Posted on 15 August 2023
Today was officially a good day. We escaped the office and headed to the Kent countryside to go and meet Provenance Potatoes, a co-op of farmers local to our kitchens, who supply us with about 25 tonnes of potatoes every week. It was a lovely warm day and a lovely warm welcome from Tracy and Graeme who started the company 12 years ago now, with the intention of putting Kentish potatoes back on the map. Pitchforks in hand and wellies donned, we headed for the potato fields.
First impressions were ‘wow’. The potato canopies were stunning – so green and healthy, and peppered with pink and white flowers which mark the end of the growing season. The fields were also vast - an awful lot of potato production was clearly happening. The farmers had been busy.
But they weren’t the only ones working hard. There were busy bees, butterflies, dragonflies, ladybirds, all sorts of birds in fact – including barn owls and kestrels tending their chicks in the wildlife boxes on the surrounding poplar trees, looked after through the winter by the wild birdseed mix that’s scattered. A local birdwatcher commented on how thrilled he is to see the birdlife thriving like this – so far spotting 114 species of birds this year (you can check out his website, Nethergong Birding, for piccies). A rare sighting of a bittern was exciting local news, and whilst we didn’t actually see them, there was also evidence all over the place of a healthy population of very busy beavers. Beehives were located next to the potato cold stores, the inhabitants of which were loving the wild flowers from the pollinator mixes that the farmers put down in the field corners.
The fields and their surroundings were literally awash with wildlife, and we were blown away. We asked George, one of the farmers (formerly an economist advising the Scottish government), why he was so involved with the wild inhabitants … his reply? He enjoys their company: “It can be lonely being a farmer, it’s lovely working alongside the wildlife. When I’m combining in the tractor, I enjoy the kestrels gliding next to me on the thermals.”
As well as looking after the wildlife, Provenance Potatoes and their grower group invest hugely in their soils, maintaining its health through regenerative techniques such as crop rotation and cover crops. Having the soil surface covered with living plants protects the soil itself and the organisms living within it, against weathering and erosion damage. Having healthy resilient soils is fundamental in keeping the land farming and ultimately our planet’s food sources secure.
Minimising waste is another way to protect these valuable food sources. COOK helps here by taking the lumpy, bumpy, not-so-pretty potatoes that others might reject – we’re not interested in looks (we’re mashing, slicing and dicing), we just need tasty. The cattle also play their part by consuming potatoes that don’t make the grade - there’s nothing they love more than a raw, green, soft potato (…no accounting for taste!)
The partnership also works because COOK and Provenance are on each others’ doorstep. Their potatoes are grown in Chislet, packed and washed in Deal which is a dozen or so miles down the road, then taken to our kitchens in Sittingbourne, only 20 odd miles away. Fewer food miles help to create a more sustainable chain. And shared values help to create a more sustainable relationship. We feel so lucky to work with suppliers like this, who grow and enjoy food that doesn’t cost the earth. They really do care for the land, focussing on what they can put back, not just what they can take out. They’re good people growing great spuds.