Monday, 29 December 2008

About-turn on fats

“Eat, drink and be merry,” says the Observer headline . Turns out it’s about a new healthy diet recommending full-fat foods. And about time too, I say.

The Observer piece is based on a new, best-selling American book called Secrets of Gorgeous: Hundreds of Ways to Live Well While Living It Up. In it the author – nutritionist Esther Blum - writes of the “disservice” the low-fat, fat-free culture has done to our bodies – particularly for women.

She says: “We have got ourselves to stage where we can’t comprehend that we need good fats to live a healthy life. We need fat to regulate our hormones. We need cholesterol to make oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.



“We should be eating full-fat food… Saturated fats support bones, protect the liver, enhance the immune system, and absorb omega-3s. In moderation, they don’t cause heart disease but slow down the absorption of foods in your stomach making you feel fuller for longer.”

To which I say three cheers to Esther Blum. Readers of this column will know how we at GrassRoots Food feel about the low-fat, over-processed junk that’s all too often passed off as the healthy option. We’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that saturated fats and the foods containing them – foods that human beings have eaten since we emerged as a species – are somehow bad for you.

It must be about the most effective con-job ever perpetrated by food manufacturers on a gullible population. It’s good to know that in popular American culture the penny has finally dropped. We’ve all been duped.

There’s just one proviso to all this, and it’s an important one. Those healthy saturated fats will come principally from animal foods. And the way those animals are reared and grown is crucial.

Whether it’s meat or dairy foods we’re talking about, the healthiest fats come from animals raised on pasture; animals grazing fresh, herb-rich grass. This is how most animals were raised when I was a kid back in the 1950s. In Britain – the nation with some of the world’s best grasslands – it’s the system we need to return to.

You’re probably thinking this’ll mean more expensive, elitist niche foods. Far from it. Pasture-fed foods – though healthier – are generally cheaper to produce than conventional foods, particularly if we enter another period of high oil prices. Most of today’s foods require copious amounts of oil to produce. Grassland and its products are solar-powered.

If you want the story of why we desperately need a new full-fat culture – and how we can achieve it in a new austerity age – read my book The Carbon Fields. As it says in the ad: It could change the way you think about food.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Squandering our future

Here are a couple of pictures I took in early December close to where I live in Somerset. It’s the sort of thing you can see all over Britain at this time of the year.


The hedge bank on the left has probably been in place for a century or more. But following the intense winter rain we’ve been getting lately it has started to collapse. The mud in the road isn’t just from the hedge. It also contains a lot of silt from the adjoining field. The soil is literally washing away. Along with it goes the land’s ability to grow food for future generations.

The cause of the damage is the condition of the field. It has been cultivated for a cereal crop which means that it has been left exposed to the elements. Had it gone into the winter as pasture, the soil would have been held in place by the grass roots. Soils under grass are able to retain a lot more moisture, so the chances are the winter deluge wouldn’t have burst through the hedge bank taking half the field with it.


A few days after I took my pictures the local council moved in with diggers, trucks and half a dozen staff. In a job that must have cost thousands, they installed a heavy-duty new drainage system to take away the torrents that regularly run off the fields nowadays. This quiet country lane has never needed drains like this before, but then the land was mostly under pasture.

If we’re serious about saving the planet we’re going to have to put a lot more of our farmland back into pasture. It’s the only way we in Britain are going to secure a truly sustainable food supply. As a bonus it’ll also give us healthier meat, eggs and dairy produce than we’ve enjoyed for year. After all, grass-fed is the new organic.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

A disaster of our own making

I’ve just watched a DVD of Dr Michael Greger’s warning on bird flu. In his view the H5N1 strain threatens to be the greatest human catastrophe in all history, with the possibility of deaths around the planet exceeding those of AIDS and the world wars combined.

Photo Credit: CIWF/Martin Usborne


I’ll spare you the gory details. Let’s just say it’s not a good way to die. Dr Greger is Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture for the Humane Society of the United States. He’s not one for over-statement. But in his talk in Washington DC he likened the possible impact of a bird flu plague to an Indian Ocean tsunami striking every town and city in the world.

He quotes Dr Robert Webster – the world’s leading authority on bird flu – as saying: “We’ve never seen such an event since the time of the plagues.”

