Organic September: Could farming be a solution to the climate crisis and better health? – The Independent

Posted: September 6, 2020 at 1:54 pm


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In that total hopelessness and in the face of impending climate crisis theres something very humble about farming, says Lynne Davis, who swapped a career in software for farming when she was in her twenties and now runs The Open Food Network, which connects food hubs with local communities.

You know you can do something good to restore the planet and give people what they need at the same time. It feels a very practical and tangible way of doing something useful.

Its no secret that agriculture has been vilified as a primary cause of the climate crisis, with food and farming regularly linked to a third of climate emissions, 70 per cent of water use and 60 per loss of biodiversity.

But, what if farming could be a way to reduce emissions rather than adding to them? What if it could be a way to store water in the ground, for plants to call upon in times of drought? And begin to restore biodiversity?

What if farmers all across the world were already doing this? Organic, biodynamic, regenerative, regenerative organic whatever label you wish to attribute to them; farmers have not only been preventing more harm being caused, but actually reversing this harm, for years.

Until recently, these nature-focused farming methods and buying food produced in this way felt almost philanthropic because the environmental benefits were positioned as nice-to-haves.

The foods and wines are luxury items, offering the promise of guilt-free indulgence thanks to better animal welfare and no nasties, for a more expensive price.

If Europes farmland all followed organic principles, agricultural emissions could drop by 40-50 per cent by 2050

But, the destruction caused by not farming in tune with nature is becoming much more apparent now.

Even 10 years ago, wheat and barley growers in the east of England were still rejecting the idea that their soil was going to run out of steam, says Helen Browning, chief executive of the UKs largest organic certifying body, The Soil Association.

In the past five years the impacts have been felt; organic matter in the soil is running really low, the chemicals arent working so its costing a lot to cultivate these crops, and across the board farmers are recognising that we havent done enough to care for our soils.

The Soil Association claims if Europes farmland all followed organic principles, agricultural emissions could drop by 40-50 per cent by 2050, with plenty to feed the growing population of healthy diets.

The secret is in the soil

It is only fairly recently that we have started to appreciate the significance of what Sir Albert Howard, a founder of the organic movement in the early 1900s and the Soil Association in 1946, always knew: The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.

Its a rare example of a win-win situation a variety of nutritious fruits, vegetables and free-range meat practically become the bi-products of farming healthy soil.

One teaspoon of healthy soil has up to a staggering nine billion microorganisms in it. But industrial farming is pretty much killing off that life in the soil. So, the essential conversation is now all about how to restore it.

To increase soil fertility we need biodiversity. This relies on practices like agroforestry planting forests as a way of building soil resilience, and increasing crop diversity by planting crops that are native to the environment. No-till, so as not to kill off soil life, is becoming increasingly common and can prevent soil erosion and allow more water to infiltrate the soil. Mob-grazing where a field is split up and farmers move cattle every day or so, leaving the grass to recover for longer periods of time improves soil fertility. Allowing chickens to freely roam afterwards has a similar impact and are a good source of eggs and, well, chicken.

From a food and environment point of view, its a rare example of a win-win situation a variety of nutritious fruits, vegetables and free-range meat practically become the bi-products of farming healthy soil.

And when unfertile soils are affecting yields, from a purely financial point of view you can make the case for soil management really quite quickly, says Browning.

So, why isnt every farmer farming in this way?

Of course it makes so much sense once youve removed the economics and practicalities of everyday farming, says Davis.

Farming is a high capital industry. You have to change a lot and its a big gamble there are so many variables and if you get it wrong you dont get to try again for a whole year.

The other question we have to ask is, why isnt everyone eating in this way already?

Without a doubt, the pandemic has highlighted the fragility of our food system. Supermarkets struggled to fill their shelves with fresh produce, as farmers struggled to find workers to pick crops. Dairy farmers were forced to pour millions of litres of milk down the drain, as millions of children went to bed hungry.

In a YouGov survey, 42 per cent of respondents said the outbreak has made them value food more. Some three million people, six per cent of the population, tried a veg box scheme or ordered food from a local farm for the first time. The Open Food Network saw a staggering 900 per cent increase in signups across its platform.

