The ethnobotanist and best-selling author came back to the College thanks to Edible Essex, a scheme run by the Rural Community Council of Essex to encourage people to grow, source and use local food. The sell-out event was the second time he had spoken to a packed lecture theatre at the College, having delivered a James Hearsum Lecture last year.
Last night, he spoke about his Homegrown Revolution - inspiring people to grow more of the edible plant species that can thrive in the UK, from Inca Berries (physalis peruviana) to Chilean guava (myrtus ugni), which is likely to be in many Essex gardens as an ornamental plant. He said Edible Essex was doing a “great job” getting people interested and involved in growing their own and he was delighted to support the project.
He added: “It’s fantastic to return to Writtle College and to have such a big audience full of people who are very passionate about growing plants. When I have been doing this talk across the country, what I like is to learn what people have as questions.
“It’s great to see so many young people in the audience here as well. When I was here before, half of the room was under 30, which is unheard of, gardening-wise. These events are in the evening and they are not part of a course or part of credits, which is reassuring – horticulturalists are panicking that younger people are not into it but it’s alive and well at Writtle College!”
In his lecture, James - who fronted the award-winning BBC TV series ‘Grow Your Own Drugs’ - argued that we no longer eat as we did 50 years ago – our diets are more exciting, varied and international. However, we stick to growing the same crops, such as spuds, sprouts and swede.
He said last night: “We can grow 2,500 crops in the UK but everyone, back over the last 60 years, always talks about 20, which is less than 1% that we could grow. I have a blog and a book and basically I want to talk about the 99.9% that no-one mentions. I’ve tested them all in my back garden in Croydon, which is not so different from the climate in Essex so I know that people can grow them successfully, with not much effort – even without a greenhouse.”
Edible Essex, which was given funding from the Big Lottery Fund and Essex County Council, was launched last year and is supporting the development, restoration and expansion of community allotments and orchards around Essex, as well as giving people practical, hands-on training through courses and events.