Shirts to have faith in

I love it when a plan comes together.

We’re in the middle of Fairtrade fortnight here in the UK, and the web is full of people talking about the steps they are taking to support the principles of fairer and more equable trade.

Probably nobody thinks of Fairtrade as the be all and end all of ethical trading any more.

That idea died away when we all realised that despite the public adoption of Fairtrade as an effective guide to brands and products which are produced with ethics in mind, there remain significant issues to be overcome in terms of living wages and the sustainability of industry.

Perhaps those issues will always remain while we live and operate in the kind of economic environment that we do.

Ethical trading

From my perspective the Fairtrade movement has been very positive in many ways. It has brought the plight of slave labour in the chocolate industry to widespread public attention for instance. And the Fairtrade mark still gives a good guide with regard to where a product is at in terms of its production supply chain.

That is why I think its very good news that retail sales of Fairtrade products rose by 12%in 2011.

One of my particular interests for about 15 years has been the garment industry.

I’ve been active in one way or another in activism and campaigning in that area since my late teens. My focus initially was on the plight of garment workers, particularly as sweat shops became better publicised.

I later became very invested in the issue of organic and sustainable textile production, particularly as I began to understand that the standards applied by Organic certification agencies often demanded a great deal from employers in terms of social standards, as well as regulating the use of harmful (often lethal) chemicals.

Organic cotton in particular is a vital part of sustainable textile production. When compared with conventional cotton farming the benefits are too many to list. In part, this is why I also think its very good news that the organic clothing and textile sector recorded an increase in turnover of nearly 8% in 2011.

Challenges

Over a number of years of involvement in this area, I encountered con-men and crooked dealing, I realised that life is very hard for small companies trying to help farmers convert to organic agriculture, and I saw how farmers could be lured away from sustainable agricultural practices by the promise of quick cash.I have also seen many well intentioned businesses go to the wall, leaving their suppliers with nobody to sell to.

My own attempts to set up an organic cotton farming project have so far come to nought, but thankfully that’s not all I’m involved in.

Solutions

A couple of years ago I was contacted by a company that manufactures uniforms, something which immediately interested me. As opposed to fashion which is built to be disposable, uniforms have to be long lasting, hard wearing, and aren’t just going to be thrown away at the end of the season.

ImageOne particular clothing line came to the fore in our talks, a market leading brand of clergy shirts called Reliant.

If we could begin to transition these clergy shirts to Organic and Fairtrade cotton, could other lines follow…?

Well the road to achieving our goal proved to be a rocky one, and I think its fair to say it took longer than any of us had hoped, but at the beginning of this week I received a box in the post. A Reliant shirt, made from 100% Organic and Fairtrade certified cotton.

So in time for Fairtrade Fortnight, the new Reliant Fairtrade and organic cotton shirts are available from clergy suppliers.

I love this, love it, love it, love it.

High quality shirts, not disposable fashion, produced by people we’ve worked hard (and spent considerable time and money) to develop relationship with.

This kind of process is the ‘present-future’ of garment production, while we almost certainly need to cut back on the production of disposable fashion, we need to re-invest heavily in establishing a direct link between the field where the cotton crop was grown, and the high quality output at the other end.

It combines ancient agricultural practices guided by sunshine and rainfall, with high tech sewing operations guided by laser cut patterns.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Spring is coming

I was outside this afternoon and I could feel the changing season, in the air, in the soil. I’m not the only one who can feel it, the rhubarb is waking from its winter slumber, some greedy blighters are forcing it already! I’ve seen loads of crocus and other bulbs showing their faces too.

For those of us who try to grow things, that doesnt leave us much time to plant things like Shallots or Garlic, which need cold weather to function properly – the further north you are the more time you should have, but March and April will be here before you know it. They should all have been in the ground by now, but hey ho – time gets away from you.

As a kind of ritualistic acceptance of the changing season, I am going to embark on a good clean of my trusty Teva sandals – I’ve had them for years, I wear them for about 7 – 8 months a year, nearly everyday (for the rest of the year, I wear army boots – which are much older but are in perfect condition). My feet have good circulation. My sandals smell. If I cant get the suckers good and clean before spring, then it may be the year of new sandals.

I was lucky enough to see a flock of wintering waxwings the other day – beautiful birds, the sight of them reassured me that it is still winter, and there is still time to get that planting finished – just not much.

Back outside at last

It’s been a long time coming, but this afternoon, at long last I was back out on our allotment again.  Except to drop off compost I have not spent any time on the allotment since the Autumn, and it shows, I mean it really shows.

Most of the plots which are under cultivation have been freshly dug, or are at least looking tidy, mine on the other hand looks like a disaster, broken glass on my cold frame and in my greenhouse, overgrown beds, long grass everywhere, and plenty of unpromising looking mud.

But its all grist to the mill, today I put two of the beds back to rights (more or less) ready to be raked and cultivated a bit more, before they can be planted. Lots of work to do all over the plot, but I’m glad to say that in the couple of places where I placed sheets of damp proofing plast last year, in an attempt to sheet mulch them, the ground beneath the plastic is now nice and clear, and ready for cultivation.

