Now call me radical, but I don’t think that trudging through a harshly-lit supermarket, stooping and stopping to pop cellophane-strangled courgettes or sausages into your basket is the way that we should, or need to, play our role in the food industry.
Thankfully there is an alternative. No longer the preserve of hippies or eco-warriors, buying organic is now widely recognised as a sensible and accessible choice, offering us a chance to use our buying power to make positive and concerted differences to our local food culture, and to the wider environment. Buying organic is better for us, better for farmers, and better for the environment.
BETTER FOR US
As Tim and Jo from Higher Hacknell Farm state, the organic process is ‘fully traceable from field-to-fork’ meaning that when we buy organic, we know exactly what we are buying, and what we are not. And organic means that we are not ingesting pesticides or fertilisers which may be harmful to our health, but instead only natural products grown slowly and in a largely traditional manner.
In addition to cutting harmful additives from our diets buying organic food has also been shown to have positive nutritional benefits, it is higher in antioxidants and organic milk contains higher levels or the essential Omega-3 oils. And while it is purely subjective, we think organic tastes better too, particularly organic meat, such as the South Devon beef from Higher Hacknell. It is firmer, and marbled with creamy fat, offering a taste far superior to industrially-reared meat. And while it may be a little more expensive, it isn’t disproportionately so, given the taste and health benefits, and the increase in the cost of chemical fertilisers means that the price gap between organic and non-organic is closing.
BETTER FOR FARMERS
Whether through organic meatbox schemes, as pioneered by Higher Hacknell Farm, or at monthly Farmers Markets, buying direct from organic farms means that the farmer is able to gain a higher, fairer price without being squeezed by the middlemen. Interaction with their customers in this way also means that farmers are able to share their love of the land and create a narrative about the history and traditions behind their product. They are able to enthuse their love of the land to the consumer, who is then much more likely to think seriously and conscientiously about food choices in the future.
BETTER FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Organic farming places greater emphasis on protecting and looking after the land, and its inhabitants, than any other farming system, it is ‘working with nature and not against it’. It insists on high animal welfare standards, meaning animals have space to roam, to express themselves and to grow slowly and healthily. Artificial fertilisers and pesticides are banned, preventing them leaching from the soil and entering the water system, and instead fertile soil is developed by rotating crops Biodiversity is also encouraged, and up to 50% higher on organic farms, and achieved by leaving corridors of hedgerows between fields or building ponds, and the farmers themselves such as at Maddocks Farm, an organic edible flower farm in Devon, recognise their role as guardians of local habitats, pledging 2% of their profits to bee conservation.
The organic farming system offers us all the chance to truly reconnect with our food, to share in the experience of our farming community and to make a positive difference to the environment. It isn’t, as Tim and Jo admit, perfect, but it is ‘pretty close’.
Written by Hugh Collins