TAKE a drive south east or west, 20 minutes from the centre of Edinburgh, and you enter another world: a place where fields are ploughed and seeds are scattered, crops grown and then reaped.
It’s part of the city’s charm, that easy access to the countryside and a more rural idyll. Right now, those fields which were vigorous shades of green or vibrant yellow just a month or so ago, are now almost bare, their bounties collected. It is, of course, harvest time, and if you managed to catch any of last week’s BBC2 series Harvest, in which Gregg Wallace and Philippa Forrester got their fingers dirty with wheat farmers, broccoli growers and cherry pickers, you will have been left in no doubt what hard work it is for the nation’s farmers to bring their crops to fruition.
Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s also this time of the year that Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight is held, to celebrate all that’s good about locally grown produce. This weekend is the culmination of two weeks of events – and as always the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is at the heart of things.
Tomorrow the Botanics is hosting a Harvest Festival of its own with events celebrating the foodstuffs grown through its Edible Gardening Project, which involves many city primary schools and community food groups, and showing people how to store their own produce through the winter, or how to use it up in chutneys and jams to make sure nothing goes to waste.
Jenny Foulkes, the project manager, believes that harvest is a time which is highly important, but which in an era of food globalisation has been somewhat forgotten by those who are neither farmers nor allotment grow-your-own enthusiasts.
She said: “People do assume these days that you can get any type of food at any time of the year, because that’s what the supermarkets offer. The idea that this time of year is when the produce of the land is harvested has been rather forgotten, so putting an emphasis back on to the harvest is a really good way to make sure people are aware of the seasonal nature of planting.
“I think harvest time is something the wider public should be excited about. It’s a very bountiful time of the year. People’s gardens have been working really hard and this is the time when you can collect on that, so why not celebrate it?”
The celebrations will include music from the folkie Barrow Band who sing about the wonders of fruit and veg, a show of the produce grown in Edinburgh’s community gardens, herbologists showing how to make syrups and teas from hedgerow goodies and lots of information about how to harvest and preserve crops. The Edinburgh Beekeepers Association will also be there encouraging gardeners to plant the right crops and flowers to encourage the insects.
The harvest also coincides neatly with the launch of the Scottish Government’s new Eat in Season campaign, which is all about encouraging people to make the most of cooking and consuming local, seasonal foods.
“The interest from people in trying to eat more seasonally is growing,” says Jenny. “Our Edible Garden project is in it’s third year and I’ve seen the interest increase quite dramatically just in that time. Part of that could be that food is getting more expensive, so growing your own can be a cheaper option.”
n The free Harvest Festival, at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, John Hope Gateway, runs from 11am to 4.30pm.