I don’t mind admitting I was scared by this DVD. But more than that, it made me angry. Because if this catastrophe happens it won’t be a natural disaster – it’ll be one of our own making. According to Dr Webster, we’ve created this threat by rearing chickens in their tens of thousands in factory like sheds.

In effect we’ve produced the ideal conditions for the emergence of a virus strain that could wipe out half the word’s population. By buying cheap chicken – and by allowing farmers to keep them that way – we collude in an experiment that could cost the lives of billions.

The cause of this threat is a moral bankruptcy in our treatment of animals. Our materialistic society produces food animals as if they were plastic mouldings on a factory production line. We need to treat animals better if we are to have a future on this planet.

We could make a start by letting then out of their sheds and cages, and putting them back on green pasture where they belong. That way we’d all be healthier and our children might have a future on this planet.

To read Dr Greger’s latest book – Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching – visit www.BirdFluBook.org

Thank you to CIWF/Martin Usborne for the use of the pictures.

For further reading please follow the link to read a report from the CIWF on The Role of the Intensive Poultry Production Industry in the Spread of Avian Influenza

Saturday, 15 November 2008

WHAT ARE FOOD COMPANIES FOR?


On a visit to Switzerland I made a quick detour to Vevey, a little town on the edge of Lake Geneva. Set among the vinyards this was once the home of Charlie Chaplin, his escape from the America of the McCarthy era. It's also the home of corporate giant Nestle, the world's biggest food company. Nestle runs a food museum in the town.

It's called Alimentarium and it's housed in a rather fine old building that used to be the company's HQ before they built their steel and glass palace just along the lake-side.



Nestle is the subject of a long-running campaign as a result of its marketing of branded baby milk to mothers who'd be better off breast feeding. Which is quite a neat summary of what all food companies do – replace natural, nutritious foods with inferior, processed ones. Nestle's brands include Cheerios, Kit Kat, Carnation, Munch Bunch and Maggi 2-minute Noodles. You get my meaning. Well anyway, with a collection like that I was interested in what they'd have to say on
nutrition.



I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. The food museum was well laid out with imaginative, hands-on displays that got you thinking about what you ate and how it might affect you. Particularly revealing was a display on the food culture of the local area - Switzerland's Vaud
canton. I learned that diets in the region were strongly influenced by rural traditions. Meat was at the heart of the main meal, with cheese an integral part of many cooked dishes. Regional products linked the local cuisine to vinyards, farms and mountain pastures, we were told.



What's interesting is that the Swiss are a very healthy nation. In the international league tables of life expectancy they're right up there with France, well ahead of Britain. Yet in this part of the country, at least, they're eating diets high in red meat and dairy foods, the ones we're told are loaded with saturated fats and will kill us in no time at all. I've long thought this was a load of bunk. The foods people have eaten for thousands of years didn't suddenly get to be unhealthy. We just started producing them the wrong way, that's all. When, as in Switzerland, they're from animals raised the natural way –on pasture – they're very healthy foods.



That's one of the key messages I took away from the Alimentarium, though to be honest I knew it when I went in. That and the fact that a boycott of processed products might just turn out to be very good for your health.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Corporate Spin

How on earth did the biotech industry manage to get their PR message plastered across a whole news page of The Times? (November 3 2008)

The headline ran: “GM bean could help prevent heart attacks.” What followed was a thinly disguised publicity puff for Monsanto’s latest gift to humanity – a GM soya bean whose oil apparently raises blood levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in people who consume it. This will protect them against heart disease and diabetes, we’re told, while speeding the growth of brain cells in the young.

The best source of long-chain omega-3s is, of course, fish oil. That’s why the Food Standards Agency recommends that we all eat a portion of oily fish each week. But as The Times reminds us, fish stocks are fragile. It seems we’re about to change our hostile attitude to all things GM when the new soya oil turns up in our yogurts, salad dressings and cereal bars.

Quite why journalists are so ready to swallow this corporate mythology is beyond me. The fact is there are safer, healthier ways to get omega-3 fats even if the supply of fish oil does run short. For a start would could free our cattle from their factory farms and put them back on fresh, green pasture as nature intended.

Many industrial countries now house beef cattle in vast sheds and feed them on industrial grains – the sort agribusiness companies like Monsanto supply the chemicals to grow. There’s plenty of evidence that grass-fed beef contains far higher levels of omega-3s – including the important long-chain variety – than the beef of cattle fed on grains.[i]

One of the reasons our diets are now so dangerously low in omega-3s is that industrial farming chooses to feed grains to ruminant animals in place of grass.

