Why do we Farm?

Why do we Farm?

This is a question that has bothered me ever since I started to farm for a living, when I ask other people this question, they invariably say “to produce food” or “to feed people” but I regret to say that they are wrong. If we were to design a farming system that was truly meant to feed people and go on doing so for the indefinite future, it would look very different from the one we have now.

Farming is our most important industry, our hunter-gatherer days are long gone and we rely on the farming system for our very survival, in fact, everything we consume comes from the farming of plants, they are the only thing on earth that provides, everything else takes. For millennia human societies produced enough food and fibre to sustain themselves and they didn’t have industrial machinery or chemical fertilisers. To them, farming was a craft, based on mixed farms and local production, this system along with what we know now that would work perfectly well.

So why do we Farm?

We have created a world were commerce prevails; it’s ideals and mechanisms. Everything that happens in agriculture as in the world has a price. Efficiency is measured in cash and productivity is measured in the total monetary wealth produced. The problem here is farming is not a financial process, farming is a biological process; from the soil, to the seed, to the plant, to the food, to the stomach, to the manure. Success should be measured in biological terms; nutrient density, abundant crops, healthy soils, biodiversity.

Productivity and efficiency are important but when everything is minutely costed and cash becomes the sole measure, the criteria of success changes and biology is flouted.

So what are the implications?

To reduce costs, labor is cut drastically and this comes at a price that doesn’t appear on the balance sheet; if we cut labor we have to simplify our methods, one man cannot manage 10,000 hectares if there is going to be any degree intricacy. When we drive through the countryside and see the horizon upon horizon of cereal crops, those farms are run by numbers; routine applications of various chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides; according to the calendar rather than a perceived need, this goes for cattle too they are given growth hormones and antibiotics as standard.

Chemical fertilisers and pesticides are known to diminish soil life and it is not good for cattle to be constantly medicated. Despite this the farmers of the world are brought into the same game; big fields, big machines, monocultures and standardised products; cutting away at woodlands and hedges and killing the creatures that live in them day by day.

To keep prices down governments have typically encouraged farming methods that minimise the cost of production but in truth cheap production doesn’t lead to cheap food in the shop, our food is processed several times before the supermarket with each process adding value on the way.

The mass production and distribution of food provide lots of opportunity for malpractice and this cut-price husbandry contravenes the fundamental principles of biology, not to mention morality, human values, aesthetics and common sense. Thus it has enormous dangers; I do not have enough time to go through all the incidents of malpractice and devastation of modern agriculture, so I will just touch on a couple.

BSE or mad cow disease came to light in 1985, dairy cows were dying after suffering from head tremors, loss of weight and lack of coordination. It then spread; 3 years later the first human cases (CJD) were reported the first four victims were dairy farmers. To cut a long story short BSE came from feeding bits of dead cattle to live cattle for a cheap source of fat and protein, it was forced cannibalism on a group of herbivores.

Now most people would object to doing such a thing on moral grounds, however, in a global marketplace where producer and consumer are so distant we get this kind of thing has become common.

Whilst we are on the subject of morality, I feel that I have to mention the mass advertising of cheap, processed stuff (I don’t want to call it food) to children. These products are loaded with sugar and preservatives and are known to be detrimental to health. These products are launched onto the market along with mass advertising because they are cheap to produce, have a long shelf life and the mark up on them is outrageous.  Advertising these products to children reinforces the idea that food isn’t food until it’s suitably processed and gets kids hooked on sugary products.

This also creates a positive feedback loop, the more we buy this rubbish the more gets produced.

So what can we do about it?

Paradoxically, the greatest hope in the immediate term could be consumerism. If we elect to buy some things and not others, in principle we can mold a corporation’s efforts. The whole modern economy relies on the complicity of consumers, as consumers in a capitalist world we still have power.

Buy fresh food, start cooking, its much cheaper and better for you than packed and processed rubbish. Buying from local producers cuts the supply chain and you find the quality of the produce is incomparable.

Local producers are on the whole far more ethical in their approach to farming because they care about their local area and the people in it. It’s also much more difficult to swindle you neighbours than someone who lives on the other side of the world

At Frith Farm we actually care about our land and our people, even if money were no object I would still get up at 4:30am every morning and do what I do today. I want everyone in my area to eat like royalty, whilst regenerating our habitat and looking after the land that provides for us.