Everywhere needs a good tidy and sort out, which it will only really get in part, I dont really want it to be too tidy if I’m honest. I like there to be room for creatures to hide and flourish, and I love the variety of bees, beetles, butterflies and bugs that pootle around there in the summer months.

And most of all I like to sit down after some work, and enjoy a hot drink. I had to relearn the art of making fire when wood is damp and newspaper in short supply, but it didnt take long.

If you dont have a garden or access to an allotment, then try and find some other outdoor space that you can spend time in, and if possible, grow things in, it is pure therapy, it helps to reharmonise you with nature, and nothing is quite as relaxing as knowing you have accomplished a job.

That’s right folks, its the first Kelly Kettle picture of the year from me, fear not, there are bound to be more. If you’re wondering, the plastic tub is what I like to think of as my tinder box, containing cotton wool, and home made char cloth. Marvellous.

 

M & S recycled clothing labels

Marks and Spencer are one of the most ethical of clothing producers – I have seen some of the factories they use, they are very well resourced, have exceptional high standards and are pushing ahead in bringing fairtrade and organic cotton into the mainstream. They have also been developing a relationship with Oxfam which helps to close the loop on their clothing – recycling it. The fact that they also tend to make good quality clobber, and at a reasonably high price point makes sure they arent able to be accused of promoting disposable fashion.

Their latest move forwards is to begin the introduction of care labels made from recycled polyester – amazing that hasnt been mainstream by now, but there you are. The labels will be printed ‘recycle with Oxfam’ – strengthening the link yet again.

I’m impressed by Marks and Spencer, they are a high street monolith, but they are making what look like real efforts with their clothing – and they already lead the field in other areas (sustainably sourced fish for example). So well done M & S.

See the press release below:

Marks & Spencer to introduce Recycled Clothing Labels

300 million M&S care labels a year to be made from recycled polyester

Marks & Spencer (M&S) today announces that it will use polyester made from recycled PET1 drinks bottles instead of virgin polymer to make over 300 million clothing care labels a year.

The labels will also carry a new message2 – ‘Recycle with Oxfam’ – to encourage customers to use the M&S and Oxfam Clothes Exchange3 which rewards customers who donate their clothing in Oxfam stores with a money off voucher to use at M&S.

Two million garments a year are already recycled through the scheme and, as part of Plan A, M&S has made a commitment to help customers to recycle 20 million items of clothing a year by 2015.

The new labels will start to appear in M&S clothing in stores early next year and will cover two thirds of M&S’ annual use of washing and care instruction labels. Approximately two million recycled plastic drinks bottles will be used every year to make the labels.

Gordon Henman, General Merchandise Packaging Technical Manager at M&S, said: “This is a fantastic example of how a small step can make a big difference. Using an environmentally friendly material to make a 4cm x 2cm care label makes a big impact when you multiply it by 300 million.

“As part of Plan A, we’re committed to ensuring that the raw materials we use come from the most sustainable sources. Increasing the amount of recycled material we use in products and packaging will help us achieve this commitment and reduce our impact on the environment.”

Instead of making the labels from virgin polyester, which is made from oil-based polymers, the new labels are made from ‘post consumer waste’ plastic bottles. The bottles are collected through the recycling system, granulated and washed. They are then melted and turned into yarn by forcing the liquid through a shaped die. The yarn is then woven into a care label and printed.

Review: The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A – Z

The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A – Z by Emma Cooper.

I have a lot of gardening books, and I have looked at lot of other gardening books – but I have never seen one quite like this.

Most gardening books are basically either manuals, scientific text books, or encyclopaedias, but despite a title which might lead one to think that Emma Cooper’s book falls into the latter category – in fact it needs a separate category altogether.

This charming and easy to read book is in reality a manifesto – or perhaps its a kind of love-letter. Emma has used the conceit of an A-Z as a handy way of organising some of her thoughts, taking us through a series of plants and horticultural terminology according to their rank in the alphabet.  Now if you are looking for a book which works as a kind of exhaustive garden dictionary, then this is the wrong book – it isnt intended for that purpose. Rather it pulls together an almost random group of plants or ideas under a letter heading; P for instance is for Parsley; Peas; Peat; Peppers; Permaculture; PH; Phosphorus and Potatoes, while N is for Nasturtiums; Native; Nectarine;  Nettles and Nitrogen.  It then provides a short essay on each subject, and each one is delivered in Emma’s trademark accessible and knowledgeable style. She is a very ‘friendly’ writer, her work is easy to engage with and despite her wealth of knowledge you dont ever feel as if she is talking down to you.

I really like the book, as I say, it’s easy to read and it’s interesting, but that isnt really waht sets it apare. Most importantly Emma manages to exude a love for the subject – and this is what I mean by calling it a manifesto. Really this is a book which tells us to love our gardens, our window boxes or allotments – whatever we have to grow things in.It is a book which has mud under its fingernails.

Emma is a kind of garden evangelist, spreading the good news of growing things.

I think you can spot that I really like this book – but that’s not to say I dont have any criticisms, I was not sure about at least one piece of her advice, that Comfrey can be taken internally. Everything I have ever read before warns against it, and I’m not inclined to take her advice on that (sorry!)