To add a sort of spurious objectivity to its biotech promotion, The Times carried a comment piece from the director of Rothamsted Research, a publicly funded agricultural science institute. Not surprisingly the research chief was generally in favour of GM technology, suggesting that the world may need it to feed a soaring population.

It’s a technology that also happens to support tens of thousands of science jobs around the world. In the 1970s the British research establishment identified genetic engineering as a priority area. They persuaded governments to pour millions into this area of research. Between them taxpayers and large corporations have staked billions on biotech research, which is why scientists are so keen to promote it.

What the world urgently needs is research into biodiverse, carbon-capturing, healthy food-producing agriculture. But the corporations won’t fund it because there’s not likely to be a lucrative product for them to sell at the end of it. And governments won’t fund it because they’ve been conned by corporate science into believing the only productive form of farming is the high-input variety.

It isn’t, but until the politicians, science and the media begin to seriously scrutinise the corporate view nothing much is going to change. The rest of us will have to put up with a more polluted planet and a less secure food supply than we need have done.

* If Rothamsted scientists are interested in finding out more about sustainable forms of farming I’d be happy to lodge a few copies of The Carbon Fields with the institute’s library.


[i] Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2006; 15 (1): 21-9

Thursday, 6 November 2008

New Hope for Real Milk


I was shocked at the news of the demise of Daisy's dairy. Perhaps I shouldn't have been, considering the problems that our current agricultural system is suffering from.

My new book published this month, 'The Carbon Fields' uses my many years of research to lay out the argument of where our farming has gone wrong and how we can improve our lives with what we eat. To buy the book have a look here; The Carbon Fields.

In the meantime, have a look at the excerpt of an article below that I wrote for the website www.grassrootsfood.com, or to read the full article click here; New hope.

"With all the mayhem over the banking crisis, no one much noticed the closure of a small, farm dairy in Hampshire. Except, that is for the hundreds of local families who thought their neighbourhood milk the best they’d ever tasted. For them the demise of Daisy’s Dairy was little short of a disaster.

Now there’s news that this pioneering dairy may re-open under community ownership. It could provide a blue-print for bringing fresh, healthy, local milk back to neighbourhoods all over the country.

Before the set-back few who tasted Daisy’s milk ever wanted to go back to the supermarket version. They found it far fresher and more flavoursome than any shop-bought milk – better, too, than the milk delivered by big dairy companies. James and Helen Hague, who ran the enterprise from their small farm at Rotherwick, near Hook, pulled out all the stops to produce healthy milk and get it onto the doorsteps of local families in double quick time."



Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Time to go against the grain.

Below is an article I wrote for the Guardian about the impact that modern farming is having on our countryside, our pockets, our environment and our food.

My new book published this month, 'The Carbon Fields' uses my many years research to lay out the argument of where our farming has gone wrong and how we can improve our lives with what we eat. To buy the book have a look here; The Carbon Fields.

In the meantime have a look at the Guardian article below or to read the full article click here; Against the grain.

"On commodity markets, the price of wheat is barely half what it was a year ago. And as it falls, more food prices look set to tumble. But before cracking open the Bollinger, the Brown cabinet would do well to ponder the implications of having food prices so closely bound up with commodity movements.

Our food supply is now more dependent on globally traded grains than at any time in our history. This makes it inherently unstable and vulnerable to the kind of catastrophic meltdown that threatened the banking industry. First, there's the danger of extreme weather events, worsening as a result of climate change. Grains are at risk both from heavy rainfall and from drought, and this year's rain-drenched harvest was saved only by a fine spell in September.

Then there's the reliance of wheat farmers on oil. To grow the crop, they need diesel to power their giant machines, whose very manufacture requires barrels of the stuff. Then there's the oil contained in the chemical fertilisers and pesticides, without which their over-worked soils would scarcely grow a thing. Little wonder, then, that wheat price movements reflect almost exactly the rollercoaster fluctuations of the oil market. Finally, our grain-based food supply is largely controlled by commodity traders and brokers - speculators now dictate the price and availability of many foods on our supermarket shelves."


Buy the amazing new book The Carbon Fields by Graham Harvey now at www.grassrootsfood.co.uk.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Thank you

I've had a great response to my blog. Plus I've had several comments from people interested in my website and upcoming books. Thank you for all of your support.

