Are we organic? What does biodynamic mean?
We will not in the first instance be able to afford both financially and in terms of time to apply for the certificate and therefore the right to use the word organic on our produce. To all intents and purposes we will be an organic producer. We will follow the methods and practices that are defined by the organic model, but we will also allow ourselves the freedom to explore an organic plus route. Our stated aim is to regenerate the soil by farming following biodynamic guidelines. Biodynamic and regenerative agriculture can be seen as organic farming plus. The organic model restricts the inputs that can be used on the farm in terms of fertilisers and pesticides. We do not intend to use either of these. However, our method goes further. It looks to address the state of the soil and to rebuild its internal structures and organisms. Our method looks at the nutrient cycles within the soil, the air and the water. It aims to rebuild and vitalise the entire environment of the farm. We will be attempting to re-activate all those cycles and to nurture them in order to allow them and all the flora and fauna that live within them to express their abilities to the full. Our method doesn't seek to ensure the '5 freedoms' as laid out by the RSPCA for just the farm animals. It looks to create a space where those 5 freedoms can be expressed and fulfilled for all the fauna on the farm; from the microbes within the soil, to the birds singing above our heads to, of course, the farm animals.
We are not organic. We are organic plus!
Are we using animals?
We will have animals on the farm. We need to rebuild the natural cycles within the soil and the surrounding environment in order to create truly sustainable fertility within the soil.
We have the choice of artificially importing compost from other sources onto the farm, of growing green crops as 'manures' to plough back into the soil to generate fertility, or we can have animals on the farm to do that job for us more efficiently and naturally. It would take 3-4 years of growing green manures to create enough fertility within the soil to achieve one crop of vegetables from that plot. This would mean that those vegetables would have to be sold at a high enough cost to cover the rent on that land for 4-5 years. This would price them out of any market and this would disable us from fulfilling one of our main aims: to produce local affordable food for all. Importing compost from other sources to fertilise the land again flies in the face of our stated aims. It is not sustainable in that it is bringing in resources from outside the farm in order to produce food. The farm aims to be self sufficient in terms of inputs.
Animals produce manures quickly and efficiently. They will be grazed on pastures, which contain a highly diverse range of plants within them including grasses, clovers and vetches. The roots of these will be working in two ways. They will be working through the soils to create the natural capillaries and pathways for water and micro-organisms to move through. Also, the roots of some, clover for example, will be drawing and securing nitrogen from the air, there by increasing the nutrient quality of the soils. These plants will all be gathering energy from the sun through photosynthesis. This energy will be converted into green matter and those all-important roots. The green matter will be eaten by the animals and converted into nutrient rich manure for the next crop.
We cannot achieve our aims without animals on the farm.
Why give a private business money?
We are a start up. We need a bunk up the ladder because the aims and desires of the people leading this business go so much further than the simple production of food in the local community for the local community.
Our initial aims are small. We plan to use the ten-acres to provide fruit, vegetables, eggs and meat and to provide education to our customers and most importantly to children. Children are generally so disassociated with their food, how its grown, where it comes from, its environmental cost or benefit, the miles the food and the inputs used to grow it have travelled, that they have lost respect for it and its life giving force. We are in danger as a society of viewing food merely as something we need to eat to survive rather than the produce that influences how all the farmland of the Britain and the world looks. We are in danger of reaching a point where generations do not fully understand how their choices when shopping can have drastic influences on the natural and farmed landscape around them. I truly want to teach children and adults what their choices are, and to display the farm's own ethics. In doing this I hope they can be more informed when they make their own choices at the check out.
Further, this is only the start!
Laying hens: One of the ethical accusations laid at farmers’ doors is that all male chicks, which are hatched to become layers, are killed at birth. This is true. The agricultural industry has internationally been driven to produce cheaper and cheaper food. To do this selective breeding has taken place. Chickens that lay more eggs per week and for more weeks in a row have been bred together and rebred and bred again to a point where they are now fantastically efficient at laying eggs. This was a choice of the agricultural industry, and it was driven by financial demands. It has enabled the industry to feed more people with cheaper food. Historically farming had dual-purpose breeds of chicken; ones that lay relatively well, but which also had the ability to reach a condition suitable for eating. While in the short term we are looking to rescue battery hens, we will, in the longer term look to revive those dual-purpose breeds. We will be less efficient in term of egg and meat production, but we will not be supporting a trade where all male chicks are killed at birth.
Pigs: We have said we don’t want to till the soil, to turn it over and destroy the ecosystems within it. We do need to manage weed seeds within it. We will manage our weeds in the growing crops by hand. However, prior to sowing those crops we can use our pigs to help with that process. They will till the soils for us in a non damaging way that creates no compaction. In doing this they will constantly turn that bank of seeds to a position within the soil profile where they can germinate. After they have done so, the pigs can return, naturally destroy the weeds and turn the soil again. The pigs will create a natural loose structure to the soils that the following root crops will do well in. The pigs will of course also be fertilising the soils for us.
The Future of High Barn:
Dairy: A lot of us remember the pint of milk on the doorstep every morning. We cannot buy close to that pint at the moment. There are increasing opportunities to at least buy our milk in reusable glass bottles, but that milk will not have that beautiful creamy top we remember. We hope in the future to have one or more dairy cows in order to supply raw milk. We would not be able to afford a plant to pasteurise and homogenise our milk. Pasteurisation is the process of rapidly super heating and cooling the milk to kill any bacteria. Homogenisation is a process that obliterates the fat globules within the milk and prevents them reforming thereby ensuring they are spread evenly through the milk rather than rising to the top. The milk we generally drink now has had nothing added or taken away, but it is a very different product to the raw ingredient.
