At this time of the year, the harvest season is in full swing. For one farmer in the south of Lancashire this meant that a field full of cauliflowers were ready to be harvested, cooked and enjoyed. Except, nobody seemed to want to buy them.

It turns out that bulk buyers like supermarkets have very specific specifications, and only a small proportion of the cauliflowers that are grown can actually be sold. Many of them are either too large, too small or too wonky.

These are the cauliflowers that a group of FoodFutures and Eggcup gleaning volunteers went to harvest earlier this month as part of the Closing Loops project. And did they work hard: In just one day, they harvested a whopping 800+ kg of cauliflower, or roughly 8,000 portions. And that was only a tiny fraction of one field of surplus.

The gleaning event was organised by the Closing Loops Gleaning Coordinator Jay, who says: “We often hear about how supermarkets have very limiting demands on their fruit and veg, with wonky vegetables that are perfectly good for eating having to be left to rot. Seeing this in practice and just how much of the cauliflower wasn’t up to their standards was really shocking. I think I had imagined before that most of the crops were suitable, with just a few that are wonky, too big or small, discoloured etc having to be left. But in fact it seems, at least with these cauliflowers, to be the opposite! Only those of a perfect size were of interest to the supermarkets, with most of the fields not being up to scratch.”

The group of volunteers thought there wasn’t anything wrong with the cauliflowers at all, and nor did the Eggcup members who came and collected the “wonky” vegetables from the Eggcup distribution hub in central Lancaster throughout the following week.

In addition to the satisfaction of rescuing such an incredible mountain of perfectly delicious and nutritious cauliflowers, the group had a great day out in lovely weather, with lots of sun and enjoyment. Not to mention free cauliflowers galore to take home and turn into curries, roasted veg, raw cauliflower rice or even using the greens as a nutritious and tasty leafy vegetable. Huge thanks to the lovely farmer who grew these beautiful vegetables, welcomed the volunteer group on their land and allowed them to take some of their surplus.

What can you do?

Would you buy a cauliflower that is smaller than 5 inches? Or larger than that? Next time you are at the shop, why not pick a smaller, larger or perfectly shaped vegetable on purpose? Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where all veggies are equal and judged only on tastiness, not shape… Buying all veg that is good for eating doesn’t just avoid waste, it also supports the farmers who spent a lot of time, effort and money cultivating those crops.

If you don’t see any imperfectly shaped fruits and vegetables in your supermarket, you could try shopping from a local greengrocer, farmers’ market (for instance, the upcoming Lancaster Harvest Market in September) or farm shop. Or you could get a veg box of seasonal, locally grown veg delivered home every week, for instance from The Plot.

Eggcup logo

If you are struggling to afford fresh vegetables and would like to help reduce food waste, have a look at www.eggcup.org. Eggcup is not a foodbank. Eggcup members pay a weekly membership subscription (currently £5 per week) for a weekly supply of groceries: typically a carrier bag of mixed fruit and vegetables, some store cupboard items like pasta sauce, biscuits and beans, and fresh items such as meat, sausages, cheese or ready meals.

If you would like to do more, you could sign up as a gleaning volunteer. Just email Jay and ask to get on the the mailing list so you get invited to future gleaning events and can come along on one of the next harvest missions. The team of food rescue superheroes is hoping to head back down to this farm again, to see if they can save even more surplus from going to waste, and there will be other farms and crops coming up soon.

If you are a farmer or grower with surplus crops that need rescuing, or if you are a local food business, whether retailer, producer, wholesaler or anything else, and would like to have a chat about how you could help reduce food waste and support our community, send Jay an email at Jay_CL@eggcup.org.

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