A coincidence. I was planning this post on Lady Eve for Organic September when environmental journalist and historian, Erin Gill, passed through Bristol.
“Eve Balfour,” said Erin Gill, emphasising the word, Eve, as we sat in the Better Food Company cafe today.
Eve is what her friends and family called her. The title was expedient, thought Erin. Certainly useful when campaigning for counter-culture sustainable farming. (Eve’s title was inherited from her childless uncle, Arthur, the first Earl of Balfour, responsible for the Balfour declaration).
But I feel frustrated! Why are these perfectly sane, common sense ideas deemed unorthodox in the first place? As Shell prepares to drill in the melting Arctic, I despair about this terrible struggle for long-term care to prevail over short-term profits.
It’s not through want of vision.
Eve Balfour wrote The Living Soil, published in 1943 – a synthesis of emerging thoughts linking sustainable farming to health – and co-founded the Soil Association in 1946 to spread the word.
Organic historian, Philip Conford, author of The Origins of the Organic Movement, and The Development of the Organic Network: linking people and themes (1945 – 1995), wrote in the Soil Association’s Living Earth in 2003 (when I was editor):
“To the general public, the Soil Association’s name may seem narrowly focused: surely soil matters only to farmers and gardeners. The answer is no, it matters to everyone who eats and all who are concerned with health.”
The reasons, he writes, are given in
Eve Balfour’s book, The Living Soil (reprinted 2006).
The book helped kickstart the organic movement – a rising tide of hearts and minds from both the left and right of politics which questioned quick-fix chemicals, animal factories and the monocultures of factory farming. Their prophetic vision foretold a depleted soil with negative knock-on effects.
The organic pioneers called for biological and ecological sciences to underpin farming, not the increasingly-dominant chemistry one (which sadly gained more sway from developing munitions in two world wars).
To me, these organic pioneers were inspiring, standing up for nature against the increasing industrialisation of the west.
Eve Balfour speaks my language.
In the first edition of the Soil Association’s magazine, Mother Earth (1946) Eve Balfour wrote about those who questioned the status quo:
“…They are beginning to understand, for example, that health is something more than than just not being ill, and that the right approach to health consists not merely in the prevention of disease but in the promotion of vitality in both organism and environment, for the one cannot be studied apart from the other.
“These people have begun to see life on this planet as a whole, and Nature’s plan as a complicated system of interdependence rather than one based on competition.”
Soil health equals human health, as this Huffington Post film review of the Symphony of the Soil (we helped organise its London premiere), shows.
However, despite its benefits, organic farming receives little UK government support compared to other countries in Europe. What a terrible shame – organic food should be available and affordable for all, for the sake of soil, water conservation, animal welfare, bees and other wildlife, wild flowers, and our health.
Everything is interdependent.
Post Script A recent review from Stanford University indicated organic food may have less pesticides but is not more nutritious than non-organic food.
The review (and the ensuing media frenzy) is rebutted by US scientist, Dr Charles Benbrook.
This article on the NHS website also looks at the Standford review’s methodology.
And, a great response from food writer, Michael Pollan.
I like this rant from Riverford Farm about organic food getting knocked just when it’s never been better.