Katie: Hello, and welcome to Farmerama.
Jo: This month, we have the second interview in a series about animal feed that we’ve made with Wicked Leeks, the magazine for sustainable food and ethical business, which is published by Riverford.
Katie: And we’ll also share some more of the conversations we had at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, at the start of this year. Later, we’ll hear from Nourish Scotland about the work they’ve been doing to help shape Scotland’s new Agriculture Bill. But first, we meet a special guest who shared his meditation practice with the conference, and talked to us about his connection to food and to nature.
Satish: I am doing here at this, um, Oxford Real Farming conference, a meditation in the morning, on Friday. Then I am chairing a session which is about moving and shifting from ego to eco.
Jo: Satish Kumar is founder of Schumacher College and an Editor of Resurgence and Ecologist Magazine.
Satish: Farming should be a source of joy rather than, uh, misery and, and hard work and, and doing grudgingly. So I want to encourage people to see farming as a sacred activity and an activity which brings you joy and pleasure. And hard work should not be seen as something bad. Sometimes hard work makes you more resilient and strong.
Abby: Satish ran some meditation sessions for ORFC at last year’s conference and they were so successful, he agreed to do more. He’s been facilitating them online for the last year, with hundreds of people from all over the world, meditating on nature.
Satish: Nature is our spiritual guide. So we can learn from nature, how to be compassionate, how to be kind, how to be generous, how to be non-discriminating. So I meditate and I lead meditation on earth, air, fire, water, and unity of all elements and unity of life.
Meditation is medicine for the soul and spirit. So when you do farming, gardening, growing food, harvesting food with mindfulness, heartfulness, with love, as a source of joy and a source of service. If you bring that kind of spiritual feelings, then your work becomes meditation. So meditation is not just something that you close your eyes and sit in quiet a room-that is good meditation, but everything doing mindfully and heartfully and joyfully, and add a sense of the sacred, then every activity is transformed into meditation. So I always encourage farmers, growers, gardeners to see their work not as a chore, not as a burden, not something they don’t want to do, but they have to do it, not as, as kind of just to earn income or earn some money or a source of economic growth, but do it as something spiritual activity. And so growing food, food is sacred and, and food nourishes our soul, spirit, mind, as well as our body. Because if we did not eat food, not only our bodies will die, but our minds will die. Our spirit will die. Our soul will die. So food is a nourishment for our whole life. And therefore, treating soil, treating land, treating plants, treating trees, treating seeds, treating that time of gardening and farming as a sacred activity, that kind of consciousness is what I’m trying to develop.
Hope can be passive. You hope that something will work out. Something will turn up, uh, something will change. That is not enough. You have to make that hope be realised. In order to realise your hope, you have to do something about it. So I always say hope is not enough. You have to have a hope, you have to be an optimist, because if you are a pessimist, then you will not act. You will say, why bother? Nothing is going to change, nothing going to happen, so there’s no point in doing anything. So pessimism does not lead to activism. In order to be an activist, you have to be an optimist, but optimism should lead to activism, not pessimism. So I always say that active hope means that if you want to see that there should be peace in the world, you should act for it. If you want to see ecology and sustainability and regenerative farming coming as a mainstream movement, then you have to do something about it, speak about it, write about it, farm, um, uh, on the land. Do something. Without action, hope is hopeless. Hope is only good when it is followed by action. So active hope is an essential combination of the two words.
I stay motivated because nature is my teacher and also nature is my love, and I feel that nature has given me so much. Nature has sustained me. Food, clothes, house, air, water. I cannot survive without nature, so it is important for me to give something back. Say, nature is a gift, but I also have to give something back. Reciprocity, mutuality. So I feel motivated to do something for nature. By saying that don’t pollute air, I’m doing something for nature. By saying, don’t put plastic in the oceans, I’m doing something for nature. When I said, don’t put sewage in the rivers, I’m doing something for nature. I’m motivated because I’m grateful to nature. That sense of gratitude motivates me, inspires me, and, and encourages me to be an activist in the defense and the service of our precious planet Earth. If we don’t look after our nature, if we don’t look after our air and water and rivers and oceans and forests, we will have no life. So nature is giving us so much.
