Lady Eve Balfour was a leading pioneer of organic farming. Trained in conventional agriculture, after some 20 years of farming, she began to study organic farming ideas and around 1940, turned her farm to organic.
With other farmers, she helped found The Soil Association in 1946. Lady Eve was its first president, and carried on encouraging organic methods until she was 100, in 1988. Her Suffolk farm became a centre of research into organic farming methods, the role now carried on at Elm Farm Research Centre, www.efrc.com.
Rudolf Steiner (1861 – 1925) was an Austrian philosopher and scientist who developed a form of organic agriculture known as biodynamic, meaning moving with life.
His teaching that humans should work with the rhythms and laws of nature are followed today by a growing number of biodynamic farmers, as well as in Steiner schools, medicine and social banking companies.
Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, published in 1963, made many people aware of the destructive effects on wildlife of DDT, then legally used as a pesticide. Her bestseller influenced the growth of efforts to protect the environment, including organic farming.
The organic philosophy is that humans must recognize that humans can only survive and thrive if they live in harmony with the delicate balance of nature between plants, animals, earth and humans.
In farming, that means using methods that conserve and enrich the soil without causing pollution, damaging wildlife or using up too many of the world’s resources.
The world’s shallow layer of topsoil, on which all our future food depends, contains billions of tiny live organisms in a single handful. These are essential to soil fertility. Protecting the soil and preventing its erosion are essential to our future.
Things to note:
Today, just over 4% of farmland in the UK is farmed organically. In Europe, the proportion is about the same. Worldwide, the market is worth an estimated £15 billion. America and Europe both sell over £5 billion worth of organic food and drink each year. In the UK, the market was valued at £920 million last year.
Across Europe and in the UK the market is growing quickly, on average by 15% each year.
However, organic food still represents a very small portion of our total food sales, only 1%. Most of that, over 80%, is sold through the supermarkets.
Of the organic food we eat in the UK, about 65% is imported.
Nearly 80% of UK households bought organic food last year. A core 8% of consumers account for 60% of sales.
Like other European governments, the UK gives a small amount of financial support to UK farmers whilst they are going organic, or “in conversion”.