Kent Character: Edwyn Martin, Produced in Kent
PUBLISHED: 10:54 05 April 2013 | UPDATED: 21:25 05 April 2013
Exploration geologist, field scientist, global adventurer, chef - meet Edwyn Martin, the new manager of Produced in Kent
Food for thought
Exploration geologist, field scientist, global adventurer, chef meet Edwyn Martin, the new manager of Produced in Kent
Ed Martin seems to have crammed so many lifetimes into one its hard to imagine this global adventurer being contained within his new role as manager of Produced in Kent in rural Hadlow.
Until that is, as his tales unfold of expeditions to places as extreme as the Amazon and the Arctic, of prospecting for gold and oil, of living on a deserted island in the Barrier Reef or driving across Syria held at gunpoint and you realise there is a common theme after all: food.
Take one of Eds first forays into earning a bit of pocket money as a youngster growing up on a farm in north Devon - where his earliest memories are of the sounds and smells of lambing.
He got a school holiday job washing up at the Ship Inn at Porlock Weir, short walk along the beach from home. The chef was a local woman whose speciality was a steak and kidney pie and her recipe became so popular that at weekends the hotel would be full of people from all over the country flocking to eat it.
Ed was let into the secret of how to recreate the dish (which he still makes) and its remained a favourite - so much so that after returning from a gruelling eight week-expedition to Greenland, where he and a team were surveying the ice cap on behalf of the Danish government, the first things he asked his mum for upon returning home were a bath and a steak and kidney pie.
He adds: When we were on that expedition, stick in the middle of nowhere, we were on pretty tedious dry rations and I remember one of our leaders, a senior geologist, pulled out of the bottom of his rucksack a little packet of herbs. And it just transformed our food and lifted the spirits of the camp.
Food is absolutely critical. Ive worked all over the world and with very remote communities and they all take pride in their local cuisine, they love to share it it has been a much underplayed facet in any countrys economy I feel.
Passionate on the subject, its one of the many reasons that attracted Ed to his new role at Produced in Kent. Without wanting to sound too melodramatic, you cant divorce international politics and economies from food; Empires have risen and fallen on exactly these issues, he says.
So to suggest that somehow food is some frippery on the edge is very mistaken. As a consequence this is our platform; we can use all the hard work that has gone into PinK by my predecessor to lever it up and realise that it is much more significant than a group of 230 individual members and producers in Kent.
And the ongoing horsemeat scandal has of course presented PinK with a massive opportunity literally on a plate something Ed has quickly exploited, with a strongly worded letter on the subject published in The Guardian online that has been widely picked up and he is hopeful will lead to a high-profile debate here in Kent and also at the House of Commons.
We must strike while the horsemeat scandal is hot, says Ed. Its a golden opportunity and the members deserve that we take full advantage of this as both a market and an awareness opportunity.
Brimming with ideas, Ed has a lifetime of extremely varied experience to draw on including learning about endurance, team work and fundraising in his early twenties on the madcap Transglobe Expedition expedition of 1979-82 led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes (described by The Guinness Book of Records as the worlds greatest living explorer).
There was no money to pay for supplies let alone wages for three years, but they didnt incur any costs because food, soft drinks, clothes, tobacco were all donated. Ran was just like, were going to do this! Very determined and a terrier when it came to getting sponsorship, he told us you cannot accept the word no.
Once again food played a big part at a critical moment when the group of about 20 was stuck on the ice. We were down to our last packets of sugar and flour and I sent out a letter to my mum back home saying this might be my last chance of sending any letters until the Spring, but I would really like some Earl Grey tea.
Sure enough, a couple of weeks later dropped onto the ice among all the letters and packages was this packet of Earl Grey and a game of Monopoly Id also asked her to send!
With this sort of tough, can-do background there should be no problem realising an early ambition to raise the membership of Produced in Kent.
There are only 230 members after 10 years, but I wouldnt mind betting the potential number of members in Kent measures into the late thousands, he says. So theres a lot of work to do to reach all those people.
He adds: Theres a big demand for British products and we need to emphasise our Garden of England status much more and at every opportunity.
A phrase Ed also wants to start using more and more on behalf of both PinK and Kent county is natural capital a huge resource within Kent that he believes is under-appreciated and under-utilised.
That natural capital is made up of both the inward resources and also this breadth of variety of landscape we have here. The synergies between the food and drink, agriculture and tourism sectors in Kent are huge and this has to be recognised.
In economic terms, what we are not about at PinK is a farmers stall here and there and fluffy caps on bottles of jam or a nice design for a new type of juice. We easily represent in value terms the value that is given to tourism.
We play very strongly into the whole area of biodiversity and conservation, of economic regeneration in rural areas. The time has never been better; even before the horsemeat scandal broke, something was going on in our shift of understanding and it has been brought about in a large part by the economic situation and recession for the last number of years.
One of Eds strong passions is nutrition. Its been well enough proven time and time again that nutrition plays such a big role in the healthcare sector. If people are fed well and healthily, then they recover better and faster and behaviour is moderated.
It makes me really angry that we are continually being told that the problem cant be solved even a modest 10 per cent sourced locally would make all the difference.
