By Radulf Bertschinger
Advocate of Shumei (Natural Agriculture) and operator of a Shumei veg box delivery scheme.
Looking Beyond Organic
Unlike many who view organic food as a luxury that only a minority are privileged enough to afford or naive enough to pay extra for, I see organic farming as an absolute essential factor in the future of our species’ survival on the planet.
Natural, clean food that maintains and improves our health and by extension serves to keep us connected with the farmers and the soil that sustain us should not be the reserve of the wealthy. Access to such food should be regarded by all as a basic human right.
A global lack of respect for the food we eat has allowed its quality to diminish. As a result, cheap, poisonous (however mildly) and contaminated fruit, vegetables and animal products have become the norm. Practices like genetic engineering and the chemical poisoning of our food, soil and water supply through the abundant use of pesticides and fertilisers, as well as the barbaric exploitation of animals has no place in the visioning of a sustainable future. To imagine the planet in another 50 years time, if these practices are allowed to continue is a truly terrifying prospect. No rainforest, no bees, no clean water, factory upon factory of farmed livestock, and a planet of 10 billion people eating chemically and genetically enhanced food-like substances. It’s not a future I want to move towards, and I certainly wont be proud to be part of a generation that allows itself to be distracted while the planet slowly chokes.
So is certified organic farming, the world over, our goal? Well it would be a good start, but it is by no means the end of the conversation. We need to keep the debate going in order to refine a vision of a sustainable, ecological, fair and healthful world in terms of food production as well as our relationships with one another and with the land. It’s all inter-connected after all.
The Soil Association, who’s standards are in access of EU restrictions, stipulates that in organic farming,
• artificial chemical fertilisers are prohibited
• pesticides are restricted
• animal welfare is at the heart of the system
• a diversity of crops and animals are raised on the farm and rotated
• the routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers is banned
• genetically modified (GM) crops and ingredients are banned
Moving Towards Natural Agriculture
There is a small farm, buried in the small village of Yatesbury near Calne in Wiltshire, who do things a little differently. They’re a Soil Association organic certified farm, growing vegetables free from GMOs, without chemical pesticides, and without chemical fertilizers, but they also adopt the practice of Natural Agriculture. This means that they don’t use animal manure, compost, organic fertilizers or organic spray. Instead of annual crop rotations and the use of F1 hybrid seeds (which are often infertile or display very different characteristics from the plant which they are harvested from), Natural Agriculture farmers practice continuous cropping and seed saving. By adding nothing foreign (fertilisers) to the system, there is no assault on the balance of nutrients in the soil. By allowing the plant to grow and reproduce in the same soil year after year, a truly natural system is created. It’s a system that yields healthy, robust, life giving crops which, as you may have guessed, taste exceptional.
Natural Agriculture addresses the interconnection of all living things in nature and recognizes soil and water as essential ingredients for all life. This very conscious interaction with the natural world is essentially a practice of respect; one that informs all aspects of life. This perspective aims to protect the purity of the entire ecosystem and secure its integrity for generations to come.
The connection between the natural agriculture farmer and the land is not one of a master and a slave, where every possible nutrient is squeezed from tired soil year after year with the help of chemical or organic fertiliser. Instead a relationship more akin to art is created, where the beauty, integrity and intelligence of life itself and the wisdom of nature is studied, nourished and supported. It is necessary that we take from our environment in order to survive, but a Natural Agriculturist balances that act with gratitude, humility and compassion.
Natural Agriculture is being practiced from Colorado to Hamburg, from Zambia to New Zealand, and has been shown to produce more robust crops and higher yields than genetically engineered and chemically farmed alternatives. Natural Agriculture programs around the world are helping people to address global issues such as poverty, the current food crisis, environmental degradation and climate change.
Perhaps it’s time to relinquish our desire to control nature and to manipulate the plant and animal world to our own purposes, and instead use our intellect to allow for nature to be bountiful, balanced and healthy (as it would be) and provide for us. My belief is that only then can we become a balanced and healthy species able to live up to our potential here on this earth.
Radulf Bertschinger has a degree in Nutrition. He specialises in giving people access to clean nourishing organic local food as well as a connection with the natural world. He organizes foraging events as well as farm and abattoir visits to encourage a better understanding of our food system and a stronger relationship with those we rely on to produce it. He also operates a weekly organic vegetable delivery service providing organic, fresh and local fruit and vegetables cycled straight to your doorstep.