Yesterday morning I went down the lane to talk with Norman at his six and a half acre market garden. I have been buying and eating his fruit and vegetables (supplementing our weekly veg box from Malcolm) for years now. He has been growing produce for many more years on the same piece of land his father took over at the end of the Second World War, and until quite recently he ran a grocer’s in Southwold called Market Garden.
I told Norman I was writing a post for our food features week on the Transition Norwich blog and explained to him how Transition has emerged as a community-led response to peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. And that a major focus in Transition is the relocalisation of food.
“Well, the oil is going to run out sometime and we’ll have to get along without all the pesticides and chemical fertilisers,” he said. “And that’s going to be tough, particularly where the land is poor or depleted.” He mentioned that at the moment several large corporations were in fierce competition to take over a huge Canadian potash firm.
Norman’s customers include several local hotels and shops. Whilst we were talking the van from Barbrook’s, one of Reydon’s two village shops, drove in to collect the day’s produce, including a box of vibrant lettuces of all different types. Barbrook’s is where we go for Norman’s veg and I always look out for his handwritten name on the boxes: NORMAN'S LEEKS or cucumbers, carrots or raspberries. They are always reasonably priced and never more than a day old. And if I need something I can’t find there and Norman is at his plot, he’ll let me go and pick it.
Norman was not familiar with permaculture, but he told tell me he was always ‘scheming’ and working out better ways of doing things, thinking of all the ramifications before taking action. Even a small improvement might take a month of intense thinking. He showed me a thousand strawberry plants he’d recently put in under a polypropylene ground cover, and explained how after long consideration he’d worked out a way of drilling the holes with a wooden stake and getting the plants in the ground in the least back-breaking way in a total of about four hours.
I noticed some low ‘greenhouses’ made from salvaged doors and conservatory roofs, and raised beds of recycled wooden planks. Norman told me he also uses old double-glazing for his ‘greenhouse effect’. He builds everything himself and mostly works alone with occasional help from his wife Pauline and other local people.
I asked Norman what he felt about the future. He said the trouble is our lifetimes are too short. So we don’t consider how our actions affect those who come after us. If we lived for 200 years, maybe we’d see more and act on that. “But you can’t use up all the world’s resources in the way we’ve been doing without consequences. Everything comes round in the end.”
As for Norman's future, he has no plans to stop market gardening any time soon. And whenever I'm in conversation with him, in the Transition spirit of honouring the elders in the community, I'll pay close attention to any tips he's happy to share from the wealth of practical knowledge he's built up over a lifetime in the field.
Pics: Brassicas, Zinnias, Barbrook's van; lettuce and tomatoes; Norman washes carrots and sorts lettuce; after deep thought - a thousand strawberries in four hours, mini greenhouses, young vegetable plants; Norman shows me how to put in a strawberry plant, pumpkin patch
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