March 1, 2024 110 Views

So, a certain supermarket is now marketing themselves as the new superhero; putting ‘super’ back into supermarket with super affordable and quality produce.  This would be funny if it wasn’t so manifestly stupid.

 “Food does not grow on shelves”, it’s produced by hard working farmers and growers, all year round in weather that is becoming increasingly more extreme and erratic.  All of the ‘big’ supermarkets have been capitalising on the cost-of-living crisis by offering consumers good food at ‘affordable’ prices, but they do this by giving farmers the worst possible deals. In general, farmers only get paid 10p for every £1 spent on food. Meantime supermarket profits stay high, shareholders get their dividends but another farm goes out of business. Well, that’s capitalism for you but NO FARMERS, NO FOOD, NO FUTURE.

However, modern agriculture does need to clean up its act because it remains the number one source of river pollution and 85% of farmed animals are confined in factory farms in the UK, especially pigs and poultry (www.ciwf.org.uk). Intensive farming has turned soil into nutrient-depleted, lifeless dirt leading to a reliance on expensive, artificial fertilisers to keep yields high. Pesticides are routinely used as a means of pest control, even though these are not specific and so wipe out all insects, including pollinators like bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Let’s not forget that one in three mouthfuls of food that we eat is dependent on pollination. The rural idyl of cows in fields, pigs rootling in woodland and chickens scratching around farmyards hides the ugly truth of industrial food production which consumers choose to ignore when tucking into their chicken nuggets, triple burgers, sausages and lattes.

The good news is that lots of farmers are already making the necessary changes to keep producing nutritious food whilst protecting the natural world and building resilience to climate change. Considering that 70% of our land is used for farming, whether you call it regenerative farming, agroecology or planet-first food, shifting to a more sustainable method of food production makes sense, morally but also financially. Nature is amid an unprecedented biodiversity crisis with 1 in 6 species at risk of becoming extinct, so nature-friendly farming has the potential to make a huge difference. Indeed, the Nature Friendly Farming Network (nffn.org.uk) and The Wildlife Trusts (wildlifetrusts.org) published their guide to ‘Farming at The Sweet Spot’ in 2023 highlighting the way forward.

In a nutshell, if we recover the biodiversity on our farms from the soils, to the hedgerows, to the field margins, to the woodland and wetland habits, we can protect our food supply and the natural world that we need to survive. In fact the transformation can be made in 3-7 years ( Designing Regenerative Food Systems by Marina O’Connell), which makes this a truly exciting prospect.

Other inspirational stories can be found across the UK; like Simon Weaver (simonweaverorganic.co.uk) the organic cheese maker who rents fields from Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust at Greystone Farms. Here his cows feed on the wildflower meadows and are milked using a robotic freedom milker that makes calmer cows produce higher yields. The truffle Gloucester really does taste as good as it sounds. The Cotswolds are also where FarmED and Daylesford Organic successfully run viable businesses with nature-friendly policy at its heart. FarmED champions crop rotation to restore soil health and mob grazing of livestock. They grow crops with deep roots, like heritage grains, chicory and sainfoin, that help restore soil structure.  Nitrogen fixing red clover and legumes are also cultivated, negating the need for nitrogenous fertilisers that are expensive and wash off into waterways causing pollution. Livestock are moved daily to a new section of pasture so that the soil is replenished with manure but not overgrazed. This style of farming is hugely beneficial to the whole ecosystem and walking around their fields you can spot trees full of birds as well as fox and deer. FarmED run courses and tours around the farm to help promote their work; go to www.farm-ed.co.uk for more details. The Green Farm Collective is another great example of farmers working together to promote regenerative agriculture (www.greenfarmcollective.com).

Right on my doorstep in beautiful Nottinghamshire, there is Hills of Edingley, a pasture for life member (pastureforlife.org), who keep their pedigree shorthorn cattle in small family groups and sell the beef to locals at their weekend farm shop. As well as providing biodiverse pasture for the livestock, this organic farm provides hay meadows, hedgerows, orchards and wetland habitats for a range of wildlife such as skylarks, lapwings, hares and barn owls. Just down the road, The Real Milk Company (therealmilkcompany.com) is an organic, cow-with-calf farm that sells ethically produced milk through a clever vending machine that customers use themselves. Wildflower margins, ponds and nest boxes are just some of the initiatives the farm has made to support wildlife.

By harnessing nature, farming benefits from pest control without the need for insecticides, soil replenishment without the need for fertilisers and that means more nutrient-dense crops that don’t contain pesticide residues. 

Mother Nature provides a cost effective and life enhancing way of us producing our food, now that’s what I’d call a true superhero.

Let’s hear her roar.