MOLD’s series on Degrowth explores how activists, farmers, and scholars have sought to create more resilient communities and food systems in rejection of the drive for infinite economic growth.
A profoundly large lemon resting against Martha Stewart’s cheek; a giant pumpkin that’s been carved into a boat; an incredibly lush cabbage cradled in the crook of Oprah Winfrey’s arm.
Amid the swirling vortex of the internet, unwieldy vegetables can be a simple joy — content that never sparks controversy or discourse. And for many, the patron saint of Big Veg Twitter is Gerald Stratford, a suspender-loving 72-year-old fisherman with a love for sizable produce.
“There is a movement in this country called giant veg,” Gerald said in a recent phone interview. “But I don’t particularly like the word giant. I don’t know why, I just think ‘giant’ is too big a word. I think the word ‘big’ is plenty good enough.”
Though he lives in a small village in the Cotswolds of England, Gerald has accumulated a quarter million followers on his Twitter, @geraldstratfor3, since he joined the site in February of 2019.
“By May of 2020, I’d got something like 100 followers, which I thought was massive,” he said. But after posting before and after photos of his rocket potatoes on May 17, Gerald was launched into true Twitter fame.
“My phone started buzzing,” he recalled. “I didn’t really know what was going on — I said something’s wrong with it.”
Since then, he’s posted plenty of photos featuring massive leeks, carrots and an abundance of other vegetables. Often, he said, he grows far too much for him and his partner Elizabeth to reasonably eat.
“We’re self-sufficient in veg,” Gerald said, “and if I have any sort of leftover, I donate to a local care home.”
Among his hundreds of thousands of followers is Danya Issawi, a 25-year-old living in Manhattan.
“It’s a form of escapism, in a way,” Danya said of Gerald’s Twitter. “When I get really overwhelmed and stressed, I think about how wonderful and peaceful it would be if my full-time job or full-time existence was on a farm or a ranch.”
Following Gerald was her introduction to the world of Big Veg, and she said it’s been a welcome distraction from the current crises that the world is facing.
“Watching him chug along, he just seems like he’s at peace,” she said. “He’s doing what he wants to be doing and a lot of us are not in the same boat.”
When you go to a supermarket in this country, everything has to be perfect. But mother nature is not a perfect medium.
Tyler Bleuel, a 23-year-old who grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, also found himself avoiding his Twitter feed of journalists, politicians and pop stars and seeking out content from Gerald, which he likened to the recent cottagecore movement.
“People want to retreat back and be more self-sufficient,” Tyler said. “I think that partially might be a reaction to big business and some of the general worries that exist about our societal structure.”
“It feels like we have to rely on people and systems that maybe aren’t always going to be the most reliable,” he added. “And I don’t look at Gerald like, ‘Yes, he will solve global hunger supply chain issues.’ But if I could grow my own food, that would give me one less thing to worry about.”
The cottagecore aesthetic — which romanticizes a countryside lifestyle — has grown alongside an influx of quarantine DIY projects, as people have started Victory Gardens or regrown scallions. Plant and seed sales have seen a significant spike in quarantine, with Echinacea sales going up by 3000 percent at certain vendors according to The Guardian.
Gerald’s posts have also filled a grocery-shaped void for Tyler, who found himself missing mundane activities in lockdown.
“Something I really miss is being able to feel every single apple to pick out the three best ones,” he said. “I feel like that sounds weird now, but being in the food.”
But as he’s adapted to new habits, like ordering his produce from Imperfect Foods, Big Veg Twitter has helped inspire him to take things at face value.
“When you go to a supermarket in this country, everything has to be perfect,” Gerald said. “But mother nature is not a perfect medium.”
“Some of the things I grow, I call them my ugly fruit,” he added. “The carrots might have five fingers instead of one, but they’re still beautiful to eat.”
And for Gerald, having 250,000 new friends is something that’s been more than welcome.
“It’s not a pressure I can’t handle, you know, it’s a nice pressure,” Gerald said. “The world is a dark place at the moment, isn’t it? And if I can help people get through that, I will.”
As he posts, Gerald often answers questions, offering both new and old gardeners different tips and tricks.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t know how to grow a tomato or a cucumber or a potato,” Gerald said. “And if I can help break down the boundaries and frustrations for people to grow nice vegetables, I’ll carry on.”