Trusting your instincts
Phil Stocker - 16 September 2009
While I was out walking the dog last night I started to think about a recent article in the Farmers Weekly written by Stephen Carr. In the article, Stephen criticises the Soil Association for daring to claim that organic food has nutritional benefits.
He was unhappy that the Soil Association should question the Food Standards Agency view that there are no nutritional benefits of organic food and advised the Soil Association to focus on organic farming as being good for the environment and animal welfare. He mentioned that he has some organic land and he’s ‘with the Soil Association’ – unfortunately, while he was happy to air his irritations in public he hadn’t contacted us to put forward his opinions.
This got me thinking about something I’ve noticed for many years, back to a time when I was a ‘chemical farmer’ and many times since. I’ve known many farmers who would rear and sell barley beef but when they had an animal for the freezer they would choose something different – often an Angus or Hereford heifer that had grazed paddocks or pasture. Why? The reason given was always because it ‘tastes better’, its ‘proper beef’, or its ‘better for you’. I know others who would keep a Jersey cow within their herd of Holsteins and separate this milk for themselves. The reason? ‘Its proper milk’, its ‘good for you’. How many farmers rave about their own vegetables and fruit fresh from the garden – and how many would prefer to eat supermarket vegetables? How many farmers would tell you that vegetables produced with plenty of muck and eaten in season are ‘tastier’ or ‘better for you’?
Where does this come from? Well, I’d dare to suggest it is instinct. I’d also dare to suggest that instinct is something worthwhile, something to be respected and taken seriously.
Unfortunately, instinct is something that is being questioned and even eroded by the current drive for everything to be scientifically proven. It seems to me that foods that are good for us also taste good – perhaps with the exception of sprouts when you’re eight years old! Think of the freshest fruits, the creamiest milk, in season tomatoes... all food that most of us would enthuse about.
Then there’s common sense, another attribute that is often thought to be in decline. Common sense tells me that plants grown in soil that is little more than a 'medium', and which are fed with artificial nutrients, won’t be as nutritious as plants grown in rich, biologically active soils where plants root differently and ‘hunt’ for nutrients. All farmers know that if seeds don’t root well they will suffer from drought or lack of nutrients. It therefore follows that the better plants root, the more nutrients they will take up – and then the more nutritious they will be.
I don’t feel I need science to tell me what food is good for me or not. I also think there is a better use for science, particularly when public money is short and we have so many important things to learn for which science is crucial. However, the science that has been done reassures me that the basics of organic farming – such as soil fertility and high forage intakes for animals – will produce tastier food that is better for me.
I’m up for being humble and accepting that we haven’t got all the answers, and I recognise the importance of science and technology. But we shouldn’t shy away from what we believe in.
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