Kenyan green beans - good for us and good for them?

I have shares in 2 allotments: a community garden in the village where a dozen or so of us regularly garden together (there are a further 18 or more members too) and share the produce, and a more conventional allotment at West Dean, not in the main gardens (oh no, tucked well away from sight) and shared with Annie, who runs the gardening courses at the College. This allotment is a teaching resource for both the gardening and food courses that we respectively run.

So, it will be no surprise at all to read that I currently have a glut of beans; lots of runner and plenty of green beans too. They do, of course, all taste fantastic and I think that I shall be starting to blanch and freeze some of the green beans for the days of swedes and cabbage that are surely just around the corner.

Living on the Chichester Plain, an area of outstanding micro-climate for vegetable growing, I work closely with local growers who supply produce to the multiples; the supermarkets. This year has seen good UK crops of sugarsnaps and green beans and they have been delicious, but they will soon be replaced by beans and peas flown in from Kenya and other far off places as the supermarkets think we need all fruit and veg, all the year round. They sell 80% of all the fresh produce consumed in the UK so we cannot ignore them. Indeed, if change in the way in which we eat is ever to happen it will have to be driven by the offer on the supermarket shelves to have significant impact on the world food chain.

My local grower cum year-round exotic veg supplier has farms in many parts of the world to supply demand. The question is, is the demand that of the supermarkets or of us? The grower is LEAF accredited, which is about as close to organic as you can get on a large scale, using some chemical inputs when necessary and biological pest controls whenever possible, as well as ensuring good crop rotations for soil fertility. One of my regular contacts was recently in Kenya and came back full of praise for the growers that he had visited, at least one of which was part of the Waitrose Foundation established to support native African farmers in the development of their own farms. An understanding of crop diversity is essential for these people to do business together - other UK supermarkets want to buy just two crops, baby corns and mangetouts, from developing world farmers but these alone rape the land of nutrients and return nothing to it, leaving arid soil for the local population to farm once it fails to deliver the sought-after, (tasteless) convenient veg of global emblandishment to our UK tables.

So, I was feeling pretty OK about these crops coming in from Kenya after chatting to my grower friend whether I choose to buy them or not (which I don’t, being a seasonal soul with 2 allotments). That is, until I was clearing out my InBox today. In a weekly mail that I get from CAFOD I read the following relating to the Gospel for 25th July (OK, my InBox needed tidying!).

‘Give us each day our daily bread.'
The fundamental prayer that Jesus teaches to his disciples and to us in this passage includes a petition for our everyday needs to be met. But the phrase ‘give us this day our daily bread’ may lose significance for those of us whose basic needs are always met. How often do we really think about the words we are saying in this prayer? There are people living in poverty around the world, however, who may well witness to this prayer being answered on a daily basis. In Kenya I heard time and again how the people there viewed the support they had received from CAFOD’s partners as a direct answer to their heartfelt prayers. Ensuring an adequate supply of clean water for drinking for people and their livestock can transform the life of a community, from one near extinction to one that is flourishing. How often do we take the supply of clean water flowing from our taps and the seemingly endless supply of food in the supermarkets for granted?

Generous God,

Help us to recognise that all good things come from you, and make us ever more mindful of those who are denied access to the resources you have provided for all to share.


So, in Kenya where precious water is used to grow green beans using sound agricultural methods for us and to put money into their economy, there are still people in the same country who pray for adequate supplies of clean drinking water.

On the day when the news of world grain shortages owing to Russia’s disastrous prairie fires and their need to feed and look after their own finally became headline news, I remain convinced that the only way in which we shall change the global food system is by acknowledging the need to change as individuals, and then to convince the market leaders that they must acknowledge that need too. Not for profit, not for PR and not for market share; simply for sustainability. The sustainability (or survival) of us all.

The Prince of Wales is spearheading START, a new campaign calling upon each and everyone of us to willingly and happily embrace the challenge of living more sustainably. He explained that the effects of climate change will not be truly felt for years and those who will be hardest hit live far from the UK, so it’s hard to realise just how important this is. Certainly our village Community Garden shows that growing your own veg can be fun, and that you can grow new friends as well as tasty, fresh food to eat. All the multiples seem to be signing up to the Prince of Wale’s campaign, with ASDA actively encouraging their customers to eat food that is in season. Perhaps this is the START of something good? I hope so. And I hope that for every £1 spent in telling us how these big companies are supporting START they spend another, helping the countries around the world that supply their out-of-season-produce, out of poverty.