I'm sure you'll be glad to hear there's another book on the way. This one's called The Carbon Fields and I'm vety excited about it

My latest book, The Carbon Fields.
Read all about it here.


You can read all about my latest book, The Carbon Fields, plus many other articles I've written on their website: www.grassrootsfood.com.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Every little helps

Glad to see those public spirited people at Tesco want to do more to help local communities. According to Farmers Weekly they’re opening new buying offices across the UK. The idea is to forge closer links with farmers and get more local products in their stores.

It seems the company’s buyers are busy looking for local product ranges to help satisfy a market sector that could be worth £1bn in three years time. Since launching local sourcing a year ago, Tesco has, it seems, discovered more than 1000 new product lines.

The company’s head of local sourcing is quoted as saying: “More customers want great local food that is fresh and contributes to the local economy.” How heartening to know that our biggest supermarket chain is so committed to supporting the local community.

The last time I shopped in my local Tesco I was offered a money-off petrol voucher at the check-out. It entitled me to 5p off every litre I bought in the store’s adjoining filling station.

The only explanation I could come up with for this blatant piece of cross-subsidising was that it was an attempt to wipe out the local opposition. There’s only one other petrol retailer in our small west Somerset town. The supermarket company appeared to be using profits from one area of trading – grocery retailing – to undercut a competitor in another.

This seems rather at odds with Tesco’s apparent concern for the local economy. Could it be that the real reason for the new local food initiative is to knock out farmers’ markets and farm shops?

Thanks, Tesco, but I shall go on buying my local food at my neighbourhood farmers market, just as I buy my petrol from the local Esso station. In fact, I have a suggestion to make. Why don’t the independent petrol retailers start selling local food? That way we may start to see some real support for local economies.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Fresh Fruit and Veg Fears

Last week I was involved in a radio 4 discussion in celebration of 100 years of the NFU, look here to read more. Whilst I was searching BBC archive for their 'listen again' to add to the blog I stumbled across an interview I did in 2006. Although the piece is a little old it is still very relevant. As we are discussing the depletion of minerals from our current fruit and vegetables, due to the change to intensive farming. The discussion that takes place between myself and Peter Kendall, the then Deputy President, now President of the NFU. If you would like to hear the discussion please click here. You'll find the link to the radio piece on the RHS of the page.

My book We Want Real Food has just been re-released. To grab a copy visit Amazon or visit your nearest bookshop.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Our duty to the land

Those of us who produce and market local food – or, like me, simply enjoy consuming it – don’t need reminding that it’s often a healthier way to eat. Now at last it seems the government is finally catching up with the benefits.

Health minister Ben Bradshaw has told the Commons that patients in west country hospitals showed faster recovery rates when offered locally-produced meat, dairy products, fish and vegetables than those given the usual anonymous hospital food. The comments are based on findings in Cornwall where health trusts have made big efforts to cut food miles and support local farmers and growers.

According to Ben Bradshaw no less than 80 per cent of the food served in Cornwall’s hospitals now comes from local farmers, butchers, milk producers and fishermen. Not only was local food proving popular with patients, he told the Commons, but it had actually hastened recovery rates.

Let’s hope other government departments take note of the findings. If fresh, local produce can improve the health of people in hospital, it can bring benefits to the wider community too. Institutions like hospitals, schools and prisons are only the starting point. What this obese and sickly nation needs is a totally new food system based on well-grown, nutrient-rich produce.

Sad to see that National Farmers’ Union president Peter Kendall is still pushing for an expansion of large-scale, commodity food. At the union’s AGM he spoke of Britain’s “moral duty” to make “our optimum contribution to global supplies of food and bio-energy”. What this means is that big arable farmers should be free to profit from ever higher production of low-grade industrial crops for global markets. The main beneficiaries of such a policy would be chemical companies and commodity traders. The victims would include the people of Britain, small farmers, the world’s poor and the global environment.

I agree with the NFU president that Britain has a moral duty to use its farmland wisely. But as I see it the wisest thing Britain’s farmers could do for the world is concentrate on growing healthy foods for the 60 million or so people of these islands. And they need to do it using methods that safeguard soil fertility and the global environment for future generations. This way farmers will once again become national heroes. And, like the hospital patients of Cornwall, we’ll all be a lot fitter.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Down to Earth

I was pleased to see my investigation of soil so skilfully set out in the March issue of Ecologist magazine. The material is mostly taken from my chapter on soil in We Want Real Food. The magazine has used it as part of an extended feature on how climate change and peak oil will impact on our food supply.

