Suf­folk on a Plate

Hodmedod bean and pulse grow­ers on the fu­ture of farm­ing

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

IN Nor­folk, a hodmedod is a hedge­hog. In Suf­folk, it’s a snail. But thanks to Joshua Mel­drun and his busi­ness part­ners, the name is now as­so­ci­ated with peas and beans, which, it could be ar­gued, are also round and curly.

They founded Hodmedod in 2012 af­ter work­ing on the Nor­wich Food Re­silience Project, which looked at whether the city could pro­duce enough food, un­aided, from its hin­ter­lands to feed its pop­u­la­tion of 160,000 peo­ple (plus com­muters). The an­swer was yes, but only if peo­ple were pre­pared to change their di­ets and farm­ers their crops.

That meant grow­ing and eat­ing more pulses, es­pe­cially dried peas and beans, which are packed full of pro­tein, fi­bre and car­bo­hy­drate. They are pro­duced in mul­ti­tudes in East Anglia, but much of the crop is ei­ther turned into an­i­mal feed or ex­ported, mostly to north Africa and the Mid­dle East.

“We were in­trigued by this, and we be­gan to look at the so­cial history and cul­tural history of th­ese beans. We re­alised that they were do­mes­ti­cated back in the dawn of agri­cul­ture 10-15,000 years ago, and had been in the UK since the Iron Age. They were a sta­ple part of our diet,” says Joshua.

But so­cial, eco­nomic and in­dus­trial changes meant that as peo­ple could af­ford more meat, and could store it with­out spoilage, dried pulses be­gan to be stig­ma­tised as poor peo­ple’s food.

“We just stopped eat­ing them. They went from be­ing in the recipe books and in the writ­ten records un­til, in the 18th cen­tury, they al­most com­pletely dis­ap­peared,” Joshua says.

To the amaze­ment of lo­cal farm­ers, who saw it as ‘for­eign­ers’ food’, the three men bought a car­load of dried fava beans and asked peo­ple to try them. The re­sponse was over­whelm­ingly favourable. Hodmedod was launched. Since then the com­pany has grown enough not only to com­mis­sion farm­ers in Suf­folk and else­where to grow crops spe­cially for them, but has be­come so well-known and suc­cess­ful that the trio are fi­nal­ists in the Best Pro­ducer cat­e­gory in this year’s BBC Food and Farm­ing Awards. (Win­ners to be an­nounced Septem­ber 20).

They have teamed up with Pro­fes­sor Martin Wolfe, of Wake­lyn’s Agro­forestry Re­search Sta­tion near Fress­ing­field, to carry out field tri­als. Pro­fes­sor Wolfe is a pi­o­neer of agro­forestry, where arable crops are grown in al­leys be­tween rows of cash crop trees.

“When he set up Wake­lyn’s in the mid-90s it was seen as quite an ec­cen­tric project,” Joshua says. “That’s changed and he gets en­quiries from both or­ganic and non-or­ganic farm­ers who are look­ing at mod­i­fy­ing the sys­tem to work on their farms.” Pro­fes­sor Wolfe’s meth­ods, says Joshua, not only cush­ion farm­ers against the va­garies of the cli­mate and the econ­omy by spread­ing the risk with mul­ti­ple crops, but the tree lines act as

‘Lentils, we think, were grown in the UK un­til the late Vic­to­rian era, but we’ve for­got­ten the weed­ing pro­cesses, for­got­ten what they look like, even’

wind­breaks, help stop the spread of dis­eases and are home to ben­e­fi­cial in­sects.

“If you put your eggs in one bas­ket and grow a sin­gle crop and there’s a prob­lem with that crop, you’ve got noth­ing. If there’s a very di­verse sys­tem you’ve got re­dun­dancy,” Joshua points out. Pro­fes­sor Wolfe has been tri­alling new crops for Hodmedod. They have ex­panded into ce­re­als such as quinoa, but it is the lentils that Joshua is ex­cited about.

“Lentils, we think, were grown in the UK un­til the late Vic­to­rian era, but we’ve for­got­ten the weed­ing pro­cesses, for­got­ten what they look like, even. Most farm­ers when they see the tri­als have no idea what they’re look­ing at.

“And we’ve for­got­ten some of the tricks that some of the farm­ers on the con­ti­nent still use, in­ter-crop­ping be­ing one of them, plant­ing the lentils with an­other crop and get­ting two har­vests from the same space.”

Hodmedod is in­ter-plant­ing them with camelina, an oil seed plant. They can be har­vested to­gether and the dif­fer­ence in seed size makes them easy to sort. It’s a win-win. Joshua and his part­ners are on a mission.

“We are a busi­ness. But we do have a so­cial mission which is to give peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to eat more di­verse di­ets, to en­cour­age farm­ers to grow a wider range of crops, and to cre­ate a route to mar­ket for those crops, to con­nect the farmer to the con­sumer.

“We’ve seen a big change in peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes. When we first started we spoke to a big veg­e­tar­ian restau­rant in Lon­don and they said ‘Oh, we don’t re­ally do beans and pulses, they’re a bit ‘70s’. That’s com­pletely changed. I think peo­ple un­der­stand a lot more about al­ter­na­tive pro­tein crops, they’re in­ter­ested in re­duc­ing the meat they eat, for health, wel­fare and en­vi­ron­men­tal rea­sons. It’s be­come much more main­stream.” www.hodme­dods.co.uk

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