when food costs the earth
Ed Green is a seventh generation farmer living on the edge of the Mendip Hills in Somerset. Ed enjoys spending time with family and friends and playing music and tennis. Last year he published a book called It Leaves Me The Same. The family farm is currently diversifying into outdoor education, sustainable edible food growing and the arts under the name Chesterblade Hills.
Over the course of the last twenty five years, as I’ve been running my family farm, I’ve witnessed various events, trends and fads. Some prove to be no more than a passing phase, while others have a persistency and change the direction of travel of life. I believe we are currently witnessing one of the latter. It feels like there is a widespread and significant shift in consciousness occurring concerning the human impact on the planet and an acknowledgement and awareness that we must change our behaviour.
Up until this point, humans have treated our planetary home with little regard for the other plants and animals we share it with and with little care for or understanding of the interconnected bio-system we are just one aspect of. We have used the Earth’s bountiful natural resources as if they will never run out. We have lived as if the consequences of doing so do not matter.
Thankfully, there is now a growing acknowledgement that this behaviour must change. It is no longer acceptable for us to set lacklustre targets and aims that barely scratch at the surface of the climate change challenges we now face. A wholesale and radical overhaul of the human approach to our existence here is required. If our current political, corporate and industry leaders will not undertake this task, they must be bypassed and ignored. It is then up to every one of us to do what we can in our own sphere of influence, however humble that may be.
So, where do we start? Imagine the soil of the planet is the skin of your own body. Imagine the rivers, streams, lakes, seas and oceans are the blood that flow around your body. Imagine the trees are your lungs. Now ask yourself how your body feels if chemicals are put onto your skin? Then answer the question, how do you think it affects the soil and all the plants and creatures living there when humans spray chemicals on the soil? Ask yourself how your body feels if toxins enter your bloodstream. How wise is it then to allow chemicals and pollutants to enter the planet’s rivers, streams, lakes, seas and oceans? Humans have a beautifully symbiotic relationship with trees. We breathe in the oxygen trees provide us and trees breathe in the carbon dioxide we breathe out. We need trees to breathe. By deforesting, we are harming ourselves as well as the planet that sustains us. By polluting the air, we pollute the lungs of both ourselves and the planet.
Life for humans is in fact very simple. All we need is oxygen to breathe, fresh water to drink, some food to eat and shelter. That’s it! We don’t actually need anything else to survive, so maybe it’s time we stopped making life so complicated and got back to living a more simple life that benefits both ourselves and the planet. We are just an animal with a birth and a death, just like any other we share this planet with. We need our environment to thrive for us to be able to breathe, eat, drink and have shelter. We are usually happiest when we are outside in a natural environment. Our natural state is not being constrained inside walls of hard-edged, angular concrete and steel. Our natural state is as an animal outside. We gain happiness from socialising in groups and communing around fire sharing stories and wisdom. Happiness rarely comes from a place of isolation or from communicating with others remotely via technological plastic devices.
Without human intervention, the natural world is phenomenally good at what it does. In all the challenges we face, we would do well to ask “What would nature do?” More often than not, the answer for humans may well be, stand back, intervene less, watch and admire as nature does what it does best.
As a farmer, I’ve asked myself what can I do to affect my sphere of influence for the good of the planet? Firstly, no chemicals, pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilisers should be put on the soil. Would you put these on your skin? Organic farming practices should become the compulsory way food is produced. A target date should be set, similar to that now set for phasing out diesel engines, from which time all farming must adhere to organic principles. If this isn’t legislated, another method could be linking these aims to qualify for any subsidies available.
Secondly, we should move away from the monoculture of growing annual crops. A huge amount of time and energy is spent preparing bare soil seedbeds, sowing seed that only grows for one season, and then battling weeds trying to grow on the bare soil around the planted crop. Instead, we should move to a permaculture system of biodiverse perennial crops that have continuous ground cover with no bare soils. Farmers would benefit from not having to buy seed every year to plant, as well as not needing the sprays to keep the bare soils free of weeds nor artificial fertilisers to grow the crop. A permaculture system planned well will have the right balance of companion plants together that grow well alongside each other, including nitrogen fixing plants that can feed the other plants around them. Management will still be needed to enable the desired plants to thrive, but this won’t involve chemicals to achieve this.
For people who aren’t farmers, I would urge you to ask yourself if you can grow some of your own food. In times of past crisis, everyone took on more responsibility growing their own food and mending and making do in general. Today, many soils in urban environments and around houses either don’t grow food (grass lawns) or are covered in hard surfaces. This soil could be growing food. Urban dwellers need to take more responsibility for their own food requirements both by using the soil on their property and through their buying choices.
It is no longer acceptable for consumers to divulge all responsibility to farmers and retailers when it is the consumer’s lifestyle and purchasing behaviour that has created the way food is produced and sold. Organic food sales have never risen above single digits as a percentage of sales, which sends the message to retailers and farmers that consumers don’t want it. Everyone must now step up and take responsibility. Everyone is a consumer. Each purchase you make influences what is produced in the first place and how it is sold. Vote with your feet and your purse. If enough people stop buying something believed to be harmful, supply and demand will ensure its demise. Every day, every action and every purchase you make shapes the future. Take responsibility and choose what kind of future your children will inherit.