Small steps to averting food crisis

Posted on: 19 August 2011 by Michael Wale

European and global agriculture faces a huge challenge to ensure food security for a greatly increasing global population. Michael Wale investigates a simple, sustainable solution.

sustainable farmingRecently, I have been reading a wonderful book called Fair Food by Oran Hesterman. Its subtitle: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All, examines the great debate in farming and agriculture: which is best - bigger or smaller? And, how can the small farm system feed the future 9billion hungry mouths in the world.

Of course, what you need to know is that support for large-scale agriculture is based on the lobbying of giant agri-businesses based in Switzerland and America. This is led by corporations such as Monsanto and Syngenta, pushing the alleged advantages of GM crops, which, of course, demand a royalty from their users.

As for how we succeed in feeding the world through huge or small farms, I have contacted our MEPs, because it is the wretched Brussels bureaucrats who make the decisions that really rule our nation. Imagine my horror when Richard Ashworth, the MEP for South East England and Conservative spokesman for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, replied thus: “The general inference in your email was that intensive livestock production and large farms in general are in some way detrimental to the environment, to the developing world and to both farmers and consumers, and that a small farm approach would be the best way to deal with the challenges faced by 21st century agriculture. I am afraid I do not share your vision on this. Both Europeans and global agriculture face the huge challenges of trying to ensure food security for a greatly increasing global population.” 

I had a far more heartening reply from the Greens, who actually mean something in Europe, if not yet in Britain. Jean Lambert, Green MEP for London, wrote to me agreeing there should be an end to factory farming, and more encouragement towards locally produced protein crop production. She voted for not only a move away from factory farming in Europe but also a move away from imported soy for animal feed. A shift towards sustainable farming practices and a greater support for small farmers and rural economies, as well as access top healthy food.

It is said within the farming industry that small farms just cannot provide a living, let alone help feed the nation. Another old cliché is that you need at least 500 acres, anything less is useless. This is no longer the case, as demonstrated by Hertfordshire farmer, Tim Waygood.

Tim, who farms 175 acres at Church Farm, Ardley, has a turnover of £900,000. His secret is diversity, and being open all week to the public, who can camp, take part in courses, attend lectures and eat at the farm café, where all the food comes direct from the fields around it.

However, it is Waygood’s agricultural renaissance policy that makes this farm so different. He has introduced a new orchard stretching for eight acres, with no less than 130 varieties of apples, gages, plums, cherries, quince, meddler, pears, damsons, and mulberries. Then there is a further two acres of soft fruit, and a two-acre walnut orchard.

All his cattle, meanwhile, are pasture fed. These include red poll cattle, Welsh Mountain and Lleyn sheep,  British Lop, and Berkshire pigs. Naturally, there are also hundreds of free-range chickens, alongside ducks, and Norfolk Black and British White turkeys, already fattening up for Christmas.

The centrepiece, however, is the eight acres of kitchen gardens, which produce over 200 varieties of vegetables and herbs, yet Wayward continues to expand, taking over The Jolly Wagoner, a local pub in Ardley, with plans to include farm food on the venue and local ales at the bar.

An even more ambitious plan is about to be take place, after he won the right to run the 175 acre Aldenham Country Park. There were 12 bidders willing to take over the park from Hertfordshire County Council, who put it out to tender after public pressure stopped it closing the site down.

Waygood has big plans for Aldenham. “The first thing we will do is reduce the car parking charge from £5 to £3.30p, so that people who want to walk their dogs won’t feel exploited. I think the price is too high right now. 

“There is also a rare breeds farm there, but not that many animals, so Id like to enlarge it as an attraction. The meat from the rare breeds could also be available to eat and buy. I would also sell visitors feed d for them to feed the animals. It will of course be free to wander around.”

Another of his ambitious plans is to plant an orchard to show off the huge number of different British apples. But the plan that really appeals to him is to create several acres split into strips so that people who might be interested in taking up farming could grow and crop what they want. 

As Tim explains: “Part-time farming on the continent is quite common. People keep down a job but they also have a smallholding. It’s both pleasure and business.”

I close by wondering where he gets all this energy and enthusiasm. He replies, “I don’t play golf. It’s a pleasure just to farm.”

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