Thanet Earth and the Crystal Palaces of the Coming Salad Crisis Era
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
A passing scene or two in a British police drama of the garden variety gritty kind — no need to name the show, but the scenes involved its Northern Irish anti-hero of an undercover cop discovering immigrants from Eastern Europe arriving by boats on the blue-toned, cinematically tempestuous North Sea and then being sent off, if not to the brothels, to work unsurprisingly at slave wages in the commercial greenhouses of a light-deprived Norfolk, where the glass-walled foliage provides as much cover from the Home Office as the urban jungle of council estates — those scenes reminded us of Thanet Earth.
Thanet Earth, as described by The Guardian last year, is “Britain's biggest greenhouse development.” Located in Kent, “80 football pitches' worth of greenhouse” will accommodate “1.3 million plants, growing in seven greenhouses, each up to 140m in length and fed by its own reservoir.” The entire complex will be heated by seven power generating stations located on site, and any excess supply of electricity will be sent to nearby towns. It is estimated that when all the greenhouses are completed, the UK's crop of salad vegetables will increase by 15%.
It's huge, massive, perhaps so gargantuan that migrant workers might go undetected among the wild thickets of cucumbers and peppers, lost in the din of pneumatic harvesters, sonorous simulant thunderstorms and the reverberated rustlings of tomato leaves. It's just huge, massive, gargantuan.
Or maybe Thanet Earth is so technolicious, so heavily under surveillance that no stray variable can ever escape its sensors. Speaking to Will Wiles of Icon Magazine, Steve McVickers, Thanet Earth's managing director, says, “We're measuring all the time. Temperature, humidity, the amount of water in the Rockwool; we're looking at the growth of the plants, we're looking at the ventilation, we're looking at where the sun is, we're looking whether it's raining, we're looking at the wind direction. The greenhouse is constantly adjusting itself.”
Phantom EU neo-gypsies displaced by the econopocalypse, non-functioning CCTV cameras, a food crisis, humorless Dutch efficiency experts, a rogue transgeneticist, guerrilla gardeners and allotment nutters, the insufferable Jamie Oliver and the sublime Heston Blumenthal — all converging in that one giant patch of the earth excised from geography, from the cycles of time and even from itself, one day infiltrated by a Northern Irish anti-hero of an undercover (food) cop after reports that tomatoes coming out of these Crystal Palaces have suddenly and improbably started tasting better, sweeter, juicier than Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's organic heirlooms, right after the children have also started going missing. This is a story pitch to the BBC.