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Everyday Changemakers: Alex, Transition Dundee

Listen to 1000 Better Stories on your favourite podcast app or here.

Our Story Weaver, Kaska Hempel, talks to Alex Daniels from Transition Dundee about gleaning, fair access to fresh food and his favourite recipes to deal with gluts.

Credits

Interview, recording and sound production: Kaska Hempel

Transcript

Narration

Kaska Hempel: Hello, it’s Kaska, your Story Weaver…today we meet Alex, an Everyday Changemaker involved in one of the recent additions to the busy portfolio overseen by Transition Dundee. Conveniently, he lives just around the corner from me in Tayport. So, I was able to show him around our Tayport Community Garden, before we snuck into their gardener’s shed for our chat. 

Alex Daniels: I’m Alex Daniels. I work for Transition Dundee as the Gleaning Coordinator. Which is a position that, opened up last summer, 2023. That’s when we started. So, as a Gleaning Coordinator, my role is to visit farms and growers in the area to save produce that would otherwise be wasted.

So, that would be anything that is left in the field as long as it’s still edible.

 At Transition Dundee, we’ve had a community fridge for around three years now, which takes surplus food from supermarkets, manufacturers, producers. So we get a lot of surplus food that goes out. Both to save waste and to try and get to communities where that food is needed.

We thought that gleaning would tie in really well in terms of increasing the fresh produce that we were supplying to our community. And then also being able to help other community fridges, other larders, food bank, community kitchens and cafes to increase their supply of fresh produce to get more nutritiously valuable, foods to people who may have less access to those kind of foods. 

We’re also trying to do more in terms of both education and exposure to the local growing community so people can feel a little bit more connected to what is produced in this area. Trying to work with the current beneficiaries of the produce to get their members out to the fields to see where stuff grows, see what’s growing, how it grows.

 And then doing more cooking sessions on what to do with the produce that might be unfamiliar to some people and things that you know we grow a lot of but we maybe don’t eat enough of. 

So we actually worked with Campy Growers to harvest some of their green tomatoes at the end of the season last year. And then made chutney and then people can take that home. So that’s the sort of thing we’d like to do more of this year.

Kaska Hempel: Yummy food. 

Alex Daniels: Exactly. 

Kaska Hempel: Tell me about a favourite place where you live or that you visited as part of the project? 

Alex Daniels: I’d say one of my favourite places was Arbuckle’s Farm just west of Dundee. On some hills just sloping down towards the river. And we were there picking blackberries, and that was one of our first gleans actually, and we went there a couple of times. So we finished picking the blackberries. We took along half a dozen volunteers on a couple of days, and just picked what was left.

The weather was great as well actually, so it was a really nice day in very well ventilated polytunnels. It was just a mixture of both feeling like we were doing good, we were saving, you know, punnets and punnets, hundreds of punnets of berries. Lots of like, lovely like minded people, lots of great conversations, and the view was brilliant too.

So looking back over a bit towards Dundee and over to the river, yeah, it just felt It just felt right. 

Kaska Hempel: Tasty blackberries.  

Alex Daniels: Yeah and lovely blackberries too. So yeah, got made into lots of things. I ate a lot of blackberries for weeks. 

Kaska Hempel: How did you get involved in this work? What is your personal journey into this?

Alex Daniels: So I have always been interested in food in lots of ways and figuring out what stuff looks like when it grows, it’s whole sort of life journey.

I’ve always wanted to know what a thing that’s in my life. It’s like clothing or food or other things to where it starts to get to the point where it comes to me. So I guess, you know, as a kid, when you go into a supermarket and there’s something there that’s in a package and you’re like, well, where did that come from?

How did it get there? What goes into it, who grew it. So that’s always been an interest, and ever since University I’ve worked with lots of jobs that are food related, so I’ve worked in all sorts of hospitality. Cafes and bars and pubs, and helping with growing a little bit in Australia with vineyards and olives.

 And then for the last sort of five or six years, before this, I had a low waste refill shop. Which just started with a friend of mine, started as a market stall, doing dried foods, so cereals and pastas and rices and beans and herbs and spices, and then grew that into a little shop, and then started doing fresh produce too.

For us it was always important to support organic, so we were all organic produce and then as much local as possible, and then reducing the packaging too, so it was all the different aspects of trying to make something as good as possible, that’s the best way to put it. Or feel like we’re having as minimal impact as possible maybe is another way to say it.

