I received an unexpected invitation a few weeks ago to something called a ‘windmeal’.
Yes, that’s right. Wind. Meal. Okay, okay – snigger away. Finished? Can I continue?
Well … the invitation was not only unexpected but also unusual in that it was happening locally (and therefore accessibly) to me here in Devon. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is all well and good, but I’d have to be up very early to get there on time.
RenewableUK and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall are delighted to invite you to their Great British Wind Meal and panel discussion … To celebrate the wind industry’s role in sustaining Britiain’s farming communities RenewableUK are working with energyshare and food campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to host a roundtable discussion and meal where the ingredients are from farms and suppliers powered by wind energy.
By now I was more than interested, and the deal was sealed when I read the menu (see below*) for the seasonal wind-powered lunch at the River Cottage Canteen and Deli on Plymouth’s Royal William Yard.
And so that’s how I found myself arriving at Mount Edgcumbe House on the Cornish side of the River Tamar yesterday morning. Putting aside memories of the SW Coast Path marathon that doubled as our honeymoon, I joined a group of around 50 delegates keen to discover the advantages of wind power in the context of UK farming.
A panel of experts was equally keen to tell us.
The discussion was chaired by Bill Martin, the Editor of the Western Morning News. He highlighted the salience of the event by pinpointing wind turbines as the number 1 point of discussion in the newspaper’s letters pages. I’m guessing that most of those letters go something like this …
“Wake up people of course farmers think its a great idea to have a sodding great wind turbine on their land because they then get all their electricty paid for by every other electricty bill payer in the area inculding their family, friends and neighbours and whilst they are driving around in their brand new 4X4 they have just bought with the thousands of pounds of YOUR MONEY you are all struggling to pay your electricty bill and freezing your nuts off!!” [sic]
Maf Smith, Deputy CEO of RenewableUK set the scene however with a call to rise above the adversarial debates about wind power. Rather than circle acrimoniously around the contentious (and easily refutable) issues of house prices, infrasound and net energy costs, the central questions should be those that recognise the complex and subtle nuances of a mature, informed discussion about the key concerns. Where will our energy come from in the future? How will we create that? Who will benefit? How do communities get involved?
But further, what are the links between wind and food? Why do we need a banquet to celebrate food produced with green energy?
Maf Smith explained that the actions of farmers are important – these are people who know about energy. Not only are food and energy global products with the produce of farmers meeting the calorific needs of consumers, but also energy is a significant cost on most farms. From building insulation to lighting, heating systems, pumps, ventilation, water heating and milk cooling, wind power is one of the ways in which farmers and producers can bring down their energy costs, lower their carbon footprint and provide an additional source of much-needed income.
As a fuel, wind costs nothing. This allows farmers to sidestep the butterfly effect of changing energy prices and concentrate their efforts on the provision of quality produce.
Nicky Conway, Principal Sustainability Advisor from Forum for the Future, acknowledged that smaller farms that don’t have the capital or size are taking on a big risk if they invest in generating their own renewable energy. She emphasized that it has to be about “the right technology on the right farm at the right scale.” Although, as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall highlighted, wind power is hardly a new concept and wind turbines should be seen as a vital and normal part of the future, nobody on the panel yesterday was advocating a wholesale blanket approach to the installation of wind turbines across the country.
I can hear some mumbled coughing in the background. Harumpph subsdiharumphies.
Okay. Perhaps it’s not so mumbled. Yes, it’s coming across loud and clear …
“In the most part, for ‘UK farmers’ read ‘extremely wealthy UK landowners who already benefit from obscene levels of agricultural subsidies’.”
It is at exactly this point that it is easy to fly away on emotive-driven wings of narrative. The issue is neither as black nor as white as sources on either side of the debate often attempt to portray. While it is true that all forms of renewable energy generation benefit from specific government support, the ‘external’ subsidies related to power generation from conventional fuel sources are usually not included in the calculations. Pollution, fuel spills, accidents, clean ups, health costs … when these costs are not covered by the industry responsible, then they are effectively subsidised by society through taxation.
