Climate change has led to an increase in “wonky” vegetables in the Netherlands, impacting food aesthetics and consumption patterns.

When 31-year-old Dutch farmer Bastiaan Blok dug up his latest crop, the weather had taken a disastrous toll. His onions – 117,000 kilos of them – were the size of shallots.

“We had a very wet spring and a dry, warm summer, so the plants made very small roots,” said Blok, who farms 90 hectares in Swifterbant, in the reclaimed province of Flevoland. “Half of them were less than 40mm and normally at this size they aren’t even processed. We would have probably sold them for very little for biomass, or maybe to Poland for onion oil. It’s either far too wet and cold, or far too warm and dry, and there’s no normal growing period in between.”

Blok is one of a number of farmers in Europe’s largest agricultural exporter linking the climate crisis to ever more “imperfect” fruit and vegetables, rejected by a food system based on standardisation and cosmetic appearance.

Last month, a crowdfunding scheme to help him was launched by social business the No Waste Army, which runs a quarterly food box scheme, with soups, sauces, pasta, drinks and jams made from rescued fruit and veg. Thanks to its commission, public donations – some sending onions to food banks – and a pickling order from Amsterdam “Gherkin King” Oos Kesbeke, Blok’s sheds are finally empty and a year’s work wasn’t wasted.

But Thibaud van der Steen, co-founder of No Waste Army, said farmers are suffering from weather extremes, linked to the climate crisis, making it ever harder to meet modern standards of perfection.

“One of our founders, Stijn Markusse, was working for 12 years with farmers with a meal box concept, and was astonished that so many vegetables and fruit stayed in the ground or were thrown away because they didn’t fit a kind of beauty ideal,” said Van der Steen. “The average consumer has got used to cucumbers as straight as candles. But anyone who has a vegetable patch knows that for every 10 cucumbers, two or three will be straight and all the others will have all kinds of shapes. Farmers say the weather is getting more extreme and that doesn’t help: to grow ideal vegetables, you need ideal circumstances.”

The wettest autumn, winter and spring on record have threatened the spinach and potato crops, leading to parliamentary questions and warnings from farming union LTO. Evelien Drenth, LTO agriculture specialist, said 61% of Dutch farmers report lost yields due to extreme weather, diseases are up and sowing is late or sometimes missed. “Consumers and supermarkets need to get used to empty shelves sometimes for short-season crops like spinach … and also irregular-sized Brussels sprouts and broccoli,” she added.

If the plants are stressed, so are the farmers, according to Jaap Fris, of the community-owned farm Erve Kiekebos, in Empe, Gelderland. “It is true that things are getting more difficult because of the climate,” he said. “But sometimes I have to challenge my own perception that things have to be perfect, when I know that even if it looks less good, it is just as tasty.”There’s an ongoing battle with slugs, for instance, while late-harvested kohlrabi might have grown a second skin or another heart. “Like people, they all look different,” he said. “It’s not that beautiful… but you can still just eat it.”

Original source: https://www.theguardian.com

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