Dig For Croydon

By - Thursday 17th January, 2013

How amazing would it be if a Croydon restaurant could say that 75% of the food on that plate came from within three miles of the kitchen?

We once had some great, unique places. Kennards, Grants, Allders (which was initially one of a kind, but became part of a chain), The Swap Shop, Turtles, and Beanos are just a few that spring to mind. The regeneration of the shopping centre will bring a selection of new eateries to add to the existing good selection that we have, and at the same time increase the amount of food produce brought in from many miles from outside the borough.  With this in mind what I would like to see is the borough growing as large a proportion of the food sold in the shops, the market, and restaurants as we possibly can. Is there a will to use fields and unused land around the borough to grow food – fruit and vegetables to supply new and existing restaurants with good, local produce that hasn’t had to come hundreds or thousands of miles?

Linked to this is the growing concern that food prices will stay high, that the era of abundance and therefore cheap food has passed and that we are now in times of food scarcity and ever increasing prices. Globally, we are now consuming more food than we can produce mainly due to extreme weather in food-producing countries such as the United States. So such an idea wouldn’t seem so bad with these points as a background. It is unlikely that we can produce all that we need but if we can add our own produce to supplement what we have to bring in, perhaps over time we can reduce that amount and become more independent and resilient to global food price hikes and erratic levels of supply. How amazing would it be if a Croydon restaurant could say that 75% of the food on that plate came from within three miles of the kitchen?

Even more amazing would it be if the cultivating, selection, packing, and delivery of this food created work for local people. Nationally, we have seen the decline of agricultural jobs for decades now, but as food is essential to all of us a career in food production should be seen as an essential service. The food network would become huge as this would link in with other boroughs that would be making the same changes, and excess and abundance could be traded to reduce food miles in the process and strengthen the food network. Even our schoolchildren could be given the chance to work on the ‘farms’ to give them a taste and a sense of civic duty. What a great opportunity for them to connect with nature and develop an appreciation and understanding of the amount of work that goes in to putting food on our plates. Perhaps, at the same time, it could put a little pride in their hearts and minds and thereby contribute to the tackling of the town’s obesity problem in the longer term.

I’m not suggesting that the wonderful parks and open spaces that the borough has be turned over to ploughed and hedgerowed fields growing monocrops as far as the eye can see, but there are areas that could be turned into productive food growing space to kick-start what I see as a revolution in how we produce the food to feed ourselves locally. (And nationally, if thinking of the bigger picture.) It requires a small shift in thinking to imagine alternative uses for areas that could be turned over for food growing. Unsurprisingly, Croydon has been innovative before, when the roof area of the Surrey Street Q car park had raised vegetable beds installed for a short time to demonstrate an alternative use for the under-used area. ‘Sky allotments’ or roof top gardens are possible on floors of other borough car parks. There are also large areas of wall space that can be used to grow food vertically under an urban agriculture plan. The mapping of the borough’s productive fruit and nut trees, Croydon Online Orchard, with the idea that that harvest would be collected and used by residents seems to have gone quiet for the moment, but is a concept that can be re-started so that the wonderful bounty doesn’t go to waste season after season. With the introduction of a Tradeschool at Matthews Yard, perhaps we will have a teacher come forward to offer expertise in what to do with the harvest, such as recipes and preserving and pickling it and ensuring that such skills spread out in to the towns population.

With all this repressed love of good food in the borough, I believe it is time to tap into this passion and host a competition to discover our own signature dish. Not so much a Masterchef but a Masterdish competition. Admittedly, right now fried chicken would probably be the signature dish. But that’s alright, just as long as it’s good and tasty, reasonably healthy and something that we become synonymous with. It’s not a reputation that has done Kentucky any harm. And with so many ‘invisible tourists’ coming to the town, there are countless opportunities for a visitor to spread the word about Croydon’s signature dish. Imagine! ‘Croydon, where you simply must try the…’ Our task will be to complete that sentence.

Ingredients needed are: a location to host the event, media backing to get behind it and publicise it, participants with their suggested dishes, and judges. Mix all these ingredients together and allow them to combine and after a ‘good time’, allow to settle for a few hours and eventually we will have a winning signature dish!

The gastronomic gauntlet has been thrown down. I look forward to seeing who will pick it up.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

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  • http://www.earth.li/~kake/ Kake

    Nice post! (Except for the fat-shaming — is this really necessary?)

    I think I remember seeing mention of the Croydon Online Orchard before. The London Orchard Project seems to still be going, though — why not contribute to that? It has a conspicuous data hole around Croydon…

    I like the idea of a signature dish for Croydon, but I feel part of the borough’s greatness is its diversity — perhaps there is no one single dish that can represent us all. How about a signature menu, with several dishes representing different cultures and different dietary choices?

  • http://www.earth.li/~kake/ Kake

    Oh! And also possibly relevant — this isn’t exactly what you’re talking about, but I recently did a guest post for the Vintage Cookbook Trials, and made a point of sourcing the ingredients locally. Buying something locally is of course not the same thing as producing it locally, but I think it’s a good start. How about a cookery competition where all the ingredients must be purchased within the borough?