Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Double digging and supermarkets

I have been working on a garden bed for the winter.  It is one of those that I have left "fallow"  for the summer because of the serious lack of water to maintain it.  It is one that wasn't even covered really well... it had broad beans and some brassicas last year, and the remnants of the plants were left... it looked bad,  but it has protected the soil a bit.  I am digging this patch differently this time...  double digging it so that some of the underneath layer is brought to the top.  It will still need some trace elements and some gypsum,  but the soil is getting better in this patch every year.  This double digging takes quite a bit of effort, but this particular patch (which has grown vegetables for several years now,  used to be a compacted patch of clay  tthat looked the least likely place for vegetables.   I have brought in a lot of compost and grown quite a bit here,  but this garden suffers particularly when the weather is marginal.  By deepening the usable soil and letting the roots get down deeper,  I hope to improve production here.
I have been doing one single row each day,  but after recent rain (10mm over two days)  I've gone ahead with three rows today...
It doesn't look very exciting,  but I will be anxious to see how it works this winter.
The work is hard because of the rock soil underneath the top layer... the reason for the double digging anyway.  I have been digging a row and then taking a break with a book, alternating the stress on my back.  And I have been reading about the food systems in the book "Stuffed and Starved" by Raj Patel.  In fact,  I had begun reading this some time ago and it was put aside while I was reading other things, but today I am up to chapter 8,  about supermarkets!

Supermarkets were first invented and patented as a "Self-serving Store" in 1917 by Clarence Saunders who opened the first "King Piggly Wiggly" store in Memphis Tennessee.  The aim was to reduce costs (in the form of labour) and make use of a maze through which people had to walk (past all of the various products) as a marketing tool.  Staff were even forbidden from speaking to the customers.  Goods were paid for and packed at the end of the maze.
By now, consumers are well trained.   We would be shocked to find that there was only one route through a store,  or that staff were not permitted to help,  but we understand the cost-saving of "self-service" and, in fact,  the layout of supermarkets has been well studied to find out just how to maximise profit.  (The illustration of the tracking of shopping carts is reminiscent of the original maze design of Clarence Saunders original supermarkets.

When I was a child, in the 1950's and 60's we didn't have supermarkets in Adelaide.  My mother shopped at the CPS (Central Provision Stores)  shop in Colonel Light Gardens.   I can remember going to the shop and standing there while the man behind the counter measured out or gathered up what we needed and put it in the string bag that we had brought.  (String bags were one of those items that we learned to make in primary school.)  He had biscuits (cookies) in a tin and he'd give broken ones to children who came in.  The butcher used to give children pieces of fritz (devon;  bologna) also...  shopping wasn't too bad back in the day....
Alternatively, "the boy"  would come on his bicycle to collect an order,  written on paper....  a list of what we needed at the shop, and it would be delivered in a carton...  right to the kitchen table,  later in the day. This was surely the best of convenience shopping, though I'm sure the marketing opportunities were not as good! I'm not sure that we are any better off nowadays.

In Kapunda,  nowadays,  I shop at the smallest "supermarket"  in the town.  The variety of items is very good,  but if I need something else,  I can ask and it may well appear the following week.  I hear complaints from some locals that it is too expensive to shop locally,  that the biggest supermarkets are much cheaper,  and that there is so much more choice.   It sounds a lot like the comments from the CPS grocer when I was little.  He lamented the fact that people were beginning to shop at supermarkets, saying that it was less expensive...  but he correctly predicted that when the small shops had all gone out of business,  the prices would rise again,  and they did.  It may well prove to be the same again, and already the two main supermarket chains occupy more than 80% of the market.  One can ony hope that the competitors are able to survive, unlike the competitors of my childhood.

I haven't finished the chapter yet (I'm a slow reader) so I might need to add some more to this later...  but the garden is almost "double dug" and looking good... can't wait for a bit more rain.

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