I have a two acres of garden and I have a beautiful stream going through my garden, and that’s my love. I have been living in this place in a small village in North Devon called Heartland, and I’ve been living there for more than 40 years, and I never want to move. I’ve been building this soil in this garden for the past 40 years, and when I am in the garden, I am very happy. So source of happiness is your garden for me. If I feel depressed as you ask the question, if I feel upset, if I feel even angry, if I feel, um, depressed or any problem I have, I go in the garden. The moment I start to touch the soil, I want to water the plants. I want to do something with the, with the garden. Suddenly my anger disappears and my frustration disappears. My loneliness disappears. So my garden is my home. My garden is my community. The plants, which I have – sweetcorn, potatoes, carrots edamame beans, spinach, cucumber, tomatoes, asparagus. They’re all members of my family, my community land is my community. Land is my home. My garden is my home. And when I’m in the garden, I’m in the Garden of Eden. I’m in heaven. I love my garden. I, I have a home, but I can move from that home easily. But I’m very difficult for me to move from my garden. This is why I’m staying there for the last 40 years and more.
We all eat and we need to be connected with our food. Without food, we cannot survive. We can have all the gadgets, all the jobs, all the name, fame, prestige, power, position, um, everything we can have. But if we have no food, we cannot survive. So food is the real basic of life. And so I want everybody, whether you are a Prime Minister, or a president, or a king, or a beggar, or a priest, or a poet, or a writer, whoever you are – be involved in growing food, even part-time, even few hours. Having a garden is a great gift. Do not allow yourself to be without that gift. Make a small garden, even in the cities. So I would like to see everybody being involved with growing food. And cooking is also very much my love. I love cooking. I think writing a book. I’ve written books, I’ve entered magazines, I’ve done lecturing and speaking, all that is fine. But growing food and cooking food and eating food and celebrating food with the family, with the friends and that joy, that basics of life. And that’s the sort of all the other things are icing on the, but the cake is food and celebration and family and friends and that. So I would like to just say, if you are listening to me in this podcast, find a way of getting back to nature, getting back to soil. And if we don’t have your own garden, find a friend who has a garden, find some older people who cannot do gardening anymore. Go and help them, but be in touch with the soil. Soil is a source of life.
Katie: Pete Ritchie is the Executive Director of Nourish Scotland, and Anna Chworow is the organisation’s Deputy Director. Nourish is a charity that focuses on food policy and practice. Their mission is to work for a fair, healthy and sustainable food system that values nature and people, and their systems approach to food means that their work is really wide-ranging.
Jo: At ORFC, Anna and Pete joined representatives from Sustain, Food Sense Wales and Nourish Northern Ireland to explore how the devolved nations are diverging in their food and farming policy, post-Brexit.
Pete Ritchie: So it’s taken a while, but what we’re seeing really is a sort of policy experimentation in the different formations, reflecting obviously different politics, but also just different approaches. And to some extent different landscape situations, you know, Scotland and Wales, very much livestock farming, not very much arable, you know, puts different pressures on the farm support system from, you know, England, where you’ve got much more arable land.
Katie: We asked Pete and Anna about their work on Scotland’s Agriculture Bill. Nourish has been helping to gather ideas and opinions from the public – they’ve hosted over 20 workshops as part of the official consultation on the Scottish Government’s proposals.
Anna Chworow: So the bill is in developmental stages and it’s just been through a sort of extended period of public consultation. So the government outlined its vision for Scotland’s farming, back in March, uh, last year. And that vision is for Scotland to become the leader in regenerative and sustainable agriculture. So it’s quite a bold vision. And this period of consultation in Autumn last year was really about trying to think what are the financial mechanisms, the subsidy mechanisms to support that.
We felt it was really important that more people than just farmers and crofters are engaged in the conversation about the future of farming in Scotland, because we all eat. And so we all need to have a say about, you know, what is the shape of farming in the future, but also what is the shape of public subsidy? And you know, how public money is spent to support agriculture.