It’s good to know the importance of healthy soils to our lives and health is getting the recognition it deserves. In this age of record crop yields it’s easy to get the impression that it’s the chemists, plant breeders and GM technologists who feed us.

The truth is that, however smart our technologies, it’s the living community below ground that enables plants to grow. They supply plants with the nutrients they need, provide them with water and protect them against toxins and disease. Without the activity of soil life – from microscopic bacteria to earthworms – life above ground would quickly grind to a halt.

Sadly chemical farming subjects these living communities to a non-stop toxic barrage, wiping out whole species and disrupting the intricate subterranean network that keeps plants healthy. With their natural support systems weakened, crop plants become more dependent on pesticides to keep them growing – which is great for the chemical industry but bad news for the rest of us.

For the full story of why we owe so much to the life of the soil, take a look at Ecologist magazine. Alternatively, of course, you can read the book, We Want Real Food!

Saturday, 16 February 2008

100 years of the NFU. Do we want 100 more?

This weekend the NFU celebrated its centenary year. The Farming Today This Week programme on BBC Radio Four marked this occasion this morning with a whistle-stop tour of a hundred years of farming. Followed by a discussion between myself, Antony Gibson of the NFU, Dr. Mark Avery of RSPB and the former Chief NFU economist Sean Rickard. The conversation gets a little heated in places but it definitely makes interesting listening. Sean Rickard accused me of talking 'green claptrap' for calling for better quality food. Does today's NFU still take the view that its products are beyond improvement, we wonder?

To hear the full programme click The Farming Today This week. If you only want to hear the discussion then skip forward to approximately 11 minutes.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

GM Scare Stories

Producers of GM seed have found a new way of sneaking out propaganda about their unpopular technology – they’re targeting business editors who aren’t normally too clued up on farming. How else can you explain a full page report in the world business section of The Times today warning of the possible collapse of Europe’s livestock industry because of delays in approving new GM varieties?[1]

We’re told that shortages of grain for animal feed – together with high prices – are “wreaking havoc” on livestock production, causing pig and poultry farmers to cut back their output. According to the report the EU imports 80 per cent of its protein feeds mostly as GM soya and “corn”. It seems the main producing countries – the USA, Argentina and Brazil – are constantly switching to new GM varieties. EU approval policies for new GM grains are apparently so slow that Europe could run out of sources of supply, leading to run-away feed prices and a big cut in pig and poultry production.

To me the article looks like a classic piece of scare-mongering on behalf of the GM companies and global commodity traders. I checked with a couple of farming friends. They agreed that soya supplies were tight but said it had “naff-all” to do with GM approvals. It’s simply that rocketing Chinese demand for protein grains is putting a strain on supplies. While this may be disruptive, it’s hardly likely to lead to the destruction of civilisation as we know it.

For decades now the EU has produced vast surpluses of feed grains. It could easily substitute home-grown protein grains for the cheap American soya the livestock industry has now become addicted to. The UK alone produces an annual grain surplus of 4 million tonnes. For decades British taxpayers have been forced to pick up the tab for dumping it all on global markets, so destroying the livelihoods of farmers in poor countries.

What’s wrong with turning over some of the land to producing our own protein feeds – traditional crops like beans and peas? These were the proteins British farmers put in their animal feeds before they acquired their US soya habit. Both are legumes – they “fix” atmospheric nitrogen, building up the fertility of the soil. They’d help counter climate change, they’d make our farm animals healthier, they’d probably make our foods healthier, too. What’s more these “home-grown “ foods would become genuinely British instead of being dependent on imported grains and energy.

Maybe business editors should talk to farmers more often and rely less heavily on briefings from the GM industry.


[1]Europe faces meat crisis as wrangle over GM animal feeds intensifies’, The Times, Thursday February 14 2008

Monday, 11 February 2008

Climate change and agriculture.

As I discussed in an earlier post (7.2.08) 'The answer is blowing in the wind', farming is considered to be a factor in global warming. But climate change in turn is impacting on agriculture.


I talked about this topic last July in the Comment is Free website - Reaping what we've sown. Here is an extract from the article.

"It would be comforting to think that, in the brave new world of microprocessors and nano-technology, food production would be less vulnerable to such natural disasters. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case. If the recent floods and rainstorms prove anything, it's that at the start of the 21st century our food supplies remain worryingly insecure and precarious.