What else is in our food?

What else is in our food?

In 2009 I completed a Masters by Research in Science of the Environment.  My research focussed on pesticide residues in food, and the findings from my dissertation were later published in the journal Chemosphere.  Here are some of the things I found out.

Unless we eat a diet of entirely chemical free or organic food, we are all eating pesticides.  Food grown by ‘conventional’, chemical dependent methods contains traces of the pesticides applied to it.  It doesn’t all reach our mouths – some is washed off by rain, some chemicals are broken down by sunlight, some will be carried off by the wind and some can be removed by washing.  But not all of it.

It’s worth noting that many pesticides are designed to have limited solubility in water, precisely so that they stay on the crop they’re meant to be protecting and don’t wash off with rain into our water courses.  The down side of that is that washing your fruit and veg won’t remove all the pesticide residues on it.  Also, crops grown with pesticide protection under polytunnels may contain higher incidences and levels of pesticide residues simply because the polytunnel protects the pesticide from the natural conditions that can remove or breakdown some of the chemical [1].

How do we know if there are pesticides in our food?

It’s no secret that there are pesticide residues in food, it’s just not publicly advertised.  The government monitors pesticide residues in home-produced and imported food, and the results of their quarterly analysis (performed by the Health and Safety Executive) are analysed by the Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF).  They test samples of all components of what is regarded as ‘the national diet’, including milk, bread, cereals, potatoes, animal products and fruit and vegetables.  Their results are freely available on the internet [2]:

www.gov.uk/government/collections/pesticide-residues-in-food-results-of-monitoring-programme

This monitoring programme helps to make sure that levels of pesticide residues in food don’t exceed things like the Maximum Residue Level, the Acute Refrerence Dose, and the Acceptable Daily Intake for each pesticide.  Fancy terms for different types of assessment of whether or not a pesticide has the potential to cause harm to health at various levels and frequency of exposures.

Should we be reassured by this monitoring programme?

There are difficulties in setting all of these safety levels.  There are uncertainty factors well acknowledged within the scientific community [3].  But what really is of concern is the lack of understanding of the ‘cocktail effect’ of repeatedly consuming ‘safe’ levels of lots of different pesticides.  PRiF reports regularly record more than one pesticide residue within a single food sample.  We also don’t (usually) eat meals that contain just one food.  So in a single meal we might be consuming ‘safe’ levels of lots of different pesticides.  It is possible that those pesticides have a cumulative and synergystic effect [3], that is, the effects of each could add up within the body, or even that the presence of one chemical may amplify the effect of another.  All the possible different combinations of chemicals that we might be exposed to are so numerous that it is effectively impossible to test the effects of them all, particularly when we would have to predict the effects of repeated combinations of exposures over many years.

To add to that – there is disagreement on the safety of some pesticides. Glyphosate is a good example.  Glyphosate is the most frequently used herbicide worldwide and within the EU [4].   In March 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans”.  And it is getting into humans.  A study analysing glyphosate residue in human urine carried out by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Germany concluded that 75% of the target group displayed levels that were five times higher than the legal limit in drinking water. A third of the population even showed levels that were between ten and 42 times higher than what is normally permissible [5].  There are ongoing debates about the potential impacts of glyphosate on health, but there are powerful interests in maintaining it’s use.   It is still widely and legally used in the UK and EU.

What does all this mean for our food choices?

Having spent 5 months researching pesticide residues in food, my own conclusion is that if you eat food produced using chemical dependent ‘conventional’ farming techniques, be aware that you are likely to be consuming pesticide residues, and that we really don’t and can’t know what the long-term, combined impact of that will be.

There is good news though.  Awareness of pesticide residues in food is increasing.  The more concerns that are voiced, the more the government will be inclined to be cautious when monitoring and also licensing pesticides (particularly important once we start having to do this nationally, outside of the EU).

But better than that – there are real, viable alternatives.  You can choose to eat organic food, produced without the routine use of chemical pesticides.  I have found choosing organic food can sometimes conflict with other food ethics – should I buy organic if it has travelled a long way to get to me?  So I’m delighted that Frith Farm is (re?)creating a farming system that enables the sustainable production and distribution of high quality, local and chemical free food for Beverley and Hull.