How will we treat our cows? The main accusations directed at farmers by some groups are that the cows are raped to ensure a pregnancy that will result in lactation. This refers to the process of artificial insemination that is often used on dairy farms now. AI is used for several reasons: the farmer can improve the genetics (milk or meat producing capabilities) of the animals on his farm by buying in straws of semen rather than transporting in live animals and that semen can come from anywhere in the world. Bringing live animals onto a farm has its risks. That animal may bring disease with it, a live bull can be dangerous to the cows and the farmer and a docile bull can change his personality when they move from farm to farm. I expect that we will use semen and AI, but as the herd grows we hope that we can purchase a bull.
A second accusation is that the calves are ripped away from their mothers at birth causing upset to both calf and mother. This is standard industry practice. This ensures that the maximum milk yields per cow are achieved, enabling the price of the milk to be lower at the point of sale. We will leave the calves with their mothers until they naturally wean themselves at about 8 months of age. We will therefore have a much reduced milk yield per cow, and we will not be able to compete with others on price. However, we can honestly say that we have ensured that the family unit of cow and calf has had its natural life span.
There is no longer a single dairy cow on the Brighton and Hove estate. We hope that we can be the farm to bring them back, enabling us to produce a further product for local discerning consumers. As the dairy grows, we hope that we can produce butter and cheese within the local area too.
We will carry out a genetic test of all the cows we have in our herd to ensure that they are all defined as A2. Historic British breeds of cows had a genetic make up of the enzymes within the milk, which is defined as A2. Over the years of selective breeding to encourage greater levels of production per cow, imported breeds have become mixed into the national herd. These imported breeds generally have a genetic enzyme make up in their milk of A1. My own son William was intolerant to standard shop bought milk as a very young boy. I was lucky to be in this trade and to know about A2 milk. Having tried William on soy milk and other lactose free imported products, we found a supply of A2 milk. William’s young digestive tract could handle the A2 milk without any of the symptoms we found with A1.
The selective breeding that farmers have carried out has resulted in milk becoming cheaper and cheaper, but what is the ethical and health cost of supply the consumers with what they demand? We will not be the cheapest, but we hope we’ll be the most ethical and healthiest.
Feed for the animals: While we will maintain as close to a pasture based system of feeding our animals as possible, we know that there will be periods of the year when we will have to supplement their feed. That period is generally the wintertime. The animals will be burning more energy in order to keep warm, and we will not want our animals to suffer a drop in their condition as they work to keep themselves warm during the winter. There may also be periods when the animals may have to be housed. We have said that a lot of our aim is to regenerate the soils to assist them in restructuring themselves in order that they are in the best ecological condition. A very wet period, such as October 19, November 18, February 18, will result in the soils becoming saturated. In these extreme weather conditions, that seem to be becoming more the norm as we suffer climate change effects, we will house the animals to protect the soils from what may be damaging effects.
During this period of housing we will supplement the feed for our animals. Any supplementary feed will come from our own farm. It will consist of grass conserved in bales of hay, hayledge and silage made during the flush of extra grass we experience in the spring. This may, or may not be enough for the animals and we may further supplement the feed with grains and pulses harvested from the other areas of the farm as a whole. These grains will not be certified organic and therefore neither can the animals be. We will derive the protein, which is the most important from pulses grown on this farm, and the oil from oilseeds grown here. These two ingredients are often derived from palm oil and soya both of which need to be imported. We will not do this.
Hemp: Part of this farm’s aim is to ensure that we reduce our plastic use. The story of hemp as a crop has a long and chequered history. It would appear that during the puritanical days of America’s history, the growing of hemp was banned because of its links with recreational drugs, which of course was frowned upon by that puritanical establishment. Great Britain it would appear stiffened its collars and followed suit. After this period of extreme abstinence, there should have been a relaxing of the rules. However, this coincided with the invention of nylon and polyester, both of which rely on the use of petrochemical products in their creation. The accusation is that petrochemical companies had the lobbying power to prevent the establishment of growing hemp as a crop again.
Hemp has so many uses and it is a natural fibre that can be produced without cost to the planet. We would look to establish small areas of this crop in order to start processing the hemp fibre into whatever our, or the communities, imagination can come up with. Let’s start with a replacement to the plastic bags we all rely on.
Hydroponics or Aquaponics: Further down our path of development we will investigate the potential of hydroponics or aquaponics to produce crops that we are unable to grow outside on the farm, and also to extend the marketing season of our crops. We fully accept that we will be limited by the climatic conditions that exist on the farm meaning that we will only be able to produce seasonal produce. We also understand that consumer demands are such that the purchase of strawberries in January that have been shipped in from whatever country in the world in their plastic packaging has become the norm. While we will do all that we can to change our customer’s expectations, a nice leafy green with a fresh fish in mid December may be just what the consumer desires.
Hydroponics will enable us to produce the leafy green at any time of the year. Hydroponics relies on massive set up costs and it is an indoor process. I have earmarked a barn to set this up in in some years’ time. Being an indoor process the system is not subject to the climate. The system grows crops under artificial light in a tray of fertilised water. The system demands electricity, so before we can set this up on any scale the farm needs to work towards producing and storing that energy on a renewable basis.
Hydroponics relies on fertiliser being added to the water whereas aquaponics adds fish to the system. The fish fertilise the water, removing the need to import or create the fertiliser, but inserting the need to feed the fish. We have the ability to grow the right crops on this farm to feed those fish. The fish would be kept in massive tanks with the water being pumped through it, away to the growing plants and back again. The advantages of this system are removing the need for fertiliser and the production of edible fish. The disadvantages are that the sterility of the growing area can easily become compromised and there needs to be increased hygiene protocols around the fish food and tanks.