Mary MacCallum Sullivan, a pyschotherapist from Argyll, outlines a vision for ‘real farming’ where food is produced for the good of people and planet – and argues such a future is within our grasp
I KNOW nothing about farming, but I care deeply: I eat.
Back in the late 1970s I was struck by the work of Colin Tudge, and his vision for real farming. I loved the idea of ‘real food’ then, and I love it now. I cherish meals cooked from scratch - ‘slow food’- and have generally forsworn the ready meal and the take-away. I find abhorrent the notion of flavoured crisps, even. You can tell I’m a bit radical, if not actually vegetarian or vegan – I just like good food, preferably with provenance.
Why should that be an aberration? Living in Argyll, I love to know that I could go and visit the cows from which my milk comes, on the Isle of Gigha. I love to know that the meat that I sometimes eat is from animals who are my neighbours. I would love to know where my vegetables grow, and go to visit them as they grow. I would love to see locally-grown or -ground flour go into my daily bread.
Am I an irretrievably middle-class elitist? I don’t believe so. I believe all of that should be a right – every citizen’s right, every child’s right to eat real food, and know where it comes from and how it gets to her table.
For too long we have allowed others – supermarkets, agri-businesses, ‘scientists’ – to dictate our food priorities, and they have taken care of their own interests and profits first. Our care for our children, we now realise, must go further in insisting on the ready and widespread availability of real food. Their health, and the health of our planet, are profoundly related.
Real farming, organised to make real this vision, would create a revolution, diminishing food miles, not only bringing down carbon footprints, but capturing carbon, reducing harmful emissions and pollution, making us all healthier and – you know what? – happier too. Devolving operations in food production (shorter time-frames from farm to plate) would also reduce animal stress and render more respectful our relations with our domesticated animals. We now know that our own well-being depends on our experience of our surroundings; our connection, our profound implication in the natural world would be the richer for it.
New principles and practices such as no-dig, intercropping, and agroecology; old, old ideas such as composting are staging a comeback. Less organic waste to landfill; respect for worms and mycorrhizal fungi networks. Experiments in re-wilding are showing the way towards recovering the ecological diversity that is so appallingly being lost as we stand by, feeling helpless. We are out of excuses.
Real farming would require more people to be employed in farming and food production organised within localities, bringing about healthier population levels and demographics in rural communities – a gain for a stronger local democracy. And cities are already doing their bit for the bees, but need more trees, more allotments, more city farms, more social enterprise food outlets.
No farming revolution will take place without radical and urgent land reform, without transparency of land ownership and more equitable taxation of land, fairer criteria for the sharing of subsidies and grants.
The climate emergency that we now face incontrovertibly demonstrates the science of ecosystems, of the interdependency of all things. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s proposes Twelve Principles that could usefully help us to work out a plan, already the case in relation to marine planning.
The Good Life is within our reach, and if, in reaching for real food for ourselves and our children, we can save the planet, what’s holding us back?
Picture courtesy of MICA Social Design