Gina Allen

 

References:

  1. Allen et. al. (2015). Increased occurrence of pesticide residues on crops grown in protected environments compared to crops grown in open field conditions, Chemosphere, Volume 119, 2015, Pages 1428-1435.
  2. www.gov.uk/government/collections/pesticide-residues-in-food-results-of-monitoring-programme (accessed 17.7.07).
  3. Boobis, A.R., et al. 2008.  Cumulative Risk Assessment of Pesticide Residues in Food.  Toxicology Letters.  180. 137-150.
  4. European Commission website, Press Release Database, Press Release Details, FAQs Glyphosate. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-16-2012_en.htm  (accessed 18.07.17)
  5. www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/overwhelming-majority-of-germans-contaminated-by-glyphosate/ (accessed 18.07.17)

 

Smooth Operator

Summer sunshine, how I love waking up to the sun streaming through my bedroom window and looking out to green grass green trees and green leafy veggies growing in my garden, so lets talk about what makes a tantalizingly delicious smoothies with green leaves – ok, you don’t have to… yet

What is a Smoothie

Smoothies are usually made up of a blended combination of fruit and vegetables and contain the flesh and fibre.  The amounts of fruit to vegetable each are dependant on personal tastes, likes and sweetness and who’s making them! They are super quick, easy and fun for all the family to do. Kids love them and its a sure way to ensure a good boost of vitamins minerals and pyhtonutrients towards RDA. They may give massive energy boosting nutrients to super charge your days too because of the huge nutrient value in just one glass or bottle.

Treat yourself to a refreshing glass of fruit and veg

Fruits are sweet due of their natural fruit sugar content, so a combination of fruit and vegetable is a good option and balances out the more bitter taste from green leafy vegetables ie kale, chard, lettuce, radish and beets. Mint, ginger, citrus fruits, apples and bananas are good basic flavour enhancers and add extra “zing” to a smoothie to counteract the natural bitter taste of greens.  My favourite recipe if I have tons of greens to get through is

  • 3 lemons and 1 apple with a big handful of greens, green lemonade, yum!

Adding nut milks like almond, hazelnut etc and hemp, coconut or dairy ie goat or cow with yoghurt may be used and children enjoy making these into a delicious fruit milkshake, especially now in the berry season!

  • 3 Large handful of strawberries, a squeeze of fresh lemon, 2 mint leaves and a large glass of almond milk and ice

Use a powerful blender to whizz up your favourite fruits. Make it an orange day, green, pink, purple dependent on the ingredients you have to ensure a range of varying phytochemicals ie antioxidants in your weekly regime.

Add orange, pineapple, grapes, pomegranate, grapefruit, berries, add unusual fruits mango, papaya, kiwi anything you fancy. Be your own creativity genius.  Melon is best eaten on its own or simply with fresh lime juice and mint. Water melon is delicious whizzed up on its own including the seeds with ice it goes into a pretty pink frothy refreshing drink and is packed with vital antioxidants.

When you are feeling good about fruits then try adding greens lettuce chard spinach etc as this really increases the minerals and vitamins due to the rich chlorophyll content abundant in green foods. Beetroot and carrot are excellent as these are quite sweet as starter vegetables to incorporate.

Daily smoothies can be worthwhile time investment for you, your environment, your health your longevity, don’t you think?

Help grow gardens, eat more vegetables!!!

See how body mind and spirit will thank you…..

By Karina Clappison

 

Local is the new organic

What does Organic mean? I expect everyone will answer this differently. I encourage you now to stop reading for a moment and ask yourself the question. Now I want you to consider your thoughts on ‘local food’, what does this mean to you?

Why do I ask? A 2016 review paper[i]  explained that most organic consumers do not actually have a full understanding of organic standards but purchase organic food based on the perception that it’s healthier, fresher and tastier as well as the belief that it’s better for the environment and animal welfare.

The same paper highlights the general populations’ preference for local food over other ‘food quality cues’ or food that has traveled long distances. This is said to be due to not only the desire to know where our food is from (trace-ability), but also the belief that food is therefore fresher, healthier and safer than imported products in addition to it supporting local economiesii.

Interestingly, the motivations behind each choice often overlap, and some people assume that organic and local are somewhat the same thing.