Pete Ritchie: It’s gonna be introduced into Scottish Parliament probably in September next year when they come back from the summer. But it’s gonna be a framework, an enabling bill, essentially. And a lot of the focus of the formal consultation goes on giving Scottish government powers that it, you know, lost obviously with Brexit, you know, so it’s, it’s got to formally get those powers back in law. Um, and the Scottish government’s very keen to get the mechanics of that. You know, so they can, they’re acting within the law, but obviously what farmers are interested in and what general public’s interested in is, so where’s the money gonna go? And is it gonna stay going the same place, to the same people? Um, and obviously the people are getting the money at the moment are quite keen that that carries on. Whereas a lot of people say there’s, we could spend the money much better. So there’s two parallel processes going on. The formal bill process, which will go through Parliament over the year, but at the same time, developing the actual policy and then that policy will be translated into secondary legislation, following the primary legislation going through. And that’s really where the heat’s gonna be.
Anna Chworow: In terms of process, what was really interesting is just how much investment there is amongst people, in having a stake in that conversation, and how keen people were to really learn about the details of that. Not just sort of general sentiments, but actually the mechanics of the scheme, and the depth of those conversations. And also, you know, the value of bringing people who produce the food with people who eat the food together, and the richness of those conversations, both sides are informed by that process and I think come out of it, you know? Yeah. Much better informed. And those conversations are much more detailed and nuanced and richer as a result of that.
Pete Ritchie: We clustered the workshops, the report into different groups, the urban group, the rural group, and then the crofting group, and the online group. Ad some of the things which came out were really fascinating. Really strong thing about a living wage, I mean, and workers’ rights. Huge thing about new entrants and that ran across all the groups. You know, let’s get more young people in the farm, let’s support them. For the crofters, it was, how can we help some crofters retire and young people take over? But for the crofters especially, this thing about food was so important. You know, they didn’t want to be just like, you know, hanging around on the land. They wanted to be producing some food for people. Lot of stuff about local food economy. It came up both in the urban ones, but also really interesting in all the rural ones. You know, how do we get more food on the public plate? How do we connect farms with their customers? How do we get other routes to market? How can we do processing? And then lots and lots of stuff that advice and you know, really having, farm support and advice to navigate the new schemes, the importance of farmers talking to each other. So people were really, really keen to see an investment in advice and training, changing the agricultural curriculum. Just loads of good ideas came up from people.
Katie: In 2022, the Scottish Parliament passed another bill – the Good Food Nation Bill. According to the Scottish Government, ‘The Bill enshrines in law the Scottish Government’s commitment to Scotland being a Good Food Nation, where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day’. The bill doesn’t include all of the measures that Nourish and other members of the Scottish Food Coalition were campaigning for, but it’s still a big achievement.
Pete Ritchie: Obviously we do want, and we really encourage that Scottish government is connecting the agricultural bill with a good Food Nation Bill. You know, because at the end of the day, if we don’t sort of think of food and farming at the same time, we’re not gonna get very far. We want to see a lot of money moving up the tiers in, in the Scottish jargon. Which is towards things like organic and agroforestry, big scale investments in those system change, approaches to farming support for destocking. You know, so people go back towards feeding livestock on some grass and not buying a lot of concentrate and managing, you know, with what they’ve got. So low input, often more profitable farming for people. We want to see, I mean, we want to see money moved to local authorities so they can support local food economies and market gardens. We’d quite like to see some more glasshouse in Scotland and glasshouses developing we want, but we also wanna see support this advice and support in farmers learning from which have absolute crucial. We run a project with a number of different organisations, um, on agricultural transition. And what we found from that obviously is that you get, farmers are really good at learning from each other if you facilitate it in the right way and you help people feel safe and comfortable and not judged and allowed to fail and make mistakes and talk about those things. So we want to see a big investment in that sort of cultural change stuff. But obviously also a lot of money going into to routes to market for people in local food supply chains. We’ve got to join up these things, otherwise you end up with a subsidy system which sort of rewards practices changing, but doesn’t reward system change.
It’s complicated. And I think our, our job over the next year is to work with the environmental sector, climate change sector, the small farmers, the agricultural people, to try to keep pushing that vision of systemic transformative change. Um, but at the same time, not pretending that it’s straightforward because it’s really not.
Anna Chworow: And then part of that challenge is also to make sure that, you know, the scheme starts by meeting people where they’re at. Because if Scotland is to become a leader in sustainable and regenerative ag, it means that a lot of people have to buy into that vision and have to begin that journey of transformation. And so I think the really difficult, you know, balancing act is both you know, meeting people where they’re at and allowing them to stretch a little bit, but then also keeping the pace of change so that we can meet the climate targets, the biodiversity targets, and all the other objectives that we have as a country.
Pete Ritchie: It’s clear that it wants the bill to translate its vision for sustainable regenerative agriculture into practice. You know, so that connection’s really clear. At the moment, the bill is an enabling bill and it gives the Scottish government powers over quite a number of areas. Can we make payments for this? Can we make payments for that? And the mechanics of translating that vision to action haven’t really been articulated yet. We’ve put forward some sort of principles for how you might do that, and how you might connect the vision in the bill to what we actually do in the, in, in the legislation and in the subsidy schemes. But, those haven’t been, you know, widely adopted yet. And there is still, I think a you know, there’s a commitment to land sharing. So the Scottish government has said on a number of occasions, you know, it’s not food or nature, it’s food and nature, which is really helpful. And the farming union nfgs, you know, most of the time supports that vision, but like things like Ukraine war, suddenly it’s like, let’s plow field, you know, hedge to hedge and forget all the green crap. And that’s understandable. They get a lot of pressure from their members. Um, they’ve had a lot of channel over input costs this year, but at the same time, we do need this sort of consistent direction of travel. We can’t afford a scheme which doesn’t have buy-in across the board, across the political parties and is durable enough. Obviously it’s gonna evolve over time, but the basic frame, is durable enough that everybody can see which way it’s going and make decisions accordingly.
Anna Chworow: There’s another couple of things that are, you know, an an important part of that vision, which is, you mentioned the food and you mentioned the climate and nature. Part of it is also people and making sure that people can work and live sustainably on the land, and that there’s more diversity in the sector. And part of it’s also, you know, at the center of it, I suppose, is this commitment to just transition. So creating a sector that yes, is flourishing and diverse, but also as we transition towards, you know, more climate compatible farming, we are also trying to fix some of the injustices and inequalities in the current system, and that too is quite encouraging, I think.
Pete Ritchie: Particularly in the Oxford Real Farming Conference where we have so many people, you know, from Landworkers Alliance and from the small farm sector, you know, is really important that the bill puts some practical methods in place, I think to support that sector. You know, it creates a lot of jobs. It connects people to food, you know, it provides lots of services as well as the sort of production. Um, and I think it gives young people a root into agriculture, which otherwise they don’t have. And I think really, whether it’s a small farm scheme, whether it’s market gardening scheme, whether, as we said, it’s giving money to local authority so they can support the, the new entrants, I think for us that this, unless we have young people who think that you know, growing food is a good job to do, and their way of saving the planet, their way of saving nature, their way of keeping people healthy, their way of, you know, bringing joy into their lives, then we don’t have a future in farming. We just have a bunch of robots.
Anna Chworow: Small scale farming – I think of it as sort of human scale farming. Um, and what was really interesting to me in having conversations in the crofting counties is really about, you know, it’s not just about producing food. It’s about the whole culture and heritage and identity that goes with it. And there’s a really important seed there, I think, for a better food culture for all of us, which is why, yeah, that being a central part of that future support system is really key.
Katie: If you’d like to learn more about the peer learning project that Pete mentioned, for farmers, crofters and growers, then check out the short episode we released, called “Agroecology: Enabling the Transition”.
Jo: Last month we had Jerry Alford from the Innovative Farmers Research Network, talking to Wicked Leeks editor, Nina Pullman, about issues with global soy production. After they’d spoken he took her to meet Mark Chapple and some of the soya free and pasture reared chickens on his farm.
Nina Pullman: Hi Mark. So, um, could you tell me why was it that you wanted to go soy free on your farm? What was the kind of motive behind that for you?
Mark Chapple: So, um, soya has a lot of connotations and, and issues around sustainability. I have mixed feelings I have to say cuz it, it’s, um, enabled sort of large scale, cheaper production of food. But at what cost beyond the finance is, is what I would say.
We’re looking to to source as, as much as possible as locally as possible. And, and soya obviously doesn’t fit that narrative very well.
We were looking at introducing broiler chickens, um, about four years ago, and met up with the guys from Ethical Butcher, and they were specifically looking for somebody to produce a chicken soya-free, were being told it couldn’t be done. And I figured that a pasture reared chicken, if it could be done in any setting, then that would be where it would work because they get such a more varied diet from the, from the model of pasture rearing.
We start them off in, in a brooder, uh, pretty much the same as as any chicken situation because they, they need heat when they’re just a day old. Uh, and then as they grow at two to three weeks old, they can come out onto pasture. And then the principle is that they’re moved daily. Um, obviously here we’re using these, these small, um, shelters. We’ve also got some polytunnels to, as we’ve scaled up to larger situation. But, um, the same with both of it. The, the principles, they’re moved daily onto fresh pasture. So they’re getting, new clean grazing every day. They’re following the cattle loosely, um, not to any rigid scale, but they are following cattle and, and also sheep. We’ve got sheep here as well, so, they’re then scratching around in the dung pats and helping the parasite burden by desiccating the dung pats and the, and the worm eggs and what have you, and gaining some of their diet from that. Because it’s natural for a chicken to feed on, that sort of thing. You know, they’re omnivores. They eat insects and worms and as well as they will eat the grass and the clovers. And they love docks as well, which is quite nice to see them eating them. The, the whole principle around pasture reared is to keep them moving and then they’re sort of integrated into the rest of the farm enterprise. And they’re obviously, in keeping them moving, they’re, they’re spreading their own muck. We don’t have to clean out a shed when they’re finished. You know, they just move them on and you can see as grass regrows the benefit of that, you know, that it’s, uh, it grows back a lot quicker than the surrounding areas.
Nina Pullman: And you have to add something into that in terms of what they eat as well.
Mark Chapple: Yes, yes.
Nina Pullman: Why do they, why do they need that, um, extra feed to start with?
Mark Chapple: Obviously if you were to keep them like just two or three in each of these sheds and move them daily, then they could probably survive on that. But, um, to do it at any scale and, and to produce, uh, you know, a, a commercial number of chickens, um, they’re gonna need their diet supplemented and, and we use a wheat-based, diet, which would be, you know, from that point of view, it’s much the same as any chicken would be eating. It’s what we use for the protein element that we’ve sort of looked to change.
Nina Pullman: That’s the magic formula then. So what have you got in yours? Can you share it with us?
Mark Chapple: So the main grower ration that we use is, we’ve played around with it. We’re using beans, peas and rapeseed meal, and the beans and the peas and the wheat are all sourced locally. The rapeseed meal at the moment we’re having sent down from further up country and they have it in front of them all the time, so it is, a fairly major portion of their diet, but it is amazing how much, uh, they will actually graze and, and get from the pasture as well.
Nina Pullman: And, um, am I right in thinking that your chickens grow at a slightly different pace? Cuz you wouldn’t necessarily be able to use that feed mix for any kind of chicken-based farm, would you?
Mark Chapple: Yeah, the, the indoor commercial, you know, intensive chicken that is kept indoors all its life, um, wouldn’t grow at anything like fast enough pace for them on our diet. These perform similarly or slightly slower to a situation if they were on a normal free range farm.
Nina Pullman: And the end result, I guess, you know, obviously at the end of it you’re selling your chickens to the Ethical Butcher. It’s a delicious bird, I mean, have you seen any kind of impact on kind of the end product?
Mark Chapple: Oh, definitely. Well we eat it ourselves, um, and just, we’ve had a lot of feedback from customers cos we sell it locally as well. You get lots of customers saying “Best chicken we’ve ever had”. And the Ethical Butcher has has said similar, you know, um, Glen at the Ethical Butcher, you know, sort of did a taste test at the beginning. I had sent it home with one when he first came to see us, and uh, he was chuffed to bits with it
Nina Pullman: And do you think there’s a difference there? So, you know why, what I’m trying to get at is why wouldn’t everybody sort of switch out of soy where you’ve got that kind of sustainability impact. What, what, what was the difficulty for you with moving over?
Mark Chapple: I think the flavour and that comes from it being slower growing and a more diverse diet. And modern society has opted for cheap food, and our proportion of income spent on food has gone down and down, more so in this country than a lot of other European countries actually. And as a result, you know, farmers have had to respond to that and produce stuff as cheaply as possible. And I think that comes at a cost, I can’t get away from the fact that, that these chickens taste so much better than a standard intensively reared indoor chicken.
The soy has, um, is easily scaled and is, is grown at large scale, um, obviously in a very monoculture situation and has, um, implications with, um, rain forest clearance and what have you as well, which is, you know, the downside. But it has enabled fast growth at a relatively cheap price.
Nina Pullman: And do you think what you are feeding costs a bit more from the different, you’ve got a byproduct coming from rapeseed oil, um, and peas and beans obviously from local farms. Does it feel more expensive for you to buy that?
Mark Chapple: It is a little more expensive, but we are also small scale, so there’s obviously economies of scale losses there for us. I think the main cost would be in the additional growing time. You know, we’re, we are looking at 14 weeks to finish, which is a, a fairly large, you know, a two to two and a half kilo oven ready bird, which would be bigger than a lot would be doing. But, that is, um, uh, there’s a lot of extra cost involved in the time scale. Obviously, you know, time is money in terms of labor, in terms of housing requirements and, and everything else.
Nina Pullman: And what do you think would persuade other farmers? I mean, have you spoken to other farmers and explained what you are doing? Are people interested in it? What do you think would kind of help people, you know, replicate what you are doing?
Mark Chapple: I have come across people who have been keen to start it. Certainly, there’s several small scale ones that are interested in the pasture rear element. The soya free – it’s not as many interested in that. I know of one or two larger commercial units that have trialed it and with mixed results, I think from what I hear, it would be nice to think we could move away from so much soya consumption, as, you know, as a country, as a human race really. But, uh, yeah, I, I don’t decry that it is a, a more expensive system as it stands. It all adds to the diversity, you know, of, um, of what’s being grown and, um, that to be able to not have monocultures is good for everywhere concerned really the, for our local environment and for everything.
Nina Pullman: Yeah. And you’ve got almost a self-sufficient system here in terms of the fertilisation from the, the chickens and the moving of the livestock. It’s, it’s kind of all part of the same system, isn’t it?
Mark Chapple: We’ve, we’ve stopped using fertiliser here. Um, so, so the chickens are a, a big part of that. They’re obviously, um, putting a lot of nitrogen back into the pasture as well as p and k as well. It’s a sort of a, helps close the system if you like, but we are still buying in, obviously with the wheat and the, and the protein supplements. But, um, it, it’s reducing the loop, closing the loop and also, reducing the, the miles involved because we source as locally as we can.
Jo: If you want to learn more about this series, you can head to the Wicked Leeks website to read more about soya and animal feed, and also watch a short documentary that they’ve produced.
If you’re interested in more stories on sustainable food and ethical business, you can sign up online to receive the weekly edition of the Wicked Leeks magazine.
Katie: This episode of Farmerama was made by Abby Rose, Jo Barratt and me, Katie Revell, with additional recordings by Nina Pullman, who’s the editor at Wicked Leeks. A big thanks to the rest of the Farmerama team: Olivia Oldham, Dora Taylor, Annie Landless, Eliza Jenkins and Fran Bailey. Our theme music is by Owen Barratt.
Jo: Thank you to everyone on our Patreon. Your support helps us in bringing you the stories of regenerative farming around the world, each month. We appreciate it. If you’d like to join, please visit patreon.com/farmerama where you can choose your level of support.