Robin Hanbury-Tenison provided a compelling example of how wind power can become ‘an additional crop’ for farmers. Renowned explorer, author and hill farmer on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, Robin’s farm hosts a wind turbine, solar array and an electric car. Each year, he exports enough energy into the grid to power around 30 households.
And so, armed with this new set of information and questions, I stepped onto the ferry that would carry me across the water to Plymouth’s Royal William Yard. Whilst originally having accepted the invitation to the Great British Wind Meal largely on the basis of the deliciously tempting menu that was dangled in front of me, I was now entering the River Cottage Canteen with a different focus. Yes, the food was superb (aka Wow, Drool, OMG I’m in heaven) … but the concept of the meal took on a greater meaning through being able to sit, chat and mingle with not only the 50 or so delegates but also with the speakers, organisers, farmers and producers who had combined to present such an informative, entertaining and, above-all, thought-provoking day.
* The Great British Wind Meal was a completely unique meal, with the menu specially put together by River Cottage Canteen and Deli Plymouth. The menu was designed with consideration for the ingredients supplied by its donors, with remaining ingredients locally sourced, using River Cottage knowledge and expertise.
Vine House Farm organic cauliflower soup with Lincolnshire Poacher fritter
Lower Gazegill Farm pork terrine with spiced pear chutney
Vine House Farm butternut squash, Greenvale potato gnocchi, merguez spice and
Dewlay Garstang blue cheese
Sheepdrove Organic Farm lamb, parsnip and thyme gratin, green sauce
St Helen’s Farm goat’s yoghurt panna cotta with Vine House Farm honey
Caramelised apple tart with Mackie’s traditional ice cream & Yummy Yorkshire vanilla
Selection of beer from Wold Top Brewery specially matched to each course:
Hello Velo (chilled) with the cauliflower soup,
Scarborough Fair IPA with the pork terrine,
Wold Gold with the butternut squash,
Headland Red with the lamb,
Wold Top Against The Grain (chilled) with the panna cotta,
Shepherd’s Watch (room temperature) with the apple tart.
Selection of wine from Dedham Vale Vineyard:
Dedham Vale Bacchus 2011
Dedham Vale Reserve 2009
Pulled Shoulder of Lamb (Recipe by River Cottage Canteen and Deli Plymouth, exclusively for the Great British Wind Meal in association with RenewableUK)
For the marinade:
3 tbsp. honey
3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp. smoked paprika
2 tbsp. rapeseed oil
2 whole bulb of garlic chopped
½ bunch of fresh thyme
½ bunch of fresh rosemary
3 big pinches of salt
330ml of pale ale
3lt of chicken or lamb stock
Put the shoulder of lamb into a roasting tray.
Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a bowl then cover the lamb in
the marinade and leave for 10/12hours. This can be done first thing in the
morning ready for overnight cooking at 10pm in the evening.
Pre-heat the oven to 240°C.
Put the lamb into the oven for 20 minutes or until nicely coloured.
After 20 minutes take the meat out, add the stock and cover with foil.
Reduce the heat to a cooler 110c for 9 hours to slow wet roast the lamb.
9 hours later it should pull from the bone and will be lovely and tender.
While it is still warm, remove all the meat and fat from the bone into a
large bowl and break it down into small pieces, shredding some of it.
Pass off the remaining stock into a container as this will form your sauce
Combine really well and check the seasoning, then roll into clingfilm
barrels, about 70/80mm in diameter.
Refrigerate until set.
Goat’s Yoghurt and Vanilla Panna Cotta (Recipe by River Cottage Canteen and Deli Plymouth, exclusively for the Great British Wind Meal in association with RenewableUK)
125g un-refined caster sugar
7 leaves of gelatine
1080ml double cream
415ml whole milk
600ml Goats yoghurt
7 vanilla pods
Combine milk, cream, sugar and split pods – scald in a clean pan.
Allow to cool slightly.
Soak leaves in cold water until soft.
Add leaves to mixture mix well and pass a sieve into a bowl.
Allow to cool to blood temp or cooler.
Add the yoghurt, mix well.
Pour into moulds and chill 8 hours plus.
Dip moulds to turn out.