I’m not even involved with Saffron Central but it’s already my favourite thing in Croydon. Here’s why.

By - Wednesday 28th October, 2015

Neil Ridulfa on the meaning – and the treasure – of Croydon’s saffron farm

The world’s largest urban saffron farm.
Photo by Croydon Saffron Central, used with permission.

If you’re a Croydon Citizen reader, you will no doubt be familiar with the Saffron Central project launched by Croydon Radio‘s Ally McKinlay. I have, with ever expanding joy, been following its progress without having visited any of the newly minted, mini-crocus farms cropping up in the borough. Yet I feel connected to the Saffron Central project like no other recent community scheme. Why has this simple project captured my imagination?

I think it’s because its scope goes beyond the flowers. The genius of Saffron Central is that it has one foot in the past, an eye on the future and its heart squarely in the present.

Saffron past…

History matters. I’m sorry if you failed History at school but I promise you that it does matter. History gives us a collective story, a collective memory, which in turn gives us a collective soul. If you want an integrated community, search the archives and find points of connection between the past and the present.

The Saffron Central project is a revival of Croydon’s role as saffron producer for the Roman Empire in ancient Britannia. It is likely, given the reach of that empire, that people from all over the known world were involved in cultivating this precious, labour-intensive crop right here in Croydon. Whether your bloodline is of pure Britannic stock or if, like the Romans, you have come from overseas, re-engaging with the story of the soil beneath our feet can connect us, as disparate as we may seem on the outside.

Viewing windows at the farm.
Photo by Croydon Saffron Central, used with permission.

and for our future… 

However, a successful project cannot rely on nostalgia alone to survive. What about future generations? Never mind the Romans: what’s in it for Croydonians of tomorrow? This is where I get excited.

Saffron is the most expensive spice in ‘common’ usage. I put common between inverted commas because it’s not like we sprinkle it over cornflakes. Imagine, though, that Croydon’s 21st century saffron became as widespread in use as Maldon’s sea salt.

As a baker for Beats and Eats, and a volunteer at Sutton Community Farm, I am a firm supporter of locally grown and produced food. Through these organisations, I’ve seen the talent and drive of food producers from all over this ‘crocus valley’ and I’m sure Croydon’s saffron, in their hands can be turned into the most wonderful dishes. These dishes – dare we dream? – could attract the tastebuds of the world’s pickiest gastronauts. Paella, cakes, tea and so much more can be enlivened with a golden infusion of saffron.

… and most of all, for right now

Let’s get back to today. I wrote at the beginning that Saffron Central’s heart is in the present. That’s the thing about horticultural and agricultural endeavours. It’s all about the present moment. You are rooted in the seasons. You’re affected by the temperatures and the rainfall of the day. You cannot rush a crop. It will be harvested when it is ready. It does wonders for the mind not to rush but instead to sit and savour what is in front of it.

For all those involved in the project, they too will find themselves rooted in history, in geography, but also in a community: you cannot ‘grow it alone’. As saffron was a treasure to the ancient Romans, so it can be for us today, and one best served shared.

Neil Ridulfa

Neil Ridulfa

A life-long resident of Coulsdon, but also a bike seller, event director, singer and part of the first wave of creative writing graduates from the University of Surrey-Roehampton. Find me on Twitter or working at Cycling Made Easy.

More Posts - Twitter

  • Serena Alam

    Neil – your tweets are NOT mumblings of inconsequence… they’re ALWAYS a PLEASURE to read. xxx