The other negative aspect I think is the design, I think the wrong fonts have been used, which is a shame because it detracts slightly from the appeal of the book – however this is a very subjective thing, and I am a bit nerdy about fonts and suchlike. In any case, that side of things is down to the publisher not the author, I just dont think they’ve called it quite right.

The pictures throughout the book are great, and I love the fact that this is not a coffee table book, rather its the kind of book which can go with you out into the garden or wherever you go to think about growing things.

So in sum then – buy this book if you love gardens. Buy this book for people who need to love gardens. Dont buy this book if you want a full A-Z of plants and whatnot, there are plenty of other books out there for that purpose, this is a much more interesting and unusual text. This is a delightful and inspirational manifesto of gardening lore, with lots of good ideas and helpful information, and I’m looking forward to more from Emma.

The Alternative Kitchen Garden, an A-Z by Emma Cooper is published by Permanent Publications. RRP £14.95 ISBN: 9781856230469

Emma Cooper’s blog and podcast are available here.

Back – with news of perennial garlic and surfing sheep

Yes I’m back, from another trip away with the family (working this time – not jolly holidays) and feeling slightly despondant about the state of the allotment. It really is scruffy this summer – yes it is fruiting, I harvested a ton of tomatoes on Monday, with another truck load still to ripen, but it looks very overgrown.

I would put this down to it being ‘wildlife friendly’ but in fact its just down to me not having spent a day there since late spring. sigh.

As I have already mentioned, we have a massive garlic crop this year, and I’m certain that’s a trick which can be repeated over and over again, but I have also become intrigued by the idea of ‘perennial garlic’ – which I read about here, after seeing a mention here.

I love the idea of a garlic patch which is effectively no dig – although I would struggle to get the required mulch, and I would also struggle to get the required birds to till the required mulch – however, it’s very interesting none the less.I may try it on a small scale this year, although I suspect it will take some time to really get going.

And while we’re on the subject of things which interest me, I see the nice people at the British sustainable surfwear brand Finisterre are busy breeding a kind of sheep which will grow suitable wool here in the UK, to make their super snazzy Merino garments with. Merino wool is usually garnered from down under – the globe that is, not the sheep. And Finisterre have been very strong on the ethics of their Merino gathering, I wont bore you with the details.

Anyhow, they are breeding rare breed Bowmont sheep, especially for their fleece – very good idea! I tried unsuccessfully to do something vaguely (but not terribly) similar on a much smaller scale in Wales once, I wasnt breeding the sheep you understand, as this would have been tricky in a Welsh terraced house – rather I had plans to buy certain type of rare breed wool and turn it into garments – sadly I never managed to find a company which would spin it to a thin enough yarn for what I wanted, and the whole project snuffed it. May have another go 0ne of these days.

Finisterre however are much better at these things than I am though – and they are proper grown ups too – which I wasnt, and still arent. Although they do make very childish adverts…

The fruits of my labours

It’s a lovely time in the garden at the moment (when I can get into it) – much fruiting is taking place, from redcurrants and strawberries to broad beans, garlic, onions, herbs and so on.

I was a bit at a loss to know what to do with the redcurrants, it seemed a shame to have grown a load then not have anything to do with them… so I combined them with some rhubarb and put them into muffins – the kids love ’em.  All good fibre…

I finally got fed up with spring greens hogging the sunlight, so I’ve cut the rest of them and given them away. Dont really know why I grow them… and despite the slugs’ best efforts (they wiped out dozens of seedlings in one week), some of my lettuces have survived and we are well stocked for the summer I think. Reminds me of the days of slug wars.

The strawberries are fighting it out with the borage plants, they are supposed to be best friends, although to be honest they seem like rivals to me. Borage eh… lovely plant but a really good self propagator, you should only ever need one packet of seed for those monsters. Perhaps I shouldnt have left it to self seed last year?

I’ve got about 50 bulbs of garlic drying in the greenhouse, with plenty more coming in a ‘second wave. ‘ I’ve given a load of garlic scapes out, now I have to work out with the dozen or so I have still got. Garlic flavoured salad anyone?

Broadbeans that went in last autumn are now well developed and having made it through the winter (just about) their fat little beans are now in the freezer. I put Kel to work weeding the herb bed the other day, she is a champion weeder… this particular bed has lavender, rosemary, winter savory, two types of mint and a couple of other things in it – next week I’m putting her to work on the perennials bed, which is currently looking a bit ropey given that it is somewhat swamped with weeds.

The greenhouse seems to have been taken over by the worlds most enormous tomato plants, apart from two rather sad looking specimens in one corner, who just dont seem to have joined in with the other on the whole ‘grow grow grow’ thing.

So all in all, things are coming along nicely, I have hopes for the potatoes, although the second earlies are looking a lot less emerald coloured than the first earlies… not sure if its because of the variety or if they are lacking something? Anyhow, I’m not too worried, que sera sera.

Oh and by the way, not sure why, but beans have been a complete failure so far this year (broad beans aside). There’s still time I suppose, even if the equinox has passed us by, I will still be planting thanks very much. Just need a bit more rain…