So, Keith and I joined our local organic gardening group, HEOG, and have been to a few interesting talks and meetings. Last week, we went one sunny evening to Pleasance Farm, near Kenilworth. Although this isn’t an organic farm, it is in the Natural England Higher Level Environmental Stewardship Scheme – I’m not sure of the detail of what that means, but I do know that it’s about farmers being paid for environmentally friendly practices, such as planting trees and encouraging wildlife.
The farmer explained that although they haven’t gone for organic certification they do try to keep artificial fertilisers and sprays to a minimum. The main business of the farm is fattening beef steers for Waitrose. They grow crops primarily to feed to the cattle. This mixed farming has resulted in well-managed soils with high levels of organic matter. They grow wheat, barley and lupins for the cattle, plus some plants to provide seed for overwintering birds. They have also planted a small native broad leaf woodland, and run a small pheasant shoot here.
As we looked around, the cattle spotted us and ran over to investigate:
The cattle are kept in the Pleasance field – the Pleasance being the late medieval guest accommodation wing for Kenilworth castle – it’s just lumps and bumps in a field now but causes lots of headaches as it is a listed monument:
While this wasn’t a gardening related evening, it was a pleasant way to spend a sunny evening. It’s interesting too, to hear that many farmers reject organic certification as too restrictive, and prefer to farm in an environmentally responsible way, while reserving the right to use artificial fertilisers and weed-killers where they believe it to be necessary. In recent years, organic certification hasn’t necessarily given returns large enough to justify the cost – and if the ultimate buyer (Waitrose, in this case) doesn’t want organic produce, why bother with certification?
Personally I’m trying to reduce my meat consumption as it’s a huge factor in a personal environmental footprint – particularly for beef and lamb. But when I do consume it, I’d prefer it to come from environmentally responsible farmers like these. However, we don’t have a Waitrose in the town where I live, and anyway, the cattle have travelled to Lincolnshire for slaughter (because Waitrose only use 2 slaughterhouses in England, and that’s the nearest) so it’s hardly local. Mind you, I buy meat from a local farm shop, and I don’t know where their animals have to travel to for slaughter. Must ask.