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Growing your business in the dark 0

Posted on 25, April 2014

in Category Growing your Business


Now that I am ensconced in Riyadh thoughts naturally gravitated to Yorkshire and the Rhubarb industry – prompted by BBC Radio 4’s On Your Farm programme on Rhubarb .

Rhubarb is fashionable again today after a major decline after world war two. . Appearing in many guises in the most up-scale restaurants as well as in the greengrocers and yogurt pots.  However it likely that the younger generations don’t know what it is in the greengrocers or what to do with it. It is virtually unknown in the rest of the world, though there are Rhubarb festivals in various parts of US and Canada as well as Wakefield, Yorkshire. Just 1,809 acres are planted across the United States

In studies that compare rhubarb to cranberries, rhubarb offers far more potassium and folate, as well as significantly higher levels of lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin A, calcium, vitamin K, beta-carotene and magnesium. Rhubarb is also a good source of dietary fibre and vitamin C. It is low in fat and has been shown to have  cholesterol-lowering effects.  Most recent findings place rhubarb in the anti-cancer food group as it contains ample amounts of polyphenols: powerful antioxidants known for stopping and preventing the growth of cancer cells. Rhubarb is a viable product for health conscious  consumers.

It can grow in your garden but a speciality is forced rhubarb which appears earlier in the spring and is much sweeter. It appears to be unique to the UK.

Forced rhubarb is a crop not quite like any other. The plants spend two years out in the fields without being harvested, allowing the roots to store energy. They’re then transferred into heated sheds, where they’re kept in complete darkness. In the warmth, the plants begin to grow, looking for light. The process results in distinctive pink stalks, which – unlike rhubarb grown outdoors – are white inside, and sweeter than the unforced variety. To avoid letting light near the plants, the crop is harvested by candlelight.

With soil and a microclimate well suited to rhubarb, the area between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield became known as the ‘rhubarb triangle’. Production of forced rhubarb began here in 1877, and at its peak, in the years leading up to World War Two, rhubarb production covered an area of around 30 square miles. By the 1940s there were 200 tonnes leaving Yorkshire by train every day on the Rhubarb Express, much of it bound for Covent Garden in London. But with its connotations of wartime rationing and school dinners, rhubarb declined in popularity after the war, as new tropical fruits arrived on the shelves. From a peak of more than 200 forced rhubarb producers in area, there are now just eleven.  And they can obtain premium prices

So – how did the eleven suppliers survive when the others fell by the wayside?

  • They had to be committed and devoted to their product
  • Recognising that foods go in and out of fashion – what ever happened to ‘chicken in a basket’, prawn cocktail and black forest gateau? They may be ‘out’ now – but they will come back in.
  • To survive the long dip in popularity the suppliers diversified , developing other products to subsidise the Rhubarb business.
  • They turned Rhubarb into a tourist business –  Tours of the Rhubarb forcing sheds are big business.
  • The process was automated as much as possible – to an industrial scale – without losing sight of the traditions   – using candle light for example.

What is not happening is that Rhubarb is not being marketed yet as a Superfood.  It is expensive now in the shops, just wait until it is and prices will be sky high – so get your rhubarb patch in your garden and be ready to rake it in – until then enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of your labour.

Smart Coaching & Training coaches live in the real world and encourage you to do so to. We will encourage you to undertake ‘out-of-the box’ thinking on your business just as the Rhubarb growers ensured their survival by doing just that

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