As far as the countryside is concerned the main accomplishment of the European Union - and its poisonous offspring, the common agricultural policy (CAP) - has been to increase massively the grain-growing area at the expense of grassland. Since we joined the EU in the early 1970s, Britain's wheat-growing area has doubled. Instead of grazing livestock on pasture, many cattle farmers concentrated their animals in sheds and fed them on the cheap, subsidised grain.

Compared with traditional pastoral farming systems, wheat-growing is highly unstable. It relies on energy-rich inputs of chemical fertilisers and sprays, many of them imported. It demands a decent spell of weather at harvest time if the crop is to be got in. And, even under favourable conditions, it depends on squadrons of diesel-burning monster machines to do the job."

Friday, 8 February 2008

Health or wealth?

After Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's and Jamie Oliver's spirited campaign on behalf of intensively-farmed chicken, Tesco's decision to sell a bird at less than £2 looks insensitive to say the least. Sadly it's all part of the supermarket culture that puts takings at the check-out ahead of respect for its customers.

Today science is revealing that milk produced from cows on fast-growing spring pastures is high in fat-soluble vitamins, omega-3s and the cancer-fighting CLA, all the things that protect people from disease.

If you want to read more on this topic I wrote an article for the Guardian UK, Comment is Free website today. Click here to read more - A cheap trick.

"Supermarkets stock 50 different brands of instant coffee so there is something - so they claim - to suit all requirements. Tesco's £1.99 chicken sits alongside free range, organic and a host of other birds. It's called market fragmentation, or some such thing, and it allows the company to maximise its take at the checkout. It's also supposed to give consumers a greater choice.

In reality there's no choice at all. While the strategy may work for washing-up liquid or torch batteries - where the consumer can pretty well estimate what they're getting for their money - it's a nonsense when applied to food. Until science comes up with a way of measuring the total nutrient content of a food, there's no way the consumer can make a sensible choice.
"

Thursday, 7 February 2008

The answer to Global Warming is blowing in the wind.

In July, Defra commissioned scientists at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research at Aberystwyth to find ways of reducing the damaging side-effect of bovine flatulence. The scientists are to look principally at changes in the cows' diet.

Methane - a greenhouse gas - is said by scientists to be 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a driver of global warming. Every cow produces up to 200 litres of the stuff a day - equivalent in its climate change effect to a 33-mile Land Rover Freelander journey.

Most methane produced by cows actually comes from their mouths not their bottoms!

We look forward to letting you know the findings of this research but in the meantime why not read my article on the subject from the Comment is Free website in July 2007. Click here to read the full article - Pastures new.

"Alongside our house on Exmoor we have a small, steeply-sloping pasture field known locally as The Cliff. The gradient is so lethal that no one's ever dared venture on it with a tractor. This means that - unlike most grass fields in Britain - it has never been dosed with weedkillers or nitrate fertilisers.

As I look out on the field it's currently bathed in a rare burst of summer sunshine. In the unaccustomed brightness the green sward looks a real picture. From hedgerow to hedgerow it's flecked with wild flowers - mostly white clover, rough hawkbite and the low-growing birdsfoot trefoil, known to the locals as bacon-and-egg.

A commercial farmer glancing over the hedge would shake his head in pity. The field looks more like the subject of a Constable painting than a serious place to produce food. Yet our small flock of Exmoor sheep seem to thrive on it. And in summer - when we get one - the sward comes alive with grasshoppers, bees and flickering butterflies.

Before the days of chemical agriculture, pasture fields across Britain were full of wild flowers and herbs. Old-style livestock farmers believed it was these everyday plants that kept their animals healthy. Pasture plants were thought to be rich in essential minerals and vitamins from which grazing animals could select the diets that suited them - and, presumably, which aided digestion."

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Set the animals free!

Let’s hear it for our favourite retailer (this week) – the Co-op. The management team of the grocery chain commissioned a large-scale survey to find out their customers attitudes to issues such as animal welfare, climate change and fair trade.

They discovered that shoppers were far more concerned with animal welfare and fair trade than they were with climate change. According to the Co-op’s head of ethics, Paul Monaghan, this reflected shoppers’ view that they could improve animal welfare and trade justice through the choices they made in-store. On the question of climate change they felt powerless and thought this was more a matter for corporations and governments.

