Organic Food – Sustainable farming
Sustainable land use
I occasionally nerd out and sign up to listen to lectures (before Covid I could even attend them in person, which includes refreshments!). It’s great that I can still attend them on Zoom. Last week I listened to Food (security) and Social Resilience. I’m very interested in keeping up to date with the discourse around land use, natural capital, food security – especially when discussed alongside climate change. To me it’s really simple, we have one planet with a certain amount of land, water and natural resources – and even though things like water and trees are renewable they will run out if we use them greedily. It certainly seems difficult to calculate how much fresh water we can safely use to drink, wash with, clean food and use in manufacturing without running out before it rains again (I’m trying to keep it simple). But, luckily for us scientists, researchers and mathematicians have done the math! I was lucky enough to attend a lecture by Kate Raworth, author of The Doughnut Economics, and the below drawing I think clearly shows that we have a “doughnut” of safe / sustainable use of resources before we breach the “ecological ceiling”. We have to live within the doughnut.
Soil Association does some amazing work with the aim of allowing everyone to eat good food, food that is produced “in a way that protects our natural world and allows every farm animal to feel the sun on their backs”. I’m a huge advocate for organic health – I even try to grow my own food on an allotment! If I could change one thing in the world tomorrow it would be to eradicate pesticide, artificial fertilisers and use of antibiotics in farming (does that count as 3 things?)
Regardless of the environment for a moment, as a healthy individual I don’t want to eat or drink anything that has been produced with chemicals. I almost always choose unpackaged food that’s not been wrapped in plastics for months and stored for weeks. When I wash my food I want to be washing away dirt not poisons. I want to know what’s on my plate.
When I swim in rivers, lakes or the sea I don’t want to be at risk of pollution. I choose to swim outside to get away from the smelly, chlorinated water at a swimming pool. Regardless of whether I swim in it, I want our natural waterways to be clear, clean and safe for wildlife and for us. When it rains chemicals sprayed on farms can be washed away into waterways or groundwater. Water contamination – watch Erin Brockervich (2000 Hollywood film starring Julia Roberts based on a true story!)
The effects on wildlife and farm animals from pesticides and artificial fertilisers are detrimental. “41% of Britain’s wildlife species have declined since 1970, and more than 1 in 10 are currently facing extinction.” We need insects, we need pests for a complete ecosystem. Healthy, natural soil where farm animals graze means less need for medicines and treatments including antibiotics.
We all know that trees take in carbon dioxide from the air for photosynthesis. This is a natural way of cleaning our atmosphere and keeping all living things healthy, but we’ve gone overboard when it comes to creating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Enter Global Warming and Climate Change, the biggest existential crisis humanity has ever encountered.
Soil health is crucial, according to the Soil Association, “2,500 billion tonnes of carbon stored in the world’s soils – more than in the plants, trees and the atmosphere combined.” Healthy organic soil is more effective than non organic soil at storing carbon long term. The healthier our soil and more organic our farming practices the better chance of our soil to be essential carbon sinks.
Grow Back Better
Soil Association published their Grow Back Better Report this year (2020) and included their “Ten-Year Transition to Healthy and Sustainable Diets”. Here’s a quick run through of the 10 points
- Government support to allow farmers to move away from intensive farming practices
- Reward organic farming, set anti pesticide targets, government entice farmers to sell organic produce
- Support farmers to increase tree cover
- Investment in farmer led innovation
- Target for improving soil health
- Investment in UK horticultural, especially nuts
- Aim to cut out ultra processed foods
- Increase organic produce in public settings, and less meat
- Invest in school food education
- Rebuilt regional food supply chains
The last point was talked about in the talk I attended. Jo Lewis from SA spoke after Tim Lang – I recommend you listen. Hosted by The Uni of Bath who upload the recordings on their website.
I choose to eat organic and local when I can – hopefully the bigger the demand the better chance that government will listen and put the above in to place.