Tag Archives: organic farming

Work with the land to restore health

At last there seems to be a shift away from agrochemical farming. I discovered organic growing almost 30 years ago whilst recovering from a life threatening and life changing illness. I am sure that helped my recovery.

Switching away from oil based pesticides and the huge amounts of gas need to produce artificial fertilisers will help to combat climate change.

Pesticides and chemical fertilizers do not create health in the food, the consumer, the soil, the air, or the water. We need for all of our systems to be healthy again.

Rise in organic food sales

An article in The Guardian says that “Organic food and drink sales rise to record levels in the UK”. That is good news but there is still scepticism about the value of organic food. Some say it is too expensive others argue that it is a con. The thing that finally convinced me it was the only food i wanted to eat was finding the information about pesticide residues in food. That was in the early 1990s when the government stipulated a ‘safe’ minimum amount of residue for each common pesticide and fungicide. For many years two government scientists, McCance and Widdowson, produced a report of the amounts of each pesticide found in fruit and veg that they bought from supermarkets. There were items that exceeded the allowed maximum and this was included in a yearly report.

What was not recognised was that most crops received multiple applications of different products. There might be applications of fungicide, then pesticides for insect infestation followed by weed killers. There was never any limit for cocktails of chemicals.

Then in a drought year we heard about high levels of chemicals in carrots and the government  told us to wash them. The problem is that modern pesticides are systemic. That means they are taken up into the cells of the plant and cannot be removed, even by fancy veg washing products. And peeling does not help as the chemicals are in every cell.

Those of you of a certain age will remember crops of corn slowly turning a golden colour in late summer and then the harvest that followed when the weather was right. Now, cereal crops and potatoes are ‘sprayed off’ so that harvest can happen at set times. On corn they use weed killer and acid on potatoes to kill the tops.

Modern farms are part of the supermarket supply chain and if they are contracted to supply 100 tonnes of potatoes in the first week of September that is what they must do or lose the contract. It is supermarkets who control agriculture as it must be part of a production line to ensure continuous supply. There is no such thing as seasonal fruit and vegetables, we want everything all the time and we it now!

There have been arguments about organic produce being more nutritious. An idea fiercely contested by conventional farming. A study by Newcastle University found that organic milk was higher in nutrients. Such research is not so common now as universities rely on external funding.

Other groups round the world looked at simple indicators of quality in veg like the Brix reading. Although this is a simple test that anybody can do it does provide an overall indication of quality. I have a brix refractometer bought several years ago when experimenting with different growing techniques and did a random test on carrots last week. Comparing a standard carrot from Waitrose with one in our box from Riverford Organics. The results are clear

Supplier BRIX
Waitrose 6.4
Riverford 10.2

It is not all about pesticides as non-organic, or factory farming, methods also have an effect on soil, our greatest natural asset. Since the 1940s the emphasis has been on increasing production through the widespread use of chemical fertilisers. While the use of N-P-K (Nitrogen Phosphorous Potassium or Potash) does give rapid growth, it produces plants that do not have the strength to withstand insect attacks. Previously farms mixed and crops on land manured by the animals. That was a natural cycle and produced rich healthy soil.

A somewhat ironic side effect of not applying organic matters to soil such as compost or manure is that it results in thin soils which are easily eroded. Farmers use high cost inputs to get bigger, quicker crops and lose their soil in the process.

There is growing evidence that the strongest, healthiest and most nutritious crops are grown on good quality soils that provide the whole spectrum of minerals and nutrients. That is not surprising! The fact that the nutritional value of food has declined since the 1940s is overlooked see this report from 2002  And this one from McCance and Widdowson

This is why I decided to buy organic food nearly 30 years ago. Some will argue it is an expensive luxury but now the price of organic veg is the same or only slightly more than the other stuff. In the end it is your choice but remember one thing, your body is you, if you look after it and feed it well you will feel the benefits. Like I said to a man one day if you bought a top of the range luxury car would you put paraffin (kerosene) in the tank to save money. He told me not to be so stupid, so, I asked him why did he put the cheapest possible food down his throat. My only conclusion was that he valued his new car more than he valued himself.

The answer? Grow you own and if not have it delievered to your door.  We use Riverford as we no longer able to grow much of our own food.

The Organic Revolution: How We Can Stop Global Warming

“The heretofore unpublicized ‘good news’ on climate change, according to the Rodale Institute and other soil scientists, is that transitioning from chemical, water, and energy-intensive industrial agriculture practices to organic farming and ranching on the world’s 3.5 billion acres of farmland and 8.2 billion acres of pasture or rangeland can sequester 7,000 pounds per acre of climate-destabilizing CO2 every year, while nurturing healthy soils, plants, grasses, and trees that are resistant to drought, heavy rain, pests, and disease. And of course organic farms and ranches can provide us with food that is much more nutritious than industrial farms and ranches – food filled with vitamins, anti-oxidants, and essential trace minerals, free from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), pesticides, antibiotics, and sewage sludge.”

-Ronnie Cummins, “The Organic Revolution: How We Can Stop Global Warming,” October 12, 2009

Organic farming can feed Africa

Many of us have believed this for years but now a UN report confirms it; organic farming can feed Africa, there is no need for agrochemicals or GM technology.

Organic agriculture can increase agricultural productivity and can raise incomes with
low-cost, locally available and appropriate technologies, without causing environmental
damage. Furthermore, evidence shows that organic agriculture can build up natural
resources, strengthen communities and improve human capacity, thus improving food
security by addressing many different causal factors simultaneously.

Read the full report here. With am impending food crisis in the so called ‘developed world’ maybe we should take note.

EU parliament votes to ban (some) farm pesticides

This was the news splashed across many media channels yesterday and today. Many sources got it wrong and suggested, or implied, that all pesticides are to be banned. In fact only a small number will be banned so don’t believe the scaremongers who claim that UK agriculture will collapse!

It really is about time we realised that there is no place for poisons in food. Banning some of the more harmful pesticides is a start but it does not go far enough. There should be zero pesticide residues in all food.

The biggest losers are the multinational agrochemical companies. They will make a noise and with the inevitable support of the NFU will claim that this will push prices up, that whole crops will fail, that we will have to import more and that people will go hungry. Note that no reference will be made to the successes of organic farming which is dismissed as a niche market.

What affect will it have on our household? Nil, nothing, zero because we neither buy pesticides soaked food or use them on our home grown produce. We are far from the rich, ‘lifestyle choosers’ that the NFU, and others, like to describe people who buy organic food. In fact we are relatively poor by today’s standards but choose to buy organic food because we don’t want to eat food that contains pesticide residues. We also grow some of our own food very successfully without using any artificial chemicals in the garden. It can be done, we can have pesticide free food, and I absolutely believe that it is a MUCH healthier way to live.