The Soil Association started out on a single farm. Now we influence the government on UK food and farming policy and help communities across the country connect through food.
The Soil Association was founded in 1946 by a group of people who were concerned about the health implications of increasingly intensive farming systems following the Second World War. Their main concerns were:
- The loss of soil through erosion and depletion
- Decreased nutritional quality of food
- Exploitation of animals
- Impact on the countryside and wildlife
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At the age of 12, Eve Balfour decided she was going to be a farmer. At 17 she was one of the first women to study agriculture at Reading University and, by 20, her determination had paid off and she was running a small farm for the War Agricultural Committee.
Just a year later, this pioneer of farming bought a farm in Suffolk with her sister Mary which went on to become the birthplace of the Soil Association.
Lady Eve wanted to do things differently. She got involved with research and her farm in Suffolk was divided into three:
- The first section of the farm used intensive farming techniques,
- the second had traditional systems and
- the third was a mixture of both.
Doing this allowed the founders of the Soil Association to research different kinds of farming side-by-side.
This research, called the Haughley experiment, was the basis of Lady Eve’s book ‘The Living Soil’ which made a huge impact in the farming community.
The ongoing experiment, and work on the farm over 30 years, helped to shape the Soil Association’s first organic standards in 1967.
These standards stated that in order to be successful in organic growing you need to create and sustain a ‘living’ soil. They acknowledged a simple fact spearheaded by another founder of the organic movement:
The health of soil, plants, animals and (hu)man is one and indivisible.Sir Albert Howard
Soil Association Certification is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the charity. The not-for-profit business certifies organic products to Soil Association standards. It also offers a huge range of organic and sustainable certification schemes across food, farming, catering, health and beauty, textiles and forestry.
Soil Association Certification launched in 1973, at a time when there was increasing demand for a system that proved food was high-quality and made with integrity.
Today, it still provides that reassurance. The Soil Association organic symbol is more than just a trade mark: it represents a set of standards that are developed to achieve our aims and embody our organic principles of ecology, fairness, care and health.
70% of organic food in the UK is certified by Soil Association Certification.
In the mid-1980s, a number of supermarkets began to stock organic food, bringing the movement into the mainstream. However, the number of organic farmers remained small until the launch of the Organic Aid Scheme in 1995.
The UK government during this time helped farmers through the difficult two- to five-year organic conversion period. As this support for farmers grew, so did the Soil Association. We use our 75 years of knowledge to support farmers on the ground, and influence positive policy changes.
Throughout our history, we’ve trialled new ways of doing things, connected curious minds and supported communities to better care for each other.
The Soil Association is the charity that digs deeper to transform the way we eat, farm and care for our natural world.
We want to live in a world which is in balance with nature and a future with good health and a safe climate, which means that we:
- Campaign for change
- Support farming innovation
- Serve healthy food
- Develop world-leading standards
And, through Soil Association Certification we:
- Help organic businesses thrive
- Protect forests
Find out more about our work now