Annual conference 2011

Food and the Big Society
9 - 10 February 2011, Manchester Town Hall

Keep updated on our conference with our bloggers - this two-day event is a public debate on how organic food and farming can provide a mechanism for combating some of the major challenges that are confronting us, including climate change, health inequalities, building social cohesion and re-shaping the economy.

Addressing these issues head-on is more urgent now than ever before. With a growing population, constraints on resources, climate change, and the economy in critical condition, we need to rediscover the vital role that food can play in making us healthier, more connected to our communities, reducing our carbon footprint, and supporting local and national economies.

Drawing on practical models that enable communities to take greater responsibility for their own food choices (such as the Soil Association-led 'Food for Life Partnership' which is working in nearly 3000 schools to develop a healthy food culture), and the policy framework that needs to support adaptation to our changing environment and society, we bring together experts from across the food, farming, education, public health, political and civic realms to debate the sustainable way to feed ourselves now and in the future.


Audio files are now available of the conference opening remarks and panel discussions.


Thank you

Tim Young: So that was my third Soil Association conference, and I enjoyed it thoroughly – possibly my favourite of the three I’ve attended. Overall there it felt like there was more of a focus on exploring specific viable solutions to the problems we face, as opposed to just enumerating what all the problems are.

11 February 2011 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 9

A campaign for FFL has to come

Vicki Hird: Five things to say about Soil Association conference 2011

11 February 2011 | 4 Comments | Recommended by 23

Organic is the only game in town. Get playing. Now.

Ed Dowding: We need to redesign the system to have food security as its primary goal. It's not a war, but it is a state of emergency. We have a common problem coming our way fast. And the most effective way to respond is coherently, together. That doesn't mean we all have to go at once, but it does mean that before this is resolved, we will all be working to common goals.

10 February 2011 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 10

Plain speaking

Tim Young: A comment from the floor in the last session that we need a ‘plain food campaign’ struck me as a fantastic idea. Lots of the debate was around the complexity of the organic message, and getting that across to people – what’s organic about? What is a healthy diet? What are consumers interested in?

10 February 2011 | 9 Comments | Recommended by 10

Was I nudged to the pub last night?

Myles Bremner: Was it consumer led demand or choice editing that led to a split in the organic movement last night? Forget pro or anti supermarket, or meat and dairy versus fruit ‘n veg. The real issue was which pub we go to? What could we read into the two choices – the corporate controlled mass market Slug and Lettuce, or the local free-house tavern, selling a range of independently brewed ales? Luckily the schism was not long lasting – the early closure of the local independent (surely choice editing rather than customer demand) led to a sell-out exodus to the corporate world. Phew, the organic world re-united.

10 February 2011 | 3 Comments | Recommended by 5

Engineering choice

Tim Young: Last night’s final plenary session ‘what’s stopping progress’ was a great discussion between Tim Lang of City University, author Joanna Blythman, Riverford’s Guy Watson, and Colin Cox who works on Manchester food enterprises. A lot of the most interesting discussion was around the idea possible ‘nudges’ to individuals behaviour, and the scale of the nudges that might be needed.

10 February 2011 | 1 Comments | Recommended by 6

Coping without rock phosphate

Rob Haward: Rock phosphate supplies globally will be exhausted inside the next 70 years according to Professor Carlo Leifert from Newcastle University. The application of rock phosphate in organic and non organic farming is needed for plant growth – encouraging root development and helping plants make DNA.

10 February 2011 | 12 Comments | Recommended by 6

What's stopping progress?

Ed Dowding: "The evidence for changing everything is overwhelming," says Prof Tim Lang (Food Policy at City University, London). "The good news is that the process of articulating the necessity has begun. The bad news is that we don't have the leadership to take it forward."

10 February 2011 | 6 Comments | Recommended by 4

The nature of human change and the change of human nature

Ed Dowding: What a day! World changing, revolution, campaigning, the nature of change, syncretic olive branches, and synthetic wheat stalks.

10 February 2011 | 1 Comments | Recommended by 5

Report waving in the new age of collaboration

Myles Bremner: Good to see the report waving between the two Peters during the first session. It must be this new tempered, collaborative approach Helen was talking about.

09 February 2011 | 2 Comments | Recommended by 4

Forty nine giga tonnes of carbon dioxide per year – sounds quite a lot to me

Rob Haward: Conversion of all of the world’s agricultural land to organic could reduce carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 49 giga tonnes/year, delaying climate change by 4 to 5 years. The research presented by Urs Niggli at the conference, a professor at one of Europe’s leading research organisations, showed that in a 16 year trial organic farming offered the potential to sequester 2.4 tonnes of CO2e per year more carbon than an equivalent non organic farm. The benefits were most marked in horticultural holdings but were demonstrable in every farm type.