Organic standards are set by the soil association in the UK and written into European law. They provide a framework to which farmers must adhere to, in order for the certification to be awarded. These include rules on limiting pesticides  and herbicide use to only naturally derived ones, limited use of antibiotics to only when necessary for animal welfare, and therefore offers a positive impact on environment and wildlife.

The use of the term ‘organic’ in food labelling and advertising is prohibited without official certification, great news for all you sceptics who may have believed it was all a ‘con’. Not so great for small scale farmers who cannot afford the annual fee but who do adopt the chemical free, environmentally friendly ethos.

This is where ‘local’ comes in. As yet, the term ‘local’ has not been definedi (as with all things these days, we need a legal definition because the word meaning itself is insufficient) hence why I asked you earlier, what local means to you.

Frith Farm is local to the Beverley and Hull area, currently supplying only as far as the guy’s at Frith can cycle with a bike trailer (quite far by most people’s standards to be fair, but still within 10 miles) – some of you may even see one on a banana yellow bike cycling between Beverley and Hull on regular basis. (It doesn’t get more environmentally considerate than that!)

So, let’s talk about the logistical aspects of food production. Whether a food item is organically certified or not, I encourage you to think about what it’s packaged in and where it’s from, this’ll give you some idea of how far it’s travelled; that organic avocado wasn’t grown in the UK, I can guarantee it!

While some studies have suggested that transportation of food is not a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with agriculture, these same studies have been criticised as using inappropriate methods of analysis[ii].

While quashing this idea, they suggested it would be more appropriate to consider a dynamic view on the benefits of local food production and consumption, or example:

  • Sustainable water management
  • Recycling of nutrients: Composting urban organic wastes to use as natural fertilizer therefore, reducing the amount of food waste in landfill

What do you think the environmental benefits might be of eating food grown within 10 miles of your home, completely chemical free, recycling local resources in the form of ‘organic wastes’ (compost) and building materials such as wood, and picked on the day you get it?

Personally, I think it’s safe to say there are a fair few benefits to the environment, local economy AND your health.

Why are Frith farm NOT applying for Organic certification?

Firstly, just to clarify, Frith are in complete favour of the organic practice; we’d have loved to offer you that official stamp of approval. However having looked into the certification, we discovered it’s an expensive process for a small, local CSA to pay for annually. The costs start at £750 per year for veg and goes up with animal products. It’s a small sum for these larger farms but a huge expense, for little return, on a small scale set up.  The way organic certification system is structured is both too impractical and too expensive for small-scale local producers — particularly those who own limited amounts of land, and hence have to rely on rented land, local and recycled products.

It’s also a timely procedure; a farm cannot be certified organic for the first 2 years, the point is to ensure any previously used chemicals have ‘washed away’. This is completely understandable, however the land which Frith Farm took over in 2016 had not been used for any purpose for over 10 years, although we would still have to wait another 2.

Working to such a rigid structure as the organic standard would in fact go against some of our principles; we would not be able to use the local compost produced by all of your brown bins, instead we would have to source the ‘nearest’ organically certified compost and have it transported. In our minds transporting 40 tonnes of organic compost further than necessary, numerous times per year, is not an environmentally aware decision. We’re a small scale, local, start up CSA; the financial commitment as well as the conflicting environmental benefits were enough to sway our decision.

Having traveled around many small scale farms and CSA’s in the UK, Ben learned that many do not make it if they insist on a rigid, idealistic approach to farming. Frith prefers to balance idealism with pragmatism: “as a farmer you must weigh up the options at hand to keep the farm running. In this case, reducing costs and optimising on local resources are bigger priorities for Frith Farm than certifying our procedures”

“We hope to develop a trusting relationship with our members, everything is transparent, we don’t need to pay a third party for a symbol

Going forward, we will label our farming methods ‘chemical free’ and encourage you to volunteer as a CSA member, so you can see it all happening for yourselves.

Who else can guarantee your food is picked on the very same day you get it?

SIGN UP! To our new Veg Box Scheme launching this June.

[i] Hempel, C. & Hamm, U. (2016) Local and/or organic: a study on consumer preferences for organic food and food from different origins. International journal of consumer studies. 40: 1470-6423.

[ii] Yang, Y. & Campbell, J, E. (2017) Improving attributional life cycle assessment for decision support: the case of local food in sustainable design. Journal of cleaner production. 145: 361-366

Writer: Laura Ryan