And then also trying to make that as affordable as possible, but unfortunately, that’s also, often a bit of a trade off. And I think a little bit of why I felt in the end, after five years of doing that, that I wanted to try and figure out what could I do to help change the food system, or to understand how to fix the problems in the food system that makes this horrible trade off between choosing something that we think is good ethically, that we think has the least impact on the world negatively, while also making that affordable for everybody, because at the moment it’s one or the other too often. So although I got a lot out of having that particular role, providing for the community that I was in, an option that was better than what I thought was there already.

But at a certain point that community stops growing because it is not accessible to enough people. And so hence, yeah, getting to where I am now, the gleaning role was kind of perfect, I thought, for me, because it allowed me to do something that was a direct, positive action. I wanted to get out of the shop a little bit more too and be outside more.

I think that was something I lacked that connection, although I liked what I did a lot. I was very disconnected from the things that I actually thought were important. Like I wasn’t getting out to see how stuff was grown or to just spend time outdoors or to help with growing or anything really. So Yeah, that provides, two really good parts for me, and then also being able to see more of the food system while doing what I’m doing with the gleaning.

And then also figure out ways to maybe help with the accessibility part, which is important, and gleaning does help with that. Getting more good food to people who need it most. So yeah, while also studying at the moment, which I’m doing, in Wales. Centre for Alternative Technology. Which is, again, food sustainability, so trying to understand what the problems are, and how we could potentially fix them.

Kaska Hempel: So, could you recommend a good book or film to better understand how our food system works in Scotland or the UK?

Alex Daniels: A book that’s really good on the UK food system is Feeding Britain. 

Kaska Hempel: Food Problems and How to Fix Them by Tim Lang, which goes through all of the different issues we face, really, so economic, food security, food equity, land use, all the environmental challenges that we might face in the future as well.

Alex Daniels: So like water, weather, changing climate problems, everything really kind of covers in depth. It gives a really good history of what we’ve grown over the years really starting from the first world war reallyand actually all of the sort of government policies and interventions at those times to now, and it kind of made me realise how much

we have historically intervened on what we’ve grown. I think that might be a useful thing for us to realise for the future too. That it’s something we should collectively agree upon really, what we’re growing. Because I’m not really sure we’re going to get to an ideal future anytime soon, where we’re all growing our own produce as much as we would love that.

But we’ll have to accept the food system we have now and then work with that.

Kaska Hempel: Who or what inspires you? 

Alex Daniels: I’m inspired by people who just are experts in what they do. So people who spend their lives really understanding a particular topic or a particular aspect of life, or you commit to a certain way of life, I guess. So a lot of people who commit to off grid living. For example, there’s a guy in Wales who does that called Kris Harbour who’s brilliant and, you know, builds everything himself and grows.

And in a way, maybe it’s not realistic life for all of us, but I really admire that willingness to kind of go out on your own and try and make life exactly what you want it to be..

Kaska Hempel: Now, since you’re all about, you know, not wasting food and picking fresh food and having to deal with gluts of food, what’s your favourite dish you’ve made with gleaned produce so far? 

Alex Daniels: You know what, pumpkins are great. We had a lot of pumpkins, they were a little bit difficult to get rid of, it wasn’t something that people were as keen to take say compared to berries.

I think also because it was a lot of pick your owns in this area, because of the bad weather people couldn’t get out to them. So there were a lot of pumpkins left over. And I think by that point, people were a little bit sick of them.

A lot of the projects had had a lot of pumpkins with the month leading up to that. So I mean, in, just in terms of recipes, 

Like, just a pumpkin curry. Toast the seeds as well. Love pumpkin seeds. Do you do spices? Yeah, nothing crazy. Just I love coriander. A lot of coriander works well with pumpkins, I think. A lot of cumin. Caraway seeds. I put in, like, toast caraway seeds. But I’m a bit obsessed with those. Yeah, yeah, 

 other than that, probably sprouts as well, actually. I’ve always been a massive fan of sprouts. 

Today I had some tofu, sprouts and then I made like a little sauce with soy mustard, a little bit of Sriracha.

And made like a stir fry with the sprouts, but I actually just shredded sprouts with, you know, I make tofu scramble quite a lot, so shredded sprouts into that is great. And I’m going to experiment with some pickling. 

Actually, the other one, sorry, yeah, green tomatoes, green tomato chutney. I love a lot. 

 Part of the thing that we do with these interviews is to bust some jargon for people.

