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Friday, 25 March 2011

Cyprus and globalisation of food

Food systems worldwide have changed as a result of the increasing industrialisation in agriculture and as a result of consolidation in the food chain with large multi-national companies now owning the production, processing and distribution of most food. Huge advertising budgets and the viral spread of fast foods have caused a shift in diets and food cultures. This development has increased access to foods (especially imported ones) in many parts of the world. But the resulting ecological, socio-economic and cultural changes are at a cost to human health and communities.  Along with the internationalisation of food systems, has been the rapid demise of environmentally-sound small-scale agriculture, family farm enterprises, traditional food cultures and diets. This trend has had a severe impact on community welfare and on the sustainability of food systems. Many features of those traditional systems of food production, distribution and consumption are now recognized as key for the promotion of healthy, sustainable communities. 

Cyprus, is a small country and for much of it's history it's people were self sufficient. Primarily an agrarian society made up of mostly small villages which had strong family and community ties. My grandparents generation lived off the land growing and rearing their own food, spinning their own clothes and using their produce to barter for goods and services needed. Their diet was based heavily on olive oil, olives, vegetables, fruit, unrefined cereals and foraged wild food. Consumption of meat and dairy products was minimal and food was seasonal. This Cypriot Mediterranean diet resulted in good health and longevity and scientific studies have shown that this traditional diet was nutritionally very balanced and met the bodies needs. 

The changes in recent decades has undermined this healthy diet and health problems, associated with a diet high in saturated fats, sugars and low in fruit and vegetables, are on the increase. The globalisation of food has undermined Cypriot agricultural traditions. Farms were historically small and farming methods largely organic and sustainable. Small fields supported very old olive groves, grape vines and carob trees which created an environment for wildlife. Changes towards industrialisation of farming methods and the widespread use of pesticides and other chemicals has displaced wildlife and has led to a widely reported demise in the bird population.

Speak to the older generation in any village and they will tell you that although food is now plentiful and easier to obtain that they feel the loss of a traditional way of life and the community connections linked to food production, preparation and sharing. 

Industrialisation of farming methods, globalisation of food production and distribution were only possible with cheap oil. With depleting oil stocks and ever increasing costs I wonder whether we will see a gradual return to traditional and healthier farming methods. 

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Gardening in Cyprus - Tasks for March

March is a spring like month in Cyprus and although temperatures can fall to as  low as 5c at night - day time temperatures can climb to 20c plus with an average of 7 hours of sunshine a day. March weather can be unpredictable but much needs to be done in the garden and it's not too hot to work. Fruit trees are in blossom, especially almonds which can be seen everywhere, and spring bulbs are flowering. March is sometimes referred to as the yellow month in Cyprus as wild yellow flowers can be seen growing all over the island. We have been fortunate with rain this winter and the soil is in good shape to start sowing. The following jobs should keep you busy throughout March and help you top up your vitamin D levels.

1.   Make and plant cuttings from geraniums, rosemary and sage 
2.   Start a planned program of organic spraying of fruit trees coming into bud
3.   Sow carrots
4.   Start cucumbers in a propagator
5.   Sow climbing french, dwarf french, string, haricot and runner beans
6.   Don't have enough or want a later crop sow tomatoes in a propagator
7.   Sow molohiya 
8.   Plant out previously germinated marrows, squashes etc
9.   Plant out spinach
10. A good month to plant out grape vines
11. Mid-month plant potatoes
12  Sow summer purslane a local favourite
13. Start majoram and chicory from seed indoors
14. Plant out lavender or rosemary plants
15. Plant out sweetcorn plants and start more in propagator for a later crop
16. Plant out tomato plants
17. Plant out kolokasi tubers
18. Sow chive seeds and or divide established clumps
19. Sow mid-month spring onions, beetroot and mustard greens, pak choi, rocket and salad leaves
20. Mulch goji berries with well rotted manure
21. Plant out egg plants, watermelons, melons and sweet potato during the third week
22. Plant out chrysanthemums
23. Prune grapefruit, persimmon, pomegranate, pear, citrus, almonds, apricot, nectarine and peach
24. Mulch apples, passion fruit and mulberries to the trees spread but keep away from the trunk
25. Sow lettuce plants out and start more seedlings for a continual crop
26. Towards the end of the month plant out pepper plants
27. Start more egg plants in the propagator for a later crop
28. Sow soya beans 
29. Sow coriander
30. Plant out comfrey, fennel, lemon balm, peppermint, sage, dill, oregano, borage etc
31. Alternatively start herbs from seed
32. Try something new - consider growing from seed or planting liquorice (glycyrrhiza glabra) from which the sweet root, which is sweeter than sugar, is extracted and processed. The plant is native to Southern Europe and is a member of the legume family. It is a herbaceous perennial and can grow to one metre in height with long purplish flowers. Best grown in a deep, fertile and well drained soil. The root is harvested three years after planting during the autumn.

Happy gardening and remember it's safer to grow your own. For further advice  go to cyprusgardener.co.uk