A different model of farming could revive rural areas and give us all healthier food
This post is by George L Young of Curtis Farm, Fobbing, Essex, a zero-tillage mixed farm. It is a shorter version of a post on his own blog.
There are many issues with the current farming and food system. Long, convoluted supply chains dilute nutrition, and farmers can be an undervalued and underpaid part of the chain. I propose a new system of micro supply chains, where every part is fairly valued and nutrition is preserved, but where there are also happy by-products in education, community and culture. Underlying this is a ‘jigsaw’ enterprise model.
A ‘jigsaw’ farming model could support more local businesses and jobs
Modern farming conforms to a siloed approach, where farmers specialise. Whilst producing farming experts, this method leads to poor land management using considerable amounts of synthetic chemicals and fertilisers. Climate change and ecological decline mean it is imperative to move away from these synthetic inputs, which necessitates a more diverse farming system. Rather than one landowner needing to be an expert in multiple types of farming, I suggest a system whereby other business enterprises join a farm on site, working together towards an overall agroecological business. Examples could be multiple forms of livestock enterprise, market gardening, combinable cereal and grain legumes, and fruit and nut production.
To tackle supply chain issues, secondary and tertiary businesses would be encouraged to set up within farmyards. It would allow the complimentary use of equipment between businesses, reducing costs, and ensure that products are as good value as possible. There would also be significantly lower logistical costs (and reduced associated pollution) since business inputs would be available direct from the farm for processing. Examples of farmyard food businesses could be an associated mill, baker, butcher, cheesery, and so on.
The ‘jigsaw’ model also allows new entrants into farming: young farmers could potentially take on a single farming enterprise, which might be only a proportion of their whole income initially. A key criterion on which these jigsaw foods and farming enterprises would be accepted would be their attitude to training. The model should enable new entrants hands-on experience in managing a farming and food business. Similarly, funding is often a barrier when attempting to set up a new business. But a landowner could buy-in to a new entrant’s business, and help with start-up costs, whilst still allowing them freedom to own and run their own business.
The local social benefits of this model have the potential to reinvigorate sleepy villages with few employment possibilities, allowing them to thrive again. If people are living and working locally, the need for a car is drastically reduced. It could also stimulate a community vibe, bolstering the success of existing local businesses (such as a pub or village shop). I envision that a 500-acre farm could support 50 jobs under this approach, all living, spending and socialising locally.
Local communities would have a closer connection to their food
Focusing on the idea of ‘local food for local people’, or a ‘locavore’ diet, allows the community to see their food being grown, and then processed into bread, or butchered into meat cuts, or creamed into butter and cheese, providing people with a much greater connection to their food. This will lead in turn to a more valued product, which should mean less food waste and better food security.
The education that the local community receive by having this local food hub could also be enhanced with education centres on these farms, where school children can learn about the entire supply chain and how to prepare meals. Not only does this teach them about a healthy diet, but it also increases the cultural significance of the food and its origins, placing it back at the centre of a community for future generations.
The long term value of good food culture cannot be understated. The NHS is an ever increasing expense, dealing with major lifestyle ailments like heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. Not tackling the causes of these illnesses threatens the health and long term prosperity of our country. Encouraging healthy food consumption is critical. As shoppers tend to go for the cheapest option, a new approach could instead be to reapportion subsidies to the point of sale, encouraging shoppers to buy healthier, unprocessed food.
By shifting subsidies to encourage healthy food buying habits, and growing the demand for high value, high nutrition products, directly from farms, supermarket chains would be positively disrupted into better relationships with their suppliers, and offering affordable healthier, higher welfare food on their shelves.
If you would like to discuss this idea further, contact George at firstname.lastname@example.org