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A long organic heritage - celebrating 70 years with the Soil Association

Henry Chevallier Guild: Whenever I asked my Grandmother about the early days of The Soil Association, conversation would often turn to Lady Eve Balfour, an inspiring character whom Granny would often describe as a “true warrior”. It’s interesting to read The Living Soil now and see just how ahead of her time Lady Eve was. Many of her opinions on nutrition, the food we eat and the effect it has on us, whilst cutting edge in the 1940’s, are accepted wisdom today.

25 August 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 0

Farming on empty – California in the 4th drought year

Marianne Landzettel: Californians are taking shorter showers, rip out the front lawn to plant cacti while in the nearby mountains numerous forest fires feed on tinder-dry brush. Leave the Pacific behind, cross the Coastal Range and you’ll get to the Central Valley. Over 700 km long, flat as a pancake, with rich soils, mild winters and an average of 300 days of sunshine, the Central Valley is the most productive and profitable agricultural region in the United States: California produces 97% of all kiwis, 95% of all celery, 89% of all spinach, consumed in the US. With roughly 1.8 million cows California is the nations biggest dairy producer. But by far the most valuable crops are nuts, pistachios, cashews, walnuts and of course almonds.

25 August 2015 | 2 Comments | Recommended by 2

Out to Lunch… Where does our food come from?

Natasha Collins Daniel: “You’re getting served a sneezer” my husband said as our waitress trudged off to the kitchen a third time. We were visiting Wagamama, researching for the Soil Association’s Out to Lunch campaign - improving children’s food in popular UK restaurants. The campaign is putting pressure on restaurants, cafès and family-friendly pubs across the country to cook fresh, interesting meals, use quality ingredients, make healthy eating easy, and provide families with a warm welcome.

17 August 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 0

Pamela Schiele – 1918-2015

Mark Measures: Last month Pamela Schiele died peacefully at home in Oxford at the age of 97. Pamela, a long-time member of the Soil Association, was a tremendous force for good - a force for nature and for sustainable mixed agriculture.

16 August 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 0

Government lifts ban on bee harming pesticides

Louise Payton: The Government’s recent decision to overturn a ban on bee damaging insecticides is outrageous. It goes against the explicit wishes of half a million people who told the government not to give in to pressure from the NFU and agrochemical companies, and it goes against science.

03 August 2015 | 5 Comments | Recommended by 1

Toxic chemicals in our daily bread: ban glyphosate now

Natasha Collins Daniel: Spraying a probable carcinogen on food crops to kill them so they can be harvested faster – it sounds ridiculous – but it’s happening all across the UK on the wheat that makes our bread, flour and other things like biscuits. It gets worse. The weed killer in question, glyphosate, was recently classified by the World Health Organisation’s IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) as a probable carcinogen for humans – and new data analysis shows it’s appearing more and more frequently in our bread.

23 July 2015 | 8 Comments | Recommended by 0

Why I choose organic meat

Danny Lidgate: We have been buying and selling organic produce for some decades and have seen many changes in the food industry and consumer habits. The biggest trend seems to be, not surprisingly, an interest in where the food comes from and what might be in it. In a stressful and fast-moving city lifestyle a balanced and healthy diet can help detoxify and improve physical and mental well being. This can sometimes mean eating a little less but eating better, and of course this is as important for vegetables as for meat.

22 July 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 0

Divest and invest – in renewables!

Juliet Davenport: In the UK, the energy sector is the biggest culprit when it comes to carbon emissions, so it’s not surprising that there have been calls for organisations like big business, pension funds, universities and religious bodies to make a stand against climate change and divest from fossil fuels. But what are the alternative targets for ethical and commercially viable investment, once you’ve taken your cash out of fossil fuel businesses?

21 July 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 0

More poison in the fields and our food – and never mind the warnings

Marianne Landzettel: Earlier this year the IARC, the World Health Organisation’s cancer research agency, classified glyphosate, the most widely used weed killer in the world (best know as the Roundup brand), as ‘probably carcinogenic’. This month they put another weed killer, 2,4-D, in the ‘possibly carcinogenic’ category. Why that matters becomes clear when you realise that 2,4-D is known to be very similar to an active ingredient in the leaf stripping chemical ‘Agent Orange’ used during the Vietnam War.

14 July 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 5

The ‘root’ to improving your health

Jo Scamell: Before my work involved human health, I was employed as a cattle nutritionist working alongside vets, trying to improve the quality of life of beef and dairy cattle. Historically this involved the laboratory analysis of the feeds they were eating - the grass, silage, hay and then the cereals and things like soya. We felt this gave us all the information we needed to ensure these animals had a balanced diet. 10 years into my career, whilst working on poor farming areas in Australia, I began to see the limitations of this approach. The penny dropped - it all starts under our feet - in the soil we so often just take for granted.

09 July 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 0

Celebrating 25 years at the Soil Association!

Francis Blake: I recently found out, much to my surprise, that I have just passed my 25th anniversary working for the Soil Association. Comments flowed like, wow that’s quite a feat, and, how on earth have you survived that, and, you must write a blog of your experience! It’s actually worse (or better!) than that as, whilst my employment began in April 1990, I started working as self-employed four years before that, in 1986. And in fact for five years before that, I was a trustee on the Council. But perhaps I should start even earlier, when I got hooked on organic farming.

07 July 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 3

The harrowing business of being a buttercup farmer

Upper Pant Farm: I’ve been chain harrowing all our grass fields today, which involves pulling a carpet of metal spikes up and down each field with my David Brown tractor. The spikes pull out the dead grass from last year and freshen the ground, allowing new grass and clover space to grow. Clover is especially important to us, as it takes nitrogen from the air and puts it in the soil, increasing the fertility of the soil which in turn increases our crop yields. Encouraging clover means we don’t need fossil fuel derived artificial nitrate fertilizer, which is better for soil life and means a smaller carbon footprint!

01 July 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 0

Let’s get seedy

Kim Stoddart: Guardian gardening writer and enthusiastic seed saver, Kim Stoddart shares her tales from the seed field lab - I signed up to become part of this initiative last year when I worked with the Soil Association on a series of videos about seed saving. I’d been increasingly dabbling with this oft-neglected practise and buoyed by the success of last year’s efforts producing my own stock of kale and carrot seed this seemed like a natural progression.

30 June 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 1

Calling all parents! Volunteer as a restaurant critic

Rob Percival: In 2013, the Soil Association investigated the food served to children in 21 of the biggest and most popular high street chains across the UK. We uncovered a glaring lack of variety and creativity in children’s menus, with healthy eating made difficult by the dominance of chicken nuggets, burgers and sausages, and restaurants failing to provide parents and children with what they want and deserve.

24 June 2015 | 2 Comments | Recommended by 4

Antibiotics in farming – a pharmaceutical crutch that threatens our health

Peter Melchett: There are several things that many of us fear will be in a long list our grandchildren draw up of ‘how could you possibly have let that happen’? Cooking the planet with fossil fuels and presiding over a massive extinction of our fellow creatures will, I am sure, be there. So will be our squandering an incredible class of life-saving medicines, antibiotics, unless we act fast to save them.

22 June 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 1

Organic and me - why I swapped suit for soil

Thomas Bourne: I used to be a lawyer. One morning, I woke up (so the standard line goes) and decided I wanted to run a top-notch mail order organic meat company. Or something like that. Of course, the true story is a bit more complex. Before I joined the Well Hung Meat Company, I spent seven years studying and practicing commercial employment law in a national firm. This gave me a fascinating daily insight into business of every shape, size and purpose; from the UK’s largest employer to small-scale specialist manufacturers. That was great, but I didn’t find dipping in and out of other people’s business completely fulfilling. I wanted to learn more, to get closer, to get my hands dirty and find out what life was like in the hot seat.

08 June 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 0

'Pesticides and our health' – Greenpeace study finds plenty of cause for concern

Marianne Landzettel: Occasionally you remember exactly what made you look at an issue in a different light. For me one such moment was listening to an interview with Klaas Martens, a US grain farmer in the state of New York. The last time he sprayed his fields with pesticides was in spring of 1994, Martens said. It was late afternoon when he tried to fold the sprayer and realised he could not move his right arm. ‘It was never proven that that’s what caused it, but common sense tells me that I was poisoned that day’.

05 June 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 2

5 better BBQ tips

Tom Hunt: Barbecuing is a method of cooking that is close to my heart, I’ve worked in Latin America in Argentinian grills, taught courses at River Cottage HQ about building and baking in wood fired ovens and been cooking barbecue at our travelling festival cafe Poco, for the past ten years. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s to use the best quality meat possible.

28 May 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 0

How to plant out seedlings: eight tips for new gardeners

Jess Gotham: It’s time to talk about seedlings. The Soil Association’s head of horticulture Ben Raskin’s follow-up workshop on care of new plants was very informative, as he explained what needs to be done once seeds have germinated. I felt rather guilty when I thought about my ‘mystery beans’ from the seed swap, as I’d neglected them for a few days at this crucial stage and they didn’t get enough sun, but hopefully you can learn from my mistake. As someone mentioned at the workshop, if something does go wrong you can always re-sow! In extreme cases there’s always next year… but for now, look after your seedlings carefully and they’ll reward you by growing up big and strong.

20 May 2015 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 1

Soil, organic matter and The Archers

Marianne Landzettel: There has been some public grumbling about story lines in ‘The Archers’ recently - which is a shame because Ambridge is really onto something important right now: soil quality. To bring you up to speed: Ambridge got flooded this spring and when Adam inspected his wheat fields he was shocked by the amount of soil erosion, the flood had just washed away the top soil.

13 May 2015 | 2 Comments | Recommended by 4

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