Another year with the Taberner House site undeveloped for new homes means another autumn harvest at what calls itself “the world’s largest urban pop-up saffron farm”*.
Flowers have begun to appear from around 17,000 Crocus Sativus corms potted out on the site of the council’s former office tower, all set to be in full bloom in early November.
The site – an unlikely rural oasis, sandwiched in between Park Lane and the Flyover, with the Fairfield Halls and the Town Hall nearby – was given to the crocus project just over a year ago, when the officials who are really in charge of Croydon Council realised they weren’t going to be able to deliver the new homes on the town centre location that it had promised any time soon, and they needed something warm and comforting as a distraction device. And since kitten farming has potential drawbacks, another scheme was needed…
There have since been further delays with the home-building project, with the latest version of the Taberner House housing scheme only having been put before the council’s planning committee last week.
So the crocus farmers get another chance to tend their expanding crop.
Croydon Saffron Central raised £4,300 through crowdfunding in barely a month last year, to pay for soil, pots and other materials, plus the corms of the autumn-flowering crocuses which yield the world’s most expensive spice, which is worth more than gold.
Last year’s exercise, of potting up, planting out, and then a few weeks later cropping the valuable harvest, was a triumph of community activism, if not especially successful in terms of produce and immediate turnover.
The stigmas from around 11,000 crocus flowers were collected and then dried in ovens and produced just 58 grams of saffron – barely as much as the weight of a single bulb of garlic.
By last month, sales from Croydon’s first harvest of saffron for about 2,000 years had achieved the grand total of £265, mostly bought by volunteers and supporters, with three-quarters of the crop as yet unsold, despite earlier interest from trendy restaurants in London having expressed an interest.
But given a longer term home, there are some signs that it could be a growing business. All the proceeds so far have been re-invested into the 2016 crop, with more soil and more pots needed, as the first year’s corms have multiplied by four or five times.
Ally McKinlay, who had the idea of the saffron farm and has been its driving force since, realises that this autumn is probably the last opportunity to grow a crop on the Taberner site. “It would be great to have a local heritage saffron farm, but as you can see from sales, there are no plans to give up the day job.”
So now the task is to find more volunteers to assist over the coming few weeks.
“Since the end of the summer holidays, around 100 people have helped de-pot corms from 10,000 pots, separate the corms and then re-pot the largest corms into 17,000 pots. We’ve given away thousands of smaller corms that will have their blooms in future years.
“It’s quite nerve-racking to see how the corms will perform this year and I’m not sure they’re all big enough to bloom. All being well it will make for a great spectacle before the site turns its focus to be redeveloped for residential apartments.”
Visitors are welcome to view the site from Queen’s Gardens and volunteers are needed to help with harvesting.
“There are different ideas out there about the project’s future so we will see if any come to fruition,” McKinlay said, “but Croydon Saffron Central has always been a local heritage project to share with the community. It’s more about the Crocus Valley – how Croydon got its name – than the Saffron Central.”
If you would like to enter the site or volunteer please contact Ally McKinley via croydonsaffroncentral.org
*We haven’t bothered to check, but we are almost certain that a more accurate description should be “the world’s only urban pop-up saffron farm”.
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