Kaska Hempel: So do you have a favourite jargon term that is your, like pet hate or pet love that you can explain to people? 

Alex Daniels: The thing that comes to mind is outgrade. I guess it’s maybe quite niche just within the farmer community, but outgrades being produce that doesn’t meet some requirements.

So it is too small. It is too big. It is too nobbly. It doesn’t fit what is required. I think it’s a good one to understand because that comes back again to a part of the problem really is that although wonky veg and stuff has become more popular and being turned into a thing that we you know appreciate more. Knowing specifically why those things happen in the first place and what the grades are and why that’s important in growing I think is really useful. 

 That’s a large part of why we glean. The farms we’ve worked with, most of the time, the surplus that is generated is due to quality restrictions or requirements, that the farmers have from who they’re selling to.

So supermarkets or the manufacturers, the processors, it’s kind of a planned surplus in a way. Trying to understand that is very useful in talking to growers because I think it could easily come across as us coming to their farm saying, oh, you’ve got all of this waste here.

Isn’t this unfortunate? And it’s really important to understand that it’s not something that a farmer would ever want to have that waste.

 I think once I managed to get that term, it’s so useful. Because then again, it’s like knowing what farmers, think about. So if I just go to them, do you have anything that’s surplus? Sometimes it’s like, oh no, it’s not surplus. It’s part of our, you know, it’s everything that’s harvested and then it’ll be sorted later.

So it’s not necessarily the same thing for them. 

Kaska Hempel: That’s a good one. That’s a really good one. Because it gets you in with the farmers as well as explaining why things don’t work as they should. 

What kind of practical advice would you offer any community group that would like to set up a gleaning project? Have you made any mistakes, for example, that you’ve learned from or any sort of stuff that you struck gold with so far?

Alex Daniels: I do think it’s really important to understand why the waste is there, and that growers don’t want that to exist. So it’s not a case of blame.

 That, and then also understanding what growers need from us in terms of what their major concerns are, which has often been liability, health and safety, making sure that we are covered in the right way, that we have insurance. I think that’s quite important.

Although I’ve learned that a lot of informal gleaning goes on all over, you know, it’s something that’s often just done with communities that are very close to farms anyway. But when we’re doing it on a scale that we are and trying to bring in volunteers and so on.

It’s really important to have all of those risk assessments and so on in place. I don’t mean that in a way that if you’re a community trying to do it, that that should seem intimidating at all. It’s, you know, it’s really not. There’s lots of advice from the Gleaning Network. 

 They provide some funding as well to help set up, so, you know, starting on a smaller scale, like, just for bits of equipment, maybe help with transport costs and so on And, they have a good toolkit that theygo through, both helping the understanding, but then also, you know, a checklist, basic things like what you’ll need for gleaning, how best to approach farmers. Yeah, just lots of experience really. The biggest ones are in Sussex and Cornwall. They’re really good sort of established networks. Cornwall in particular. Going gleaning sort of every week really. Yeah, that’s very impressive. That’s what we’re trying to emulate really, if we can.

Kaska Hempel: That’s all very useful. 

So what I would like you to do is maybe spend a minute or two thinking about, perhaps Dundee and the area around Dundee that you’re getting to know. And thinking about, you know, 10 years from now. And imagine everybody’s done everything possible to bring the best world into being.

 Just imagine the landscape or you sort of walking out into the fields or you’re walking around the city, wherever you want to place yourself. 

And I just want one memory back from the future if you can. To share with others. 

Alex Daniels: I often cycle in, less so in the winter, but I often cycle into Dundee and I imagine exiting the lift by the V& A. And, getting back onto my bike, riding along the front so the seas to my left, on the right, there’s a beautiful herb garden.

I can smell mint, smell basil. I can hear lots of bees. A little bit further along, you get to lots of apple trees, full of apples. Berry bushes. Also it’s busy. It’s really busy. There’s loads of people cycling. It’s a packed cycle path. What you can hear is mostly the sea more than anything.

The traffic noise’s low. 

Just being content, really. It’s that feeling that you often get in nature, it’s kind of a meditative, switching off of just paying attention to the sounds, the sights, and not really being in your head so much anymore.

I think that’s the thing that nature, It gives us, or can give us most, as it takes us outside of ourselves. And when we’re all kind of focused on nature and how much we enjoy what’s around us, we kind of focus on each other a lot too, because it’s that like shared joy, shared appreciation of our environment.

