Jonathan: There is an organisation here in Uist called Sustainable Uist. It’s aims are commendable and it does a pretty good job of attracting grants from various sources and spending them here in Uist. Whether what it achieves does any good, well I’m less certain of that. Take the greenhouse built at Liniclate and used primarily to demonstrate how lettuce and other tender vegetables can be grown here in Uist even in winter. Am I alone in wondering what the true cost is of each lettuce grown in the Sustainable Uist ‘greenhouse’, with its huge financial and carbon investment in building materials (including a very large quantity of not very durable plastics), wind turbine, LED lighting and no doubt numerous other eco toys for boys. Are these things necessary at all? Here in The Big Garden we grow very good lettuces, herbs and other tender salads throughout the winter in a simple cold frame made from a few lengths of inexpensive timber from the island builders merchants, a sheet of clear perspex bought on the internet, a couple of hinges and some screws – about £35 all told, or much less if like us you use offcuts and recovered timber. These frames are big enough for a dozen or more lettuces, and with successive sowing that’s surely more than enough for a family. Slightly bigger versions, and we can grow cabbages that are more tender than those outside that tough out the winter storms. But you know the big question nagging away at me whenever I read the monthly Sustainable Uist column in Am Paipear (our local community newspaper): why is so much effort going into growing what does not readily grow here in Uist? Surely the most sustainable future is that which rests on knowing what the land can produce with minimum inputs – capital or revenue, financial or ecological, and the least impact on the land. And – just as importantly – adapting our diet to the variety – and the seasons – of those things that the land will readily produce. And as many folk quietly working away in their own gardens already know – that’s a much wider variety than has customarily been grown here. There’s many vegetables – and yes even fruits too! – which are not grown here in Uist, not because they won’t grow, but because there is no history or tradition of growing them, and thus no cultural experience of consuming them. Gooseberries (including sweet dessert varieties), for example, stand up very well against the wind, and only need protection (ideally from naturally-sustainable shrubby trees, rather than the short-lived windbreak netting) around the edge of the plot or field; and black-currants yield more heavily than anywhere else we’ve lived in the UK or abroad. It may be news to many that the solar energy falling on each square metre of Uist in a year is much the same as it is in say Shropshire or Denmark: people in these places do not need wind turbines (or photovoltaic panels) and lighting to grow a few lettuces! Am I alone in wondering whether the Sustainable Uist trials are simply a waste of scarce public money? And that’s money that’s come from our own purses and wallets: frankly we’d rather have spent it on a few more of our DIY cold-frames, or to plant more wind-break trees around our black-currant patch on the croft!