SOMERSET FOOD TRAIL
SUPPORTING SUSTAINABLE FARMS
For decades, fertilisers and pesticides have been sold to our farmers as the key to greater efficiency and a way to bring cheap food to the world. But an increasing body of evidence is pointing to their central role in an unfolding ecological and human health crisis.
Gothelney Farm, Charlynch. Photo: Oliver Edwards:
THE CASE FOR REGENERATING SOILS
Ever since Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring, exposed the destruction of wildlife through the widespread use of pesticides, we've become increasingly aware of their impact on biodiversity and eco systems.
But it’s not just insects and birds that are in trouble. Pesticides are also destroying the microbial life in soils on which all other life depends.
Recent studies show evidence of a corresponding plunge in the variety of microbes in our own gut biome, now understood to be central to both physical and mental health. Just as our own guts need a balanced, varied diet that's low in toxins, to encourage ‘beneficial bacteria’, so do our soils.
It's now accepted that a biologically active soil gives healthier plants, with better functioning roots that require fewer interventions, whilst having the added benefits of building more soil carbon and supporting more biodiversity.
Yet industrial-scale monoculture farming is failing to provide this. It's failing to sufficiently nourish our soils (and nature) and failing to nourish us.
That's why the Somerset Food Trail Festival highlights nature-friendly farms that are producing food in a way that protects the soil, enhances biodiversity and mitigates against climate change.
According to Slow Food UK, which promotes local food cultures, we have lost 94% of our vegetable varieties over the last 100 years. In 1903, we had almost 500 varieties of lettuce; by 1983, we had just 36. And more than half of the world's calories nowadays come from just three crops.
FOOD, FARMING & SUSTAINABILITY
Modern organic farming is an agroecological system of farming that was developed as a response to the environmental harm caused by chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilsers. Organic farmers and growers work to a strict set of standards to ensure they sustain the health of soils, ecosystems, animals and people. Farms certified as organic by the Soil Association have the highest animal welfare standards for farming in the UK.
Permaculture is a framework for creating sustanable ways of living, based on understandings of how nature works. It is a practical method of developing ecologically harmonious, efficient and productive systems that can be used by anyone, anywhere. At its heart permaculture has three ethics: earth care, people care and fair shares. With permaculture, people are treading lightly on our planet, in harmony with nature, says the Pemaculture Association.
There's a growing buzz around regenerative farming, with its focus on the health of the soil and replenishing and restoring nature. Core principles include minimising soil disturbance, maximising crop diversity; keeping the soil covered; maintaining living root systems year round; and integrating livestock. These approaches are critical, advocates say, to halting soil degradation – a serious global problem – and retainning the ability to grow crops in the future.
SUSTAINABLE FOOD PLACES
Wells Food Network, which organises the Somerset Food Trail, is a member of Sustainable Food Places, a partnership programme led by the Soil Association, Food Matters and Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming. It works across all aspects of the food system to solve some of today’s most pressing social, environmental and economic issues. It's part of a growing global movement working for a healthy, sustainable and more equitable food system.
'If you’ve never heard about the amazing potential of regenerative agriculture and land use practices to naturally sequester a critical mass of CO2 in the soil and forests, you’re not alone. One of the best-kept secrets in the world today is that the solution to global warming and the climate crisis (as well as poverty and deteriorating public health) lies right under our feet, and at the end of our knives and forks.'
Regeneration International Steering Committee Member