Organic sales soared by 18.7 per cent in the 12 weeks ending 30th May, including the 10 weeks of lockdown, according to Nielsen data. The same report reveals that so far this year, annual organic food and drink sales have seen annual growth of 6.1 per cent, almost double the growth of non-organic food and drink products.

A street food vendor waits for customers seated next to a row of brightly-coloured syrup bottles at his street gola (shaved ice) stall, at Girgaon Chowpaty in Mumbai. Gola or barf ka gola or chuski are the most popular street desserts. The ice-based dessert is made by shaving an ice-block and pouring various flavored syrups on to the snow-like crushed ice

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A woman prepares yomari, or Nepalese steamed dumplings, in Lalitpur. Yomari consists of an external cover of rice flour and an inner content of sweets known as chaku and the mild-based khuwa. They sell for about 65 Nepali rupees or 60 US cents per dumpling. The yomari were traditionally prepared as a specialty dish by members of the ethnic Newari community in Nepal for their festival, but demand became so great that they are now sold throughout the year. According to myth Kubera, the Hindu god of wealth and prosperity, liked the yomari so much upon tasting it that he foretold anyone who makes it will be blessed with wealth and prosperity

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A vendor selling seekh kebabs and other non-vegetarian food on Mira Road, in the outskirts of Mumbai. Seekh kebabs are popular, especially among Muslim people. They are made of meat, most often mutton, lamb, beef or chicken, and served with various accompaniments. Kebabs are often cooked on a skewer over a fire like a grill or baked in an oven

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An elderly street cook cuts lap xuong or Chinese sausage, a traditional ingredient when ordering xoi or sticky rice, at a street food stall in Hanoi. Sticky rice is usually served with meat or egg, but there are many variations, such as sticky rice with steamed chicken, sticky rice with mung beans, sticky rice steamed with peanut, and sticky rice with sliced coconut

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People take a meal at a food stall along a street in Manila. Amid Manila's dense population, ambulant food vendors earn a good profit selling rice porridge mixed with meat, chicken feet, pork intestines, eggs on sticks, and beef stew with rice. Price ranges from 20 cents euro to 50 cents euro

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Men cook snail soup at the Omega street food restaurant in Koh Pich (Diamond Island) in Phnom Penh. The snail soup is made with lake snails, caught by hand by farmers in the provinces around Phnom Penh. The dish offers customers a traditional provincial style of food compared to the majority of restaurants in Cambodia that offer Chinese, western or neighboring Asian nations cuisine, only a few offer traditional Cambodian fare. The restaurant specialises in cooking snail soup and steamed frog with small rocks

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A woman puts a betel package, called quid, into her mouth made and sold at a street stall in Naypyitaw. Betel quids, known as Kunya, are very popular in Myanmar, made of tobacco and small pieces of betel nut wrapped in a betel leaf and spread with a lime paste that are placed into the mouth to suck and chew. Betel is the seed of the Areca palm, and while it's consumption is common in Asia and the Pacific, it is banned in many western countries due to its negative health effects. It also leads to the red stained teeth and mouths, and the red pavement spit that goes along with the experience

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La Loma district, in Manila, is famous for its roasted pig stores known as Lechon, a popular Filipino delicacy. Lechon is the Spanish word for a young suckling pig, that is then slowly roasted over charcoal. Lechon is often cooked during national festivities, the holiday season, and other special occasions such as weddings, graduations, birthdays and baptisms, or family get-togethers

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Women sit as they eat bakso at a street in Depok. Bakso consists of meatballs and noodles mixed with tofu, mustard greens, fried onions and chili sauce. It is one of the most popular street foods in Indonesia

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A street vendor prepares deep-fried curry fish balls, a street snack especially loved by young people, in Mong Kok, a busy night life district of Kowloon in Hong Kong. Since the so-called ' fish ball revolution' riot in Mong Kok in 2016, where a crowd of New Year revellers tried to push a cart of boiling oil towards health officials who were checking for unlicensed street hawkers, the snack has also become a symbol of identity of the Hong Kong people's resistance to perceived creeping authoritarianism from China. Traditionally, fish balls were made of local fish species once widely available in Hong Kong waters. However, due to over-fishing and the industrialisation of food production, the iconic snack is now said to contain only 20 per cent fish or less, with substitute ingredients such as flour, chemical enhancers, pork and lard sometimes making up the bulk of the product. Despite this, in 2012, local media Apple Daily reported that 375,000,000 fish balls were consumed per day

