Food prices are dