Instead of mass-produced food, we need organic food produced by the masses

This morning I listened to the Farming Today program and interview with Rishi Sunak. There was a big emphasis on fruit and veg growing which is great and much needed. However, some of the things that were talked about worry me. There was no mention of organic food produced by the masses!

Lack of seasonal Workers

Firstly there is a lack of seasonal workers.   The industry asked for a 9 month visa, and they got 6 months. The main point made was that there is a need to get people off welfare and into employment. This is an argument we’ve heard many times but it’s not that simple.

The challenge here is that organic farms growing food with minimal machinery need to be certain that they are going to be able to harvest what they sow. Training someone up to identify and harvest ripe produce quickly is not easy. It’s a skilled job requiring training and experience. 

The harvest window for each crop is short before going on to something new. Who is going to pay us (the small-scale organic farmer) to take that risk. Who is going to pay for the time to complete the paperwork that would be required to get this help ? This seems to be favouring Big Ag.

A Drive to Automate

Secondly – there was a call to invest in more automation. This scares me a lot. Automation in vegetable and fruit growing involves more and more machinery . Automation requires and more and more investment, which will come in the form of loans or government grant. Thus, less tasty, more robust varieties of vegetables would need to be developed so that they can be handled by machines. Again, this seems to be favouring Big Ag.

Organic Food Grown by the masses

If you have followed Guy Watson-Singh of Riverford or James Rebank (both farmers), or from a nutrition point of view Tim Spector, Chris van Tulleken, or Rangan Chaterjee, you will know that there is increasing evidence that organic food grown in real soil is what we should be eating to maintain a healthy gut microbiome. To make organic food grown in real soil accessible to more people, we need more seasonal workers and less automation.

Not Political

These comments are not political, neither are they a comment on Rishi Sunak. Politicians are led by the lobbyists and civil servants that help develop the policy detail. These people are smart (I assume) and are desperately trying to help fix the problem of food security. 

Land owners and Farm managers seem to be the loudest voices dictating policy. It is my view that they haven’t recently done the hard physical work of growing organic vegetables in soil without pesticides and artificial fertilisers. Are these the people that should be telling government what food we should be eating?

What food Do we Want to Produce?

Surely if we want to improve our nation’s health and food security, then we should be answering the question: ‘what type of food do we want to produce (and eat)?’ based upon independent nutritional experts (not funded by the big multi-nationals). Once we have identified what foods we want, we should then build the policy based upon best practice for delivering those foods. 

Government investment Needed

I think the Government needs to invest in agriculture colleges for training people to produce organic fruit and veg for public sector (hospitals, schools, prisons). As such, my vision is to see growing organic vegetables being taught to farming students at a few farms in each county. This would then provide training opportunities to get more growers, and some of whom can then move into the private sector. Without state intervention where are the growers going to come from? Existing farmers don’t have the time, inclination, or incentive to change what they’ve done for years and start growing organically. As Jean-Martin Fortier says, “Government Policy needs to change direction from mass produced food to organic food produced by the masses!”

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