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A vendor arranges fried insects on her street food cart on Khao San Road in Bangkok. The road houses many kinds of food but the most popular are fresh fruits, fried insects and pad thai. Fried insects attract the attention of tourists from all over the world. Bugs have been on the menu in Thailand for ages but a few years ago they have migrated from the forests to commercial farms and factories. The most popular method of preparation is to deep-fry crickets in oil and then sprinkle them with lemongrass slivers and chilis. They are crunchy and taste like fried shrimp. Pad thai is a stir-fried rice noodle dish commonly served as street food and at most restaurants in Thailand

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A man sells baozi, or Chinese steamed meat buns, at a business district in Beijing. The traditional Chinese dish is commonly eaten as breakfast. The baozi are steamed over high heat in a bamboo steamer. According to the legend, baozi has a long history, as it was invented by the Chinese military strategist Zhuge Liang during the Three Kingdoms period (third century AD)

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A vendor cooking satay meat skewers at her stall in the Lau Pa Sat food centre. Singapore has announced that it will be nominating its hawker culture, comprising over 6,000 hawkers who provide street food local dishes, for a Unesco's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Hawker centres were started in the 1970s in Singapore by moving street vendors into purpose-built facilities. There are over 110 such hawker centres in the country. The announcement is reported to have angered some Malaysians, as both nations share a long street food culture heritage and similar dishes

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A bowl of bakso

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A woman makes yomari in Lalitpur

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A street food vendor sells a variety of common street snacks in Kolkata

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A vendor fries duck at a street stall in Binangonan, Rizal province. The duck is deep fried after a boiling process with garlic, onions and other spices, resulting in its trademark of crispy duck skin and meat

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A seller prepares chuan on a skewer at the Wangfujing food market in Beijing. Chuan, pronounced as chwan, are small pieces of meat, but on rare occasions can be seafood, roasted on skewers. The food originated from the Xinjiang region of China and has been spread all across China's cities, where street food is popular. Usually, it is cooked with spices like dried red or black pepper, salt, cumin seeds, and with sesame oil, and sometimes served with small round bread

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Nasi lemak is a Malay fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf. Traditionally, Nasi lemak is served with a sambal (hot spicy sauce) and usually includes various garnishes, including fresh cucumber slices, small fried anchovies, roasted peanuts, and hard-boiled or fried egg

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A street food chef prepares bang trang nuong or Vietnamese pizza at a street food stall in Hanoi. Vietnamese pizza is a thin sheet of rice paper with many kinds of toppings, such as beaten egg, sausage, cheese, dried pork, and is a popular Vietnamese street food

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The incentives are not just environmental. Although more difficult to prove, as studies that restrict diet and behaviour over a number of years are hard to conduct, the human health benefits appear significant. We all know it, we just cant say it, more than one organic expert has said to me.

Last month a peer-reviewed study, published in the journal of Environmental Research and funded by Friends of the Earth, revealed that eating an organic diet can reduce the amount of glyphosate the worlds most widely-used weed killer in your body by 70 per cent within a week.

One of the biggest studies is Newcastle Universitys peer reviewed research, published in 2015 in the British Journal of Nutrition. It found there are between 18 per cent and 69 per cent more antioxidants, which defend cells from damage, in food produced using organic methods. Choosing organically produced foods can also lead to a reduced intake of potentially carcinogenic cadmium and pesticides.

It also found both organic dairy milk and meat contain around 50 per cent more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, which help to maintain a healthy heart, than conventionally produced products and organic meat has slightly lower concentrations of two saturated fats linked to heart disease.

More and more research is connecting the diversity of organisms in the human gut to the diversity of microorganisms in the soil.

When you talk to organic farmers, regenerative farmers, farmers who farm traditionally and resist being labelled, it is nearly always this deeper understanding of our connection with nature that drives them.

They are not only building our soils and growing better food, they are harvesting hope.

Lizzie Rivera is the founder of online sustainable lifestyle guide, Live Frankly

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Organic September: Could farming be a solution to the climate crisis and better health? - The Independent

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September 6th, 2020 at 1:54 pm

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