On the basis of their findings the Co-op has already stopped selling eggs from hens kept in cages. And the 2,700-strong supermarket chain is planning more changes to its trading practises to reflect the concerns of consumers.

Well done the Co-op we say. And here’s some good news for their customers. Buy choosing to buy poultry meat and eggs from hens raised on pasture rather than in cages you’re doing more to combat climate change than you realise.

There was a time not so long ago when most of our food animals were raised on fresh green pasture. The great thing about producing food naturally from clover-rich grassland is that the soil beneath the turf slowly takes up carbon from the air and locks it away safely as organic matter. So the more livestock that run on the pasture – dairy cows, beef cattle, sheep, poultry and pigs – the more fertile the soil becomes.

Sadly in the past few years we’ve been duped by the fertilizer companies, the energy corporations and the politicians who are supposed to be in charge of farming to raise livestock on industrially-grown grain crops. These require massive inputs of pesticides and energy-rich chemical fertilizers, and the animal foods they produce are less healthy than those raised naturally on grass. What’s more these industrial crops rob the soil of fertility and shove carbon back into the atmosphere where it hastens climate change.

Whatever the vegans say, the scandal is – not that many of us enjoy animal foods – but that two-thirds of the world’s grain is squandered on producing them.

So the message for the Co-op and its ethical customers is when you buy pasture-raised poultry you’re not just being kind to the birds, you’re also doing plenty for the planet. Now having set the chicken free, the next thing is to put cattle and pigs back on pasture too. That way we’ll not just get better food and healthier animals. We’ll turn our farming from being an environmental polluter to the friend of the environment it ought to be.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Hunter-gatherers in a natural world.

Welcome to our site! We are here to champion truly healthy food. I believe the best guarantee of robust health comes from foods rich in the vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and protective fats our bodies need – in short, real foods. Sadly they’re not the kinds of foods you’ll find in the local supermarket. Because of the way today’s foods are grown and processed, most have been stripped of the nutrients we need for good health. The labels may describe them as “healthy” but the chances are they’ll have been dumbed down. Far from protecting your family they’re more likely to set them on the slow track to chronic illness.

In my view human beings are programmed to stay healthy – it’s the default position. Humans evolved as hunter-gatherers in a natural world well stocked with nutrient-rich foods. They were the everyday foods that promoted peak fitness. Since then our bodies have scarcely changed. We still need these naturally-grown, nutrient-dense foods to stay healthy. We need meat and dairy products from animals grazing uncontaminated, herb-rich pastures; fruits, vegetables and whole-grains from soils that are biologically-active and balanced for minerals. We’re not simply talking organic - foods grown without pesticides or sprays. We’re talking “organic plus” – foods grown in ways that enhance their nutrient content and boost human immunity.



It’s hard to believe such foods could still exist in a country dominated by chemically-dependent, industrial forms of agriculture. Yet they’re out there if you know where to look. There’s no denying that finding them may require some effort. It will mean taking over responsibility for the health of yourself and your family, not leaving the job to those who have let us down – the food giants, the supermarkets and the politicians. But you can start out in the sure knowledge that once you’ve found sources for health-protecting foods you can relax. You’ll never need to look at a diet book again.

So welcome to the world of the new hunter-gatherer. It’s going to be a great adventure. And we’ll be with you every step of the way.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Convenience food - The way to go?

Almost all of us live near a supermarket these days. In towns they seem to be on almost every corner, and they're multiplying at a bewildering rate. Is this a good thing? In November 2007, the Competition Commission released a report on supermarkets. It followed 17 months of investigations. At the end of it they came up with a conclusion I still find inexplicable.




Here is an extract from that article. Click here to read more - Corporate Feed

"With a little courage, it (the competition commission) could have taken a far more creative view of the nature of competition. There's no reason why an oligopoly of giant supermarkets should be the only show in town. Why not set up the superstore culture against a thriving high street of small specialist shops? Instead of changing the planning laws to encourage more supermarkets, as it recommends, the commission could equally have proposed measures to revive the town-centre shopping and put it on a more equable trading footing with the edge of town superstore.

Britain's moribund grocery market desperately needs this kind of innovation - not just to pare down prices, but to drive up food standards, something the supermarkets have largely failed to do."

