Category Archives: Food & Farming

Exploring System Change

Me with my placard, ‘Change Politics not the Climate’

Exploring ‘System Change’ with Richard Priestley. Starting on Thursday 14th September at 7.00pm, St John’s Methodist Church Hall (East St entrance) a monthly series of evenings discussing concepts around creating system change.

The first session will be an envisioning exercise. If extractive, consumer-driven capitalism is destroying the world, then what is the best kind of society that would meet human needs while allowing nature to recover? How does system change occur: what role for protest, innovation and living ethical lifestyles? If we had a lot of money, how could we invest it to solve multiple problems simultaneously?

My plan is for these discussion evenings to be on the 2nd Thursday of the month, starting on Thursday 14th September, then 12th October and 9th November. We may well continue in the New Year if people want to. The idea is that the questions we investigate, and what balance we make between me giving a talk and a more general open discussion, will in large part be determined by how the participants want these sessions to evolve.

Subsequent sessions might focus on themes such as:

What kind of economy (and politics) makes sense, given the realities of the global crisis (climate/biodiversity/inequality)?

Can we feed 8 billion people, while also restoring biodiversity” The answer to this is an emphatic Yes! (With a few very big IF’s and BUT’s)

From ‘The Fossil-Fuel Age’ to ‘The Solar Age’.” This is an exploration about how we move to 100% renewable energy for the whole world, for all uses, from electricity to transport, heating and cooling to industrial processes. (Progress on this front is happening much faster than most people understand.)

 These sessions are supported by Herefordshire Friends of the Earth.

For background see my book ‘System Change Now!’ or explore this blog. If you’ve questions e-mail


Apologies for not posting any blogs for the last seven or eight weeks. What with holidays, visitors and the vegetable garden, I’ve just not got around to writing much. I must admit that the vegetable garden is somewhat of an obsession, and at this time of year it is almost a full-time job.

We are busy havesting fruit to eat and for the freezer, jams and preserves. Raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, gooseberries, rhubarb, redcurrents, blackcurrents, josterberries, cherries are all in full production now. Apricots should be ready soon, then peaches, pears, blackberries, damsons, greengages, Victoria plums, and apples.

We harvest a range of vegetables every day of the year, especially salads, herbs, and leafy greens like kale and chard. We’ve had a huge crop of field beans this year. Here are a few photos of the vegetable garden, all taken this morning, on Tuesday 4th July 2023.

Runner Beans flowering well!
Courgettes and Squashes growing on a compost heap, with the squashes climbing up a mesh fence. We are harvesting the courgettes already, and squashes forming nicely: one can be seen in the centre of the picture.
Apricots ripening over tomatoes, peppers, chillis, aubergines, and just undersown with winter salads and carrots. Rhubarb outside the greenhouse.

Tomatoes: Economics & Ecology

British supermarket salad section
EU supermarket salad section

The UK currently has shortages of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces and other salad crops. The government and BBC are pushing the line that these shortages are due to poor weather in Morocco and Spain. This has been a factor, but a very minor part of the reason for our shortages. The entire EU has an abundance of these salad crops, and even in Kherson on the frontline of the war in Ukraine has plenty. So: why the shortage here?

Brexit is largely to blame. Holland, which grows salad crops for export in heated greenhouses, has plenty, but Brexit red tape means Dutch lorry drivers, who often have to queue for up to 77 hours, are refusing to drive to the UK. We could grow our own but as the UK energy costs are somewhat higher than average EU energy prices it is often uneconomic to heat greenhouses here, and this is compounded by the shortage of agricultural workers now that Brexit has forced so many East Europeans to leave. Ukraine meanwhile has open access to the EU’s single market and so it is has tomatoes and the rest in plentiful supply.

We could of course re-structure our energy market to be more in line with the EU. That would make energy costs cheaper, but reduce corporate profits, and our government is firmly on the side of maximizing corporate profits, even if it means impoverishing UK citizens.

Traditionally we did not eat many out of season crops. Tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuces were mainly harvested in the summer and autumn. To have such crops in February is either done by bringing the produce from southern Europe or Morocco, or growing in the UK or Holland in heated greenhouses, any of which usually mean high carbon footprints.

It is possible, but almost never done, to grow tomatoes and salad crops in the UK in greenhouses that do not result in carbon emissions. The New Alchemy Institute pioneered greenhouses with very high thermal mass, and solar thermal panels way back in 1976 on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Now with cheap solar and wind power, we could add utilizing surplus wind energy to heat giant hot water stores under greenhouses. Technologically this is feasible. Iceland pioneered using geothermal heat to grow bananas, a much more heat demanding crop than tomatoes. Greenhouse technology has great potential to feed more of humanity, but it needs sensible governments that want to promote ecologically and economically sustainable practices. Our government is obsessed with the delusion of Brexit, nostalgia for empire, putting corporate profits over ordinary people, and cares not a jot for true sustainability.

James Rebanks, the author and regenerative farmer, tweeted: ‘Being a farmer in Britain right now is like being trapped in the back of stolen car driven at high speed by a driver who’s high on drugs and oblivious to the obstacles ahead… and all the time shouting absolute gibberish at you from the front seats’. Therese Coffey is currently the British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and she is certainly shouting absolute gibberish.

Oh, for a government that actually cared for the people and the planet, and a BBC that actually wanted to speak the truth!