent local ham and cheese with Rosemary’s salads, followed by the crumble with Caroline’s Dairy sea buckthorn ice cream (tastes of passionfruit!), accompanied by lashings of ginger beer and lemonade.

Finally to the Q&A, in which Joy and Sarah answered a wide range of interesting questions.

So thanks to Joy for a fascinating day, and thanks to Rosemary for introducing me to another of my food heroes (she brought Katie Stewart to speak to Transition Chichester a couple of years ago).  This was a truly memorable event.

Posted in Cookery, Gardening, Salads, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My experiences at Silver Academy

In the run-up to being made redundant last September I started to consider self-employment.  One recommended area to look at was Business Link, a government-run advisory service, sadly now due to be largely abolished under the cuts.  I was intrigued enough by a banner ad on its site to investigate Silver Academy, a series of seven monthly seminars in Guildford for the over-50s considering self-employment or already taking the first steps.  It is run by the University of Surrey but funded by the EU. 

I was fortunate to be selected to be one of the 100 delegates from all over the South-East of England; less fortunate to have to miss the first meeting.  I travelled up from Chichester to the second event in late November, the first day of the massive snow falls, and was immediately impressed by the buzz in the room.  The format of this and subsequent days was a series of talks interspersed with exercises such as a sort of “speed networking” and a Virtual Boardroom where someone on each table poses a challenge they are facing and the others ask questions and suggest some solutions or alternative approaches.  Many extra events were soon organised such as a workshop on the nuts and bolts of self-employment (not really covered in Silver Academy which has more of a focus on business ideas, motivation, networking, and mentoring), a Sales Club for the many of us not used to selling ourselves (thanks to Richard White, the Accidental Salesman®!), and a series of workshops on the use of the web and of social media.  Most of use take the attitude that we should seize as many of these opportunities as we can, subject to our busy lives elsewhere!  We also actively use our group on LinkedIn to share ideas and generally enhance our networking.

From the beginning I have been greatly inspired by the speakers and my fellow delegates.  The January meeting encouraged me to make my first steps in finding new business, with positive results – I will post the news when this is converted to some definite work!  So many fresh ideas have been raised, new connections forged, and confidence boosted as to what we can do.  We have met people we would never otherwise have encountered, from many walks of life.  I know most of us will carry forward these new connections and friendships into our future careers.

Posted in Over-50s, Self-employment, Silver Academy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Careless talk on a train, and how I spoke out.

Yesterday I overheard a conversation featuring an outrageous comment, which I eventually decided I could not let go even though I don’t normally speak out.  I was on the train to Guildford to attend an informal meeting of the Silver Academy (more of that in a future post).  At Haslemere, the last stop before my destination, a woman and two men boarded and took the seats in front of me.  The carriage was supposedly a Quiet Zone but their conversation was very loud and it soon transpired that they were property developers, or similar.  Now my husband is a local authority planner and it’s fair to say developers and planners are not natural friends, so my ears pricked up when the woman referred to the numerous job cuts pending in a nearby local authority, and then said “I wonder if Michael Bloggs [obviously not his real name!] will lose his job?   Julia would be delighted!”  Now Mike is a colleague of my husband and it really made me angry to hear someone talk so offensively about someone’s livelihood, so when I got up to leave the train I said to the woman “Were you talking about Mike Bloggs?  Well, he’s a friend of mine and I hope he doesn’t lose his job!”  In response I got an insincere smile and an “I’m so sorry”.  I didn’t see any more reaction from her or her colleagues as I had to turn and get off, but I certainly felt better for standing up to such unpleasant remarks.
So, people, please watch what you say when out and about!  You don’t need to have your voicemail tapped or leave your microphone on to have your comments made public.

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Review of Brasserie Blanc, Chichester

At 20:30 on a Monday evening this joint was almost packed, so that we could hardly hear the waitress or each other until we had tuned in to the noise level.  The style of the restaurant is traditional but unfussy, the menu very much the sort of brasserie fare one would expect, if somewhat pricey for Chichester.  My husband had an interesting view of the open kitchen while I looked out over the newly-developed courtyard (The Square, off Eastgate Square) and St. Pancras church outside.

We both ordered steak (sirloin for me, rump for him) which arrived promptly and was cooked just as requested.  I found the sirloin tender and full of flavour, and the accompanying frites crisp and tasty.  Apparently the rump steak was very good too.  Unfortunately my side order of creamed leeks turned out to be a bowl of cream with very few slices of leek, therefore difficult to eat without making a mess (the steak being served on a platter rather than a plate) and nowhere near enough to count as one of my five a day!  My husband’s swede and carrot mixture was a great deal better – a very good combination of flavours, he said.

We very much enjoyed our bottle of Raymond Blanc’s favourite, Little B Medoc – and at £27.20 so we should! – but it would have helped if the otherwise very engaging and helpful waitress could have fetched someone who did know the relative merits of that and another wine rather than just saying she didn’t know!  It was a nice touch to have a band slipped over the bottle to show we wanted to pour it ourselves, rather than go through that irritating performance of having our almost untouched glasses constantly topped up.  We were willingly given a large jug of iced tap water rather than being sold bottled water.

We were pleased to be left alone to finish our wine before ordering dessert.  For me, once I see the words “dark chocolate” I look no further and my husband also chose the “leafed dark chocolate”.  This was very good, with an agreeable slight crunch to the topping, but could perhaps have been even more intensely chocolatey.

All in all, a good experience in a restaurant that is already proving extremely popular in Chichester.  Visit their website.

Posted in Local food news | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments