Tag Archives: ethical

Community buy-out to secure biodynamic farm

Bluebell WoodThere was a time when the earth was free and belonged to all. People grew food and grazed animals, to eat, to live. Then the land grabs started. With legal stealth and physical violence, “enclosures” were enforced over several centuries in Britain. The commons – the earth and soil and woodlands used by peasants for farming – became the property of warlords who exploited the need to grow food for survival.

It does not need to be this way! We do not need to run the world for the benefit of might-is-right profiteers!

Fast-forward to the 21st century. One of the problems of producing food in the UK is the lack of available land. Who will be lucky enough to inherit? Most of the land belongs to a small percentage of the aristocracy.

Farming land is rare. Land is seen as an “investment”. Investors buy land to lock up their money, using it like a savings account. This means land becomes prohibitively expensive and makes it difficult for would-be farmers to find a foothold.

But I bring encouraging news. Community farm ownership seeks to break the “land-as-investment” deadlock, and make land accessible for farming.

Let’s take a closer look at this model by visiting Rush Farm in Worcester – which I had the good fortune to do as part of my work with Greenhouse.

Lleyn sheep Rush Farm

Rush Farm is an 150-acre mixed traditional biodynamic and organic family farm in the heart of England. In 2012, its current owners joined with the Biodynamic Land Trust to form Stockwood Community Benefit Society Ltd. The aim is for the Benefit Society to buy Rush Farm and its ethically-run 27-unit eco-property, Stockwood Business Park, from its current owners.

Pic below of current owners, Sebastian, Tabitha and Sophie, three siblings of the Parsons family.

Sebastian, Sophie, Tabitha_6269

In this way, the land can neither be passed down to the next generation as an inheritance, nor can it be sold. Stockwood Community Benefit Society ensures the land remains as a community-owned biodynamic and organic farm – for ever.

Is land a community resource for the benefit of many, or a commodity to be bought and sold to profit but a few? In his article Transforming Capitalism, Martin Large of the Biodynamic Land Trust argues that managing land as a community resource can alleviate the current economic crisis.

This is the mechanism: Stockwood Community Benefit Society is selling shares, from a minimum of 100 £1 shares (£100) to a maximum of 20,000 £1 (£20,000) shares. Unlike commercial shares, community shares cannot be sold. Instead, shareholders are supporting a sustainable enterprise.

IMG_0400However, it’s not all one-way – Stockwood Community Benefit Society anticipates paying-out 5% interest a year to its community share holders. Here is a pic of its stall selling shares at Rush Farm fete on the 3 August. The £1 million share offer was launched in May and has already raised about half a million pounds. Offer ends 31 October 2013 so invest now!

A bit more background: Sebastian Parsons, and his two sisters, Tabitha and Sophie, bought Rush Farm in 2005. Their parents, Anne and Adrian Parsons, have managed it as a biodynamic and organic farm ever since.

WOW. Thanks to these enlightened farming methods, the soil is revitalised, carbon-rich, and brimming with fertility. Its native Lleyn sheep and Hereford cattle are beautifully cared-for. The farm’s mixed habitats –  ancient woodlands, wetlands, herb-rich meadows and grassland – are nurtured and wildlife has returned, including bees, butterflies, lapwings and curlews.

IMG_0405

Demeter biodynamic-certified and Soil Association organic-certified Rush Farm sells meat and fresh produce, and also earns an income from the rental from its on-farm Stockwood Business Park (see my pic of a light industrial units) – a vital rural hub employing over 100 local people, and making it viable for them to stay in the countryside. The business park is full of groovy businesses, too.

teiner/Waldorf kindergartenStockwood Business Park even has its own Steiner/Waldorf nursery kindergarten. (Please can I be three-years-old again, and attend?).

Wrapped around a working farm with lush nature, the business park has to be one of the most blissful places in he world to work.

Sebastian Parsons

Sebastian Parsons is also the CEO and co-founder of Elysia, which includes the UK distribution of Dr.Hauschka‘s organic skin care products, and is based at Stockwood Business Park. The voluntary chief executive of the Biodynamic Association, Sebastian also applies Rudolph Steiner’s far-out but incredibly practical philosophy on the interconnectedness of everything (anthroposophy) to to Rush Farm, Elysia, and Stockwood Community Benefit Society.

Makes sense doesn’t it? Because everything is connected!

Photo 03-12-2006 07 01 49 PMSebastian’s grandfather was David Clement, a pioneer of Britain’s biodynamic movement. In 1933, Clement bought Broome Farm (also in Worcester) which became an agricultural research centre, and for half a century, the Biodynamic Association’s headquarters. But, sadly, in the 1980s, Broome Farm was sold  and lost to biodynamic and organic management– to the Parsons’ chagrin.

“My sisters and I never spoke about it at the time,” says Sebastian. “But much later we found that each of us had resolved to one day buy Broome Farm back. We never did. However, when we bought Rush Farm, we felt we had achieved our aim, and fulfilled our commitment to the land.”

More social history, this time about Rush Farm. Under its previous owners in the 1950s, Rush Farm inspired the writing of The Archers, the world’s longest-running radio soap opera.

Radio Times Nov 1951

Radio Times Nov 1951

Early episodes were recorded at Rush Farm and its nearby pub, The Bull, at Inkberrow, while Rush Farm’s fireplace featured as the Archers’ fireplace on a Radio Times cover (viz pic). And if that is not enough farm gossip, Olympic showjumper, Pat Smythe, used to ride at Rush Farm, when it was a stud farm in the ’50s and ’60s.

Now Rush Farm is in the limelight again, thanks to its Stockwood Community Benefit Society share offer to secure the biodynamic and organic farm’s future – for ever.

Community investors – be part of the solution! Invest in this worthwhile sustainable enterprise (with 5% return). Deadline ends 31 October 2013.

What is Tesco Real Food?

Tesco Real Food is the name of of Tesco’s recipe magazine and website, Tesco.com/realfood.

Launched by Tesco PLC in 2011,  the magazine is given away free by Tesco six times a year as a marketing promotion (see pic above).

Tesco sells real food in the sense it is tangible, not imaginary. But Tesco food is not what this Real Food Lover calls real food.

I have had this definition on my Real Food Lover blog since 2008.

“What do I mean by real food? As close to nature as it can get. I want mine grown organically – without chemicals and with respect, as close to my home as possible. And wholefoody and unprocessed too, please.”

Others have a similar definition.

The Real Food Festival says: “Real Food is all about great tasting, sustainably and ethically produced food.”

Real Foods, based in Edinburgh, has, for the last 30 years, sold: “healthy, natural, organic (real) food to the nation at affordable prices.”

In a blog post responding to Tesco’s recent use of the term “real food”, Real Foods writes: “… ‘real food’ is food from which the body can extract the maximum amount of nutrition with the minimum amount of waste; food in its most natural state with the best bits still left in rather than foods that have been processed so that the goodness has been removed and replaced by chemicals which, if not actually harmful, are nutritionally ’empty’.”

Like the efficient retailer it is, Tesco has done its consumer market research and understands the nation’s need for nourishment. The result is its Real Food marketing initiative. Will it help people eat real food?

The magazine promises 32 “seasonal” recipes on the front cover.

Out of Tesco’s three “Season’s Best” recipes, one features mangoes from Peru. Mangoes are not grown in this country. They can never be seasonal for the UK.

Ten out of the 32 “seasonal” recipes were puddings with no fresh produce at all. Some were for Valentine’s day, Pancake day and Mother’s day. Are these annual celebrations what Tesco means by “seasonal”?

If so, Tesco has misunderstood the importance of seasonal for real food lovers.

Eating seasonally is about enjoying freshly-harvested produce. The fresher and more seasonal the produce is, the more nutrients it has and the better it tastes. That is one of the (many) reasons why local is important because it means the food is fresher when you eat it.

Tesco Real Food magazine’s current issue invites readers to Love Local and check out online its “wide variety of food from local producers around the UK”.

I checked out Tesco.com/local with my Bristol postcode and was directed to the Gloucestershire region. I was offered only eight products, four of which were beer. Yes, all good local produce, including Pieminister pies and cold-pressed rape seed oil.

But eight products do not a local-food-supply-chain make.

Like most supermarkets, Tesco sources globally not locally.

This article on apples gives us a clue.

According to the Telegraph, at the height of the UK apple-growing season in 2010, Tesco sourced only ten per cent of apples from Britain. The rest were imported. However its billboard ads promised ten different British varieties (subject to availability).

I get the feeling Tesco likes using words such as real and seasonal and local and organic because they sound good. But does Tesco subscribe to the principles and practices that underpin these words?

Tesco Real Food magazine’s current issue has an advertising feature for Tesco Organic. It says organic produce is grown “with reduced reliance on fertilisers”.

This is incorrect. Let me explain. Natural fertilisers – such as composted green and animal manures, and nitrogen-rich crops – are crucial to organic farming. This is how the soil is nourished.

On the other hand, chemical fertilisers are banned in organic farming because they strip the soil of life and cause environmental damage including water pollution.

Tesco’s Organic range is truly organic, and I am not questioning that [added after publication for clarification]. But does Tesco understand organic farming methods? Or is it using organic to make Tesco’s other products – such as intensively-farmed chickens – seem more wholesome?

Here is another example of the mismatch between Tesco Real Food and the reality of Tesco food.

As far as I know (please tell me I am wrong) Tesco still sells foods with trans fats despite a promise to ban them by 2011. Trans fats may make food last longer, but they are essentially candle-wax with huge health risks.

Trans fats are not real food. In fact, they are not even food.

Tesco’s Real Food magazine is glossy, handbag-size and beautifully-presented. In thick bold type, it emphasises words such as “nutritious” and “soul-warming”.

Is Tesco Real Food  the marketing version of trans fats, a cheap filler that tricks us into thinking we’ve been nourished?

Real food producers can tell you exactly what is in their food: how and when and where it was grown, reared, produced and processed – how the land was fertilised, and the farm animals cared for.

Why is Tesco spending its marketing millions pretending to be real?