Update to Producers Members from Helen Browning

23 August 2011

Dear Producer member,

I have been in the hot seat at the Soil Association for a few months now, and my main task has been reviewing the work that we are doing, and establishing clear direction and priorities for the future. Our staff, Council, and the Farmer and Grower Board have all been very involved in helping with this, and I now feel that we can start to talk about this more widely. So while it will be a few weeks before we publish our refreshed strategy, I would like to share some of our thinking with you now, and would be very pleased to hear any comments or thoughts that you have.

There are four main things that I want to achieve through the strategy. Firstly, to ensure that organic, great quality food is accessible to everyone, not just a privileged few.

We want to build on the success of our Food for Life work in schools to find ways of getting a much wider audience engaged with a journey towards a healthier, sustainable diet, with organic as the destination, if not always as the starting point. Secondly, to present organic husbandry as an 'emerging technology' rather than as just harking back to days gone by, so that while we highly value traditional knowledge, we also embrace appropriate new science. Thirdly, to build a constructive relationship with policy makers, and to show just how much the organic movement has to offer, whether we are 4% or 40% of food and farming, so that investment and support will continue to yield dividends for the whole of agriculture and land use policy. Underpinning all of this, is the Soil Association's commitment to support the practitioners who actually make it all happen, pioneering change on the ground; our new strategy will reaffirm this commitment, and point the way to an ongoing strong relationship in which we can learn from each other, and ensure that our advocacy for the sector is based on an excellent understanding of practical realities.

The paper that we will publish in a few weeks time will be an outline only, to present our planned work themes for the next few years. We hope that this will help new audiences understand us better, and to set the framework for the much more detailed internal plans that we are now fleshing up. In today's climate, we will need to make every penny count, and to be focussed on the issues that are likely to yield most benefits. We will need to prioritise, and make sure that we have the right people and skills.

One new skill set that I know we will need, is the post we have just advertised, 'Director of Innovation'. This role will help us stay close to the science, both from a practical and policy perspective, and help us spot the brilliant on the ground, so that we can champion best practise. S/he will oversee the development of new schemes, such as our catering mark, and the ethical trade initiative, and standards. By developing a strong relationship with producer, research and policy communities, this role will help advocate for the R and D and policy needs of the sector, and help our repositioning as at the cutting edge of practice, rather than in the Luddite camp!

Meanwhile, some of you will have heard by now that we are going to lose Phil Stocker in November. He is leaving us to take up the Chief Executive post at the National Sheep Association (NSA). This is a great opportunity for Phil, and one he greatly deserves. Having worked with him closely over many years, I am his biggest fan, and can hardly contemplate a Soil Association without him! He has been a wonderful ambassador and networker, and tireless in his efforts to work constructively with farmers and growers, and all those who need to understand our challenges and opportunities. We will miss him enormously, wish him very well indeed for his new life, and hope that his move will create opportunities for the SA and the NSA to work together where we can.

We have of course started to think about how we should replace him, irreplaceable though he is. Given that we are in the middle of rethinking our plans and structure, and that we have just advertised for the new position outlined above, it will be a few weeks before we make a decision about what skills and background we most need in Phil's role. In particular, we will wish to complement the talents of the Director of Innovation, so that we can have the most balanced and authoritative team. All being well, we will update you on this in late September, and if there is a gap between Phil leaving and the new incumbent, I will do my best to help fill it myself.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns about anything here, do let me know. Otherwise, I hope your summer is going well, and we will be in touch again soon.

Best wishes,



Helen Browning | Director | Soil Association

South Plaza, Marlborough Street, Bristol BS1 3NX | Tel: 0117 314 5124 | Fax: 0117 314 5001

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