Kaska Hempel: And the last thing is, you know, if you have anything else to share with us, with listeners that you haven’t shared so far. 

Alex Daniels: I think the main thing that I always think about is I just think we need to keep caring about things.

We need to keep caring about what our lives are made up of and that includes each other and all of the interconnectedness of life really that we are very reliant upon. We wouldn’t have any kind of well being, we wouldn’t have any kind of happiness, if it wasn’t for all of the millions of species and all of the relationships that we have with them we’re very dependent upon and we need to be more grateful for that i think. We’ll just appreciate it and notice it would help. 

Narration

Kaska Hempel: After my conversation with Alex, I felt inspired to try gleaning myself. And as luck would have it, a week after our interview, Transition Dundee joined forces with Transition St Andrews for a Saturday cauliflower harvest. Perfect. The field was just outside of Tayport, so I jumped on my bike to join in and check in with their volunteers.

Kaska Hempel: There’s rows and rows of harvested cauliflowers, just stalks sticking out with a few leaves. And, I was worried it’s going to be muddy, but it’s actually quite dry and very sandy soil. Beautiful day, a bit of a wind.

I’m just trying to find some people who are harvesting to say hello to them. Hi. I wonder if I could record a little conversation with you guys for a podcast? 

Vox 2: This is like the first time that we’ve come and we’re getting more into growing our own stuff. So coming and doing something like this appealed to us.

We’ve been here a couple of hours. It’s been good. Beautiful day for it. We’re taking a few home. I mean, compared to what’s here, what we can take and use is nothing. Because the scale of this, I mean, 

 the main impression for me is just, how much we do waste.

There are people starving and this is just left to rot in the field. This culture that if it’s not perfect, it’s just left. It’s ridiculous. 

Vox 3: First time, yes, gleaning. We would love to stay all day, actually. We have an appreciation for how much work it is. But we had a fantastic time today and we really look forward to doing something again. 

And yeah, I didn’t appreciate how incredibly rich the soil is here in Fife. I actually have lived here for 10 plus years and didn’t appreciate that cauliflower was even grown here, or at least not grown on this scale. So it does beg the question, should we be doing more to raise awareness of what is growing and where it’s growing so that people can appreciate where their food comes from, especially with this growing kind of commitment to sourcing as much of your food as possible, as locally as possible.

Vox 1: It’s just really good to come out and do this because there’s so many. There’s like, there’s so many of them. And it’s just good that this happens, really.

Vox 4: I’ve been a couple times, mostly last year with Blueberries. They need a hand. The food’s there, like, ready to get, so it just seems wasteful and silly not to join in. 

Kaska Hempel: What’s the plan for the cauliflower? 

Vox 2: Ooh probably cauliflower cheese but cauliflower soup is nice too. 

Vox 1: Cauliflower crumble.

Vox 3: It’s a cauliflower, broccoli crumble and creme fraiche topping from a chef called Rukmini Iyer. She makes a lot of roasting tin dishes. 

Vox 4: I used to do a really good thing with, like, fried in batter. Because it goes really creamy. It was a good, it was a good day. Get involved.

Narration

Kaska Hempel: I ended up rescuing several cauliflowers myself and tried a new roasted cauliflower dip to take to a gathering at a friends place that evening. It had rave reviews so I will include the link to the recipe for you in the show notes, along with all the other links to the resources mentioned in the podcast.

All that talk about food is making me hungry, so I’d better start cooking my dinner (no cauliflower this time). Look out for our next story in a couple of weeks.

And in the meantime, if you’re interested in audio storytelling yourself, you might like to join us for a 1000 Better Stories Collective skillshare on the 30th of May. Manuela and Daniel from Maxwell Centre at Dundee will share their experience of putting an audio trail together about the past, present and future of food in their community. You can register through a link to Eventbrite in the show notes.

Resources

Register for 1000 Better Stories Collective skillshare with Manuela and Daniel from Maxwell Centre in Dundee, 30 May, 1-2pm

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/904908354247

Gleaning Project at Transition Dundee

https://www.transitiondundee.com/gleaning

The Gleaning Network

https://gleaning.feedbackglobal.org

West End Community Fridge

https://www.transitiondundee.com/community-fridge

Campy Growers

https://campygrowers.uk

Kris Harbour off grid living 

https://www.krisharbour.co.uk

Transition St Andrews

https://transitionsta.org

Roasted cauliflower dip 

https://www.cookincanuck.com/roasted-cauliflower-dip-recipe-vegan