Friday, 1 February 2008

Milk Fest

Being a bit of a farming geek I thought I’d try out the one-day Dairy Show – a sort of “Glastonbury” for dairy farmers just a stone’s throw from the Pilton site. OK, so it’s not really like Glastonbury. For a start there’s no mud. And a most of the stands are inside in the warm.

Even so, for a bunch of guys who spend most of their lives milking cows and shifting the brown stuff, there’s something of a festival atmosphere about the event. Farmers go there for a good gossip with their mates and to catch up on the latest technical developments – everything from
automatic teat dips to the latest line in dairy disinfectants.

There are plenty of market gurus on hand to speculate about the prospects for world milk prices – on the up at the moment, so everyone’s pretty cheerful. And for the tired and weary, the dairy companies’ plush stands are somewhere to sit and have a cup of tea while they tell you about their latest products and how they’re grabbing an ever bigger share of the market.

What you don’t hear at shows like this is anything about health. This is might seem surprising when you consider that milk – properly produced from cows grazing fresh, clover-rich pasture – is one of the healthiest foods you can buy. On the other hand, milk from cows fed unhealthy foods such as cereal grains and soya is best left well alone.

As I walked around the dairy fest I looked in vain for something on the health benefits of pasture feeding. There were plenty of stands promoting feeds like palm kernel expeller, soya hulls and distillers barley. But nothing to tell you that a field of good spring grass will fill your milk with CLA, one of the most powerful cancer-fighters known in nature. I doubt these farmers would have been interested.

The sad fact is that dairy farmers have been cut off from their real customers – you and me – since 1933 when the government set up the monopolistic Milk Marketing Board with powers to buy up every single drop of milk produced in the UK. Ever since then the chief aim of farmers has been to produce as much as they can as cheaply as they can, then send it off in the tanker to some faceless official of the Board/government/EU/dairy company.

It’s all about churning out the white stuff at a decent margin. It’s the chief reason why the standard of 90 per cent of the milk on sale in our supermarkets is so appallingly low.

Back before the days of government meddling, 50,000 British dairy farmers sold milk direct to the public. What mattered to them was, not the latest gizmo for automatic teat dipping, but how to deliver rich, fresh-tasting milk that would keep their customers happy and secure the future of their businesses. It was a different basic psychology.

If we’re going to get back to truly healthy milk in Britain we’re going to have to restore those direct links between producer and consumer. Grass-fed, local milk will give us a healthier population, a healthier planet and a better future for family farms.

Stay with us and help make it happen!

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Veally Good Food.

Supermarkets – including Tesco, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer – are backing a campaign to get us eating more home-produced veal. The aim is to reduce the number of low-value bull calves being exported for veal production abroad. But the scheme won’t help more than a tiny fraction of calves from Britain’s dairy herds. They’re victims – not of British food preferences – but the industrialisation of agriculture.



This is an extract from an article posted on The Guardian’s Comment is Free website in January 2008.

“Until we came under the control of the EU’s common agricultural policy, dairy farmers relied on well-fleshed, traditional breeds such as the British Friesian to produce our milk. In those days, the male calves had value because they could be fattened economically for beef on fresh grass and silage.

“But in their bid to turn out ever-greater quantities of milk at ever-lower cost, dairy farmers have come to rely on what US nutritionist Sally Fallon calls “freak” cows – animals with abnormally active pituitary glands. Hard-wired to produce copious amounts of milk, they have to be fed – not on fresh pasture, the natural food of ruminants – but on high-energy feeds such as maize and cereal grains, and high protein feeds such as soya...”

“By insisting that their milk suppliers put cows back on pasture, they would force farmers to abandon the industrial “freaks” and go back to the traditional breeds that thrive on grass… The milk of grass-fed cows is richer in vitamins, omega-3s and the cancer-fighting compound CLA than cows fed on soya meal and cereals.”

Click here for the full article – Dear dairy.


If you have any thoughts and comments please let me know. Thanks.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Farming should return to its roots.

Welcome to Graham Harvey's News From the Grass Roots.



I am interested in healthy food and a healthier planet. If you are interested in good food, keep checking the blog and keep in touch.

Here is an extract from an article that I wrote for the BBC World website today.

"When I called to collect my meat I was struck by how old-fashioned the farm looked. For a start, the pastures were full of clovers and wild flowers, a rare sight in an age of chemically-fertilised monocultures of most beef farms...... This was the way beef had been produced for thousands of years in the UK"

Click here to read the full article 'Farming should return to its roots'.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008