We dont have to say to the schools and institutions that they have to clear their shelves and everything has to come from a 30-mile radius which would really frighten the small producers as well.
What we have to do is to find a solution and go back to those small producers and say you dont have to invest in new equipment or sheds, just carry on as you are and somehow well work out a system to bring the surplus of your existing product into the supply chain.
The result is bottom-line savings in the healthcare sector and better behaviour in our schools, hospitals and prisons.
Ed has done his maths and points out that if you spend 1 locally it generates something in the region of 1.76 in terms of value, but if you spend your 1 on a product that is brought in from outside, then it leaves behind 36p, the rest is gone.
So youre not only doubling your money but also ending up with preserved and better-managed landscapes, he adds. And without a well-farmed landscape you can only begin to imagine the damage that then does to the tourism industry, because people come to Kent for the landscape as well as the culture and attractions.
Its not just about being all warm and friendly to the farmers and going along to the farm shops and markets, it is much more significant. Im not asking the supermarkets to push out everything theyve got on their shelves and Im not asking local families, who are hard pressed financially, to suddenly buy everything locally.
But if we all make at least five to 10 per cent of our shopping local, then it will make a huge difference and we all benefit. The return is the preserved Kentish landscape that our children and their children can inherit.
Ed has clearly fallen for Kent in a big way. Theres such a spirit of having a vision, of looking out, of being welcoming, and of activity here, he says. Im slightly cross and a little bit surprised that its taken me quite so long to discover Kent.
He moved down in 2008 because of a desire to get out of London, where hed been doing a research project for the United Nations on peace-keeping missions.
Deciding he was bored just working out of his rented flat he went to Borough Market, which hed just discovered and loved, to see if he could borrow or rent a floor in a redundant Victorian banana drying warehouse to use as office space.
He ended up starting a caf on the ground floor, which was empty, beyond one chap grilling a few sausages at lunchtime on a gas grill out the front.
I got in a local baker, a local sausage maker and moved the grill back, got some charity shop tables and chairs and within three months I had The Guardian round writing a review and we got listed as one of the Top 10 coolest cafs in London!
I wasnt sure whether to do it all the time, but it was a fascinating lesson.
Fortunately for Kent Ed decided against a life in catering and it was on a visit to Brogdale while engaged in fundraising for a parallel website project that Ed first saw and immediately fell in love with Faversham. And hes still living there.
The rest is almost history though Ed is still pinching himself that he got his new role. I couldnt believe it when I was selected, that I am being paid money to do this, usually its my money Im putting into new ideas!
Lots of people are predicting a food crisis because of climate change and the rate of loss of farmland around the world. So the answer lies with the smallholder farm and quintessentially thats what PinK is all about.
Its really exciting because now I can get these ideas moving with a proper structure in place to make it happen and a strong history and weight behind it. I want to make PinK the centre of excellence and if this model works we can develop it internationally as well then Kent is a truly international beacon.
There are millions of smallholder farmers out there who would love to learn from the farmers here in Kent and we can share those lessons and it costs next to nothing. The opportunity for Kent to say, weve done this, is huge.
Its an astonishing platform and as I said to the interview panel, I am extremely appreciative of the opportunity that has been presented. Lets hope I can do it justice!
We think you probably can, Ed.
My favourite Kent
Faversham - I love the architecture and the history, the juxtaposition between the Tudor buildings and the Victorian part of town, the working brewery. You can be walking out on the beach or marshes within half an hour from the town centre. Then in the other direction youre into the Downs its a simply breathtaking combination.
Last summer when we did have some sunny days I got my bike out and cycled round the coast I had no idea that we had such stunning beaches, Id stop and swim at every beach then carry on with my ride. Broadstairs is just beautiful, I fell in love with Ramsgate and Deal and was really intrigued by Margate.
Onto the beach in winter, at high tide, walking on the edge of Swale and then across those wild stretches its awesome. You can see the seals and the boats coming in. I also like a walk up on the Downs above Eastry, up Stalisfield way, with great views.
The Plough at Stalisfield Green, especially on a fine evening with the lights twinkling at Whitstable in the distance and the stars out, even better when theres a live band playing
Incubus from a tiny brewery in Newnham and Shepherd Neames Late Red
Faversham market on a Saturday, otherwise Macknades
The Good Shed at Canterbury and if I go to Whitstable I head straight for the seafood restaurants there, I love oysters. I think seafood is a bit too underplayed in Kent
Weirdest foodstuffs eaten
Camel meat when in the desert, its pretty tough. In Australia I was shooting and skinning goats myself and that was the only fresh meat we had, it was tender and delicious. I used to cook it on the beach with local soft fruits and oysters Id collect off the beach that was the best of the weirdest things, my own recipes eaten under the stars on a tropical beach
Im trying to get back into fishing around Faversham and the next thing is to get hold of a little boat.
Most counties have a food product you associate with them eg Lancashire hotpot and Irish stew - but we dont have that in Kent. Somebody must have a recipe that, 50 years from now, wherever its eaten in the world, its associated with Kent and what fun would that be as PinK to push that initiative!