Modern day sod busters
Phil Stocker - 15 July 2010
As the old saying goes, there are three types of people in this world - those that lead, those that follow, and those that wondered what the hell happened. I want to pay tribute to some of those leaders – the pioneers or 'early adopters' – whose contribution to the organic movement is often not recognised or rewarded.
Most organic farmers and growers will fall within the second category – those who haven’t led but have followed. They may have followed after being inspired, or followed opportunities in the market, or followed because of agri environment incentives.
But the organic farming and growing world has more than its share of pioneers. Indeed, until the emergence of an ‘organic market’ just 20 years or so ago – and remember that the era of organic policy support didn’t start until the late 1990s – virtually all organic producers could claim to be pioneers. They were doing something different because they believed in it – they were challenging the ‘accepted way’ that had had emerged from a period of food insecurity, a period when investment and profit of the chemical input manufacturers heavily influenced farm practices, and a period where our agricultural colleges and universities have produced several generations of farmers and growers where most can only comprehend an input focussed and industrial approach to food production.
Many of these ‘organic’ pioneers are still around and remind us periodically that they farmed organically before conversion grants and market premiums were available. It is important that their role and contribution is recognised – for we wouldn’t be where we are today without them. It would be justifiable reward if they were all benefiting from the interest and demand for organic food, from the agri-environment payments, and maybe from teaching others how to grow and farm in a sustainable way.
Today, there is another a new wave of pioneers, a group of people who are sometimes criticised for the wealth and capital investment they have brought into organic farming – for setting up farms and infrastructure that may not be financially viable in today’s economy, and for showcasing models that may not be truly replicable elsewhere… But these people are bringing vision and a radical approach that may well assist and inform the future direction of our farming and food activities in years to come. Their timing will present challenges for the high investment made in infrastructure that makes high quality products, provides excellent animal welfare, enables produce to be truly local, and provides infrastructure and activities to allow the public to get closer to their food.
While this pioneering investment may struggle to pay today, it is often down to policies and trade practices that incentivises ‘bad’ rather than ‘good’ practice. Rather than dismiss these early adopters, it might be better to recognise the influence that their work can have – through their campaigning and demonstration. Thanks to their efforts, we may be in the position to support the next wave of followers. After all, that’s simply what our earlier pioneers did – they would have done what they believed in for as long as they possibly could, whether it paid or not, while campaigning for their beliefs and finding ways to succeed. I applaud them, one and all.
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