09 February 2011 | 3 Comments | Recommended by 4

The supermarket debate...

Sam Trebbick: Strongly disagree with the view of Joanna Blythman that the Soil Association and the supermarkets are "not suitable bed mates". I question where the funding deficit would be made up without the support of the supermarkets and the many branded and indeed non branded suppliers in the room who supply them! They offer a route to the largest number of consumers and shoppers available and simply cannot be ignored in terms of what they can do and influence.

09 February 2011 | 18 Comments | Recommended by 12

Caroline Spelman's video link...

Tim Young: ...seems to have split opinion on the conference floor. My fellow blogger Ed Dowding has just called it 'dissapointingly political', while one of the Omsco representatives (I think Huw Bowles, but don't quote me) was much more positive. Perhaps the best comment was from panellist Jan Hutchinson, who thought the Secretary of State was setting a new record for simultaneous smiling and talking.

09 February 2011 | 4 Comments | Recommended by 10

What is the Future of Food?

Ed Dowding: A summary of the opening session from the Soil Association Conference: What is the Future of Food? Just a small topic to get the ball rolling, and roll it did. For near 3 hours of interesting debate. Fortunately, this is the brief version.

09 February 2011 | 3 Comments | Recommended by 5

Future of Food depends on vibrant living soils

Caroline Corsie: It was great to hear Helen draw attention to this in her opening remarks. Simple 3rd Law of Thermodynamics in that energy can only pass from hot to cold! There’s something about promoting the organic message to conventional farmers. Perhaps to do this the Soil Association could hypothesise how the likes of Nocton might sit in as part of a range of farming systems (e.g. might it free up land for wildlife, rebuilding soil health).

09 February 2011 | 2 Comments | Recommended by 6

Opening comments

Ian Price: What where Soil Association thinking, by asking one of the most technological phobic people in the world to make comment? But with the help of Tim and others, I'm on

09 February 2011 | 70 Comments | Recommended by 152

Made it!

Tim Young: Catching the seven o'clock train from Bristol is never easy, but we made it up in time for Helen's opening. Great to hear her pay tribute to Patrick, and her thoughts for the future - stressing the need for the Soil Association to play a part in the 'big society' by being much more open to working with others and setting old differences apart - 'we should stop lobbing stones from the hills'.

09 February 2011 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 6

All good debate and a great venue

Sam Trebbick: Some fascinating debate around the whole sustainability piece. Amazed by the numbers quoted of 90% want to buy sustainable but only 20% actually do!

09 February 2011 | 0 Comments | Recommended by 1

Different Venue - Different times?

Myles Bremner: From the urban grittiness of The Custard Factory for the 2010 Birmingham SA conference, to the civic pride splendour of Manchester Town Hall. A different venue for very different times...

09 February 2011 | 1 Comments | Recommended by 7

A new age of organic Golden Promise?

Rob Haward: It was January 1999 when I had my first Soil Association conference experience. It was a little like being initiated in to a strange but compelling cult –‘Golden Promise’ fuelled revelry* shared with a colourful array of characters, bound by a passion for a better way to care for the land and produce our food. Twelve years on, as I contemplate 2 days in Manchester, much has changed.

08 February 2011 | 2 Comments | Recommended by 9

Manchester here we come

Christopher Trotter: Being a bit of a technophobe I am risking life and limb to make this entry, will be setting off from Scotland to Manchester

08 February 2011 | 38 Comments | Recommended by 41

What's the connection: Jaguars, school food and ambulances?

Vicki Hird: What is the connection between the jaguar, a school meal and ambulance refits? There is one. Honest. It’s about food. And about how much and what we eat.

08 February 2011 | 2 Comments | Recommended by 7

Nothing Is As Powerful As An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Ed Dowding: For the first time in history the mind of man was really attempting to control his destiny. Hitherto usage, tradition, external necessity, accident had furnished the unchallenged framework within which he had devised his explanations and his consolations. He preferred familiar miseries to the mental torture of novel effort.

07 February 2011 | 3 Comments | Recommended by 15

Heading up to Manchester...

Sam Trebbick: Produce World are looking forward to sponsoring the Soil Association conference. A couple of us heading up there tomorrow as Morrisons conference is helpfully in Manchester as well tomorrow afternoon!

07 February 2011 | 2 Comments | Recommended by 6

Manchester here I come

Tim Young: Our conference is next week in Manchester. The past Soil Association conferences I've been to have always been great, and I've never been to Manchester, so really looking forward to this. And (technical issues allowing) I'll be blogging from the conference, so I'm really excited about this.

03 February 2011 | 58 Comments | Recommended by 29

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