This law is an ass, and why I give a fig
Time has slipped. This chronicle is overdue, too long and in part a bit bleak, so I also offer an uplifting small choir of photography at the end that has its own voice. The here and now at delicious Mother’s Garden is calm and bright outside, but stormy inside. We labour in the office, not least because we are at loggerheads with the British Government, and DeFRA and the Rural Payments Agency in particular, about an impending ban on the sale of on tap extra virgin olive oil in the UK. Yes, you read that correctly. I would be so grateful if you could share this blog with as many fair-minded, good-food-loving people as possible. Truthfully, I can’t see how we, tiny as we are, could every claim to be standing up to the bureaucratic bull of government, but we won’t be trampled without putting up a fierce fight. We have to. This is the unpalatable truth.... There is grim history of corporate fraud in the multi-billion Euro business of olive oil. That is why so many people buy our and similar premium olive oil, direct from our online shop or through fine food outlets, to be sure of provenance and quality. And buying it “on tap” through responsible, independent delis, farm and health food shops has been growing in popularity, to cut cost, waste and transport impact. Last year Tom Mueller’s book Extra Virginity blew the lid off the big business olive oil fraud and at the same time hailed long and loud the producers of “real” premium extra virgin olive oil toiling away in Mediterranean countries against a tide of inferior and cheaper brands of undefined source and age that still bore the magical term extra virgin. I need to explain the parameters of the EVOO “standard” another day, but save to say they are far too broad and fail to address the fundamental aspects of provenance, freshness and quality. Now the EU and, in turn, the UK government have tried to tackle any fraud with a) some sensible labelling requirements (we already do more), but also b) an utterly misguided, punitive ban the sale of on tap extra virgin olive oil – a key market for experts like us, and a vital business for fine food delis, farm shops and health food stores. It is.... - Wholly off target (in tackling the corporate fraudsters they may well kill off the likes of us and other honest producers who can be trusted), - Grossly unfair (the “on tap” ban only affects olive oil, not other oils, Yes, you also read that correctly, which begs the question is fostering unfair competition lawful?), - Excessive and illogical (proper labelling on dispensers – as we already do – defines the provenance, freshness and quality of the olive oil being tapped off). Honestly. I am incredulous, as is olive oil writer and expert Judy Ridgway. See her website blogs at www.oliveoil.org.uk. I could go on, and will at another time because I must. Save to say for now that emails are flying about, mostly in one direction. What on Earth is the cost of all this mindless bureaucracy to everyone involved, not least the taxpayer? Tens of thousands of customers will miss out. Thousands of quality businesses will lose. It will cost us dear too, and we are going to really struggle, so at the same time as making the case to DeFRA that they are missing the target by a country mile we are trying to up sales of our 2 litre and 5 litre containers and cases of 6x500ml bottles. Would you like some? Fantastic for feasting this winter and Christmas, and our 500ml bottles and embroidered aprons make lovely Christmas presents. Click here for the online shop. This storm comes with others. October is serene, but September seethed with sierra night tempests, many skirting us, some not, all electrifying. The godly clouds were defined by pulses of blinding light, more rapid than I have ever seen, then came the torrents bringing with them great showers of walnuts and the onset of grape rot. Heat and damp on the eve of harvest bestows the kiss of mould, and the farmers have been dodging showers to gather what goodness is to be found in the vineyards. People are working together, sharing , cooperating, toiling through: what is grim for the grapes is thirst-quenching for the olives. There is always another fruiting, some balance in the spinning existence. What black grapes we have of worth beyond the Mother’s Garden fig trees will be made into fine wine by a friend. Our stainless steel fermentation vat in the barn echoes with emptiness this year. There just isn’t time, and this has suffocated any niggling inclination. Today, though, we climbed ladders to fill buckets with the green muscat grapes shading the front door. As I type Maggie is in the farmhouse kitchen making juice. All growth surges again in the October warmth. Sun and moon shadows stop the clock. You can hear the Earth breathing. I tog up in beekeeping apparel and gently cut back a long stem of red current in the holiday cottage garden. A wasps’ nest has flowered close to the tip. The occupants are massed on it and I talk to them as we wander up the land and along a hazel terrace where I stick the stem into the ground in the shade of bramble leaves. Not one deserts the comb. Tractors with laden and then empty trailers to-and-fro along the lane, fuelled by a pinch of harvest urgency. Snails fast-track through the grasses along the highways of irrigation pipes. A kingfisher brightens the view from the office window. And yesterday during my afternoon dog walk six different varieties of butterfly painted their colours against the lushness as life that swells before the great sleep. The fig feast has finally ended. We gather hundreds of walnuts and thousands of almonds. The de-husking machine outside the back door rattles teeth but saves hours, and we must find a market for them. There is a good rate of payment this year, we hear. Most of all, though, we labour in the office longer than we want to, spreading the good news about our olive oil, campaigning against costly bureaucratic nonsense , and opening people’s minds to the warm opportunity of a few days or weeks staying here in our cottage. Want to come? November, December, January, February, March...... I must away. Keep well.