Last Thursday we made an exciting collection, picking up some of the very first UK-grown chickpeas from Hodmedod’s.
Chickpeas are one of the UK’s favourite pulses, and with good reason. They’re versatile, delicious, and a fantastic source of plant-based protein (8g per half a cup serving). They’re also great for you, with only trace amounts of saturated fat and high levels of fibre, which means they keep you feeling full. In the UK we get through nearly 12,000 tonnes of chickpeas in hummus alone.
However, until recently nearly all of these chickpeas have been grown overseas, in countries such as Turkey, Canada and Russia. The brilliant news is that Hodmedod’s are just bringing to market some of the first UK-grown chickpeas, produced on a farm near Thetford and cleaned at a facility in Wittlesford.
The path to British-grown chickpeas has not necessarily been an easy one. A lot of experimentation was required to select the right variety to grow in the UK.
Josiah Meldrum, one of the co-founders of Hodmedod’s, outlined to us the challenges that had faced chickpea production in the UK in the past: “Historically, when people have looked into growing chickpeas in the UK, they’ve been looking at direct import substitution. So, they’re looking at growing hundreds of acres of chickpeas at the same price that we currently import them.” As he explained, this doesn’t work. Particularly at the beginning of the process of developing a new crop farmers need to be paid a premium to reflect the risk they’re taking and also to reflect the learning process they’re engaged in. So if you feel slightly daunted by the price of a pack of UK-grown chickpeas, remember that this is necessary to compensate the farmers and encourage further investment in this exciting product.
Luckily, this is where Hodmedod’s comes in. They’re able to say to potential farmers – such as Henry Raker, who grew this first batch of chickpeas – that they’ll offer a guaranteed premium price for their crop if they’re able to harvest them. This gives farmers the security they need to invest a new and risky venture. In contrast, big seed companies would not see the viability in investing in only 5 acres of a crop.
As well as offering an additional income stream for farmers, chickpeas are great from an agroecological perspective. As Josiah emphasised, the “whole purpose of Hodmedod is not to focus on individual crops and their interest, it’s actually about creating more diverse, resilient agroecosystems. The idea is that you have an assemblage of crops that, between them, offer a significant and improved return to the farmer and they’ll also make an agroecological contribution to the way the farm is run.” As a legume, for example, chickpeas are very good at fixing nitrogen in the soil, providing an essential nutrient for plant growth. They also act as a disease break between cereal crops.
Chickpeas are significant for two further reasons. Firstly, they’re a crop we can directly consume – i.e. they are not being grown for animal feed. Only 15% of the UK’s land footprint for food supply is used to grow food directly for human consumption and land is, after all, the ultimate finite resource. The second point is that chickpeas may well be better suited to our changing climate. We will inevitably increasingly experience the effects of climate change, and agriculture will have to adapt to meet the challenges, and benefits of this. (Read Riverford’s blog for an interesting and typically nuanced perspective on the impact of climate change on British agriculture). Of course, this is whilst recognising that we should do everything we can in the present to limit the impact of climate change, which is already devestating the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable people across the globe.
And what part do we play in promoting this fabulous new product? At the Cambridge Food Hub, we’re busy getting stock of UK-grown chickpeas delivered to local independent retailers and zero waste shops so that you can buy them and start cooking with them.
- Organic Health, 87 Church Road, Hauxton, Cambridge, CB22 5HS
- Radmore Farm Shop, 8-10 Victoria Avenue, Cambridge, CB4 1EH
- Full Circle Shop, Cambridge Market
- Arjuna Wholefoods, 12 Mill Road, Cambridge, CB1 2AD
- Burwash Larder, Burwash Manor, New Road, Barton, Cambridge, CB23 7EY
- Cambridge Organic Food Company, http://cofco.co.uk/