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5 days later...

Lynda Brown - 07 March 2012

Spent the last few days digesting the conference and catching up on what I missed via the website. I usually come away fired up; I didn't this time - I'm still trying to work out why.

The highlight for me was Prof. Hans Herren, President of the Milennium Institute. You can listen to his speech on the website: no spin, just plain speaking delivered with conviction of what the major problems are, how and where organic farming is contributing positively to the solution, and what needs to happen next. It helps that he has a world view (increasingly I find the Brit view is too skewered) and his phrase "no soil,no anything" hit the spot precisely.

The morning discussion yielded for me the statistic of the day. Andre Leu, President of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements) told us how 70% of the world's food supply still comes from small holders; and how research shows that introducing organic agriculture by design rather than default, ie adopting organic agricultural methods rather than staying with traditional peasant methods, increases yields by over 100%. So, bringing organic agricultural methods to these 70% of farmers could make a huge contribution to food security – arguably where it matters most. Amazing. This is why I believe in organic farming and the wider principles it embodies. Can we have more of this please?

The low light? Big Sigh. Re-inforcing the message that organics is elitist, expensive and now, apparently insular. I know of no other organisation that feels necessary to apologise for itself or is prepared to self-destruct this way. I do not perceive myself elitist, insular, I certainly don't lead an expensive lifestyle and I don't want to be associated with an organisation that is branded as such, or, more to the point, believes it – especially when, actually, it is largely unfounded and borne out of others' vested interests. I could answer all of these charges, but what's the point.

History shows movements that matter rarely have an easy ride. So, for everyone's sake, but especially the 70% of farmers whose best chance of security lies with organic farming principles rather than GM or whatever else the West can profit from, can we stop it, please?

Lynda is an award-winning food writer and broadcaster, and keen advocate for organic living. She is author of several food books over the last twenty years including Planet Organic: Organic Living, The Cook's Garden, and The Modern Cook's Handbook, as well as writing The Preserving Book that was published in 2010 in association with the Soil Association. Lynda is an expert on food and nutrition and a seasoned broadcaster, regularly speaking on food and farming both on the radio and television.

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Martin Peck
11 March 2012 11:34

Thank you Lynda. Prof Hans Herren was my main reason for deciding to make the trip to London. I agree with you completely, organic has nothing to apologise for, and it is of concern that some are drawn into defending against accusations that don’t fit any of the many people I know in the organic movement.It was 13 years ago I went to my first Soil Association conference (at Cirencester). It was the first ‘party’ I had not wanted to leave since I was about five years old. I wished everyone could have been there. Obviously impossible but I do mean everyone. (The Charles Wacher Trust paid for me to go. I was into my eleventh year in the caravan on my tiny organic hill farm with a mortgage that even the bank manager could not believe was being paid out of such low returns). I found ways to get to subsequent conferences, never believing they could match the first but they always did. (Until last year and this year, I too am trying to understand why, is it the Soil association that has changed?). ‘Fired up’ for those earlier conferences barely describes the effect of the somehow tangible atmosphere, the energy, openness, goodwill and enthusiasm. These were all mingled with knowledgeable speakers and profound conversations and intelligent insights. The integrity and exhilaration was infectious. It was brilliant to be in such good company from all walks of life and different parts of the world being able to develop ones understanding of crucial issues. The organic message was and is timeless, and essential. Returning home was always a bumpy landing painfully struggling to find good ways to communicate around this rekindled knowledge to any constructive and lasting effect in my locality. The principles and practice of working with soil but within the bounds of natural systems and without destroying them.Now, I am discovering more that science is able to contribute explanation and support to the insights, the humility and common sense that has helped define organic over the years. More studies, new and long term are able to help counter some of the myths that the narrow field of view and hype of the corporate world maintains. The organic movement is very much one that matters, I agree wholeheartedly it does embody wider principles and these have profoundly beneficial, far reaching consequences. Surely this association of people should be able to remain a credible voice and be accessible to everyone as it always has, but by returning to concerning ourselves with the soil, and of truth rather than dwelling on the misperceptions of others. Perhaps at this conference this was distraction from much that was good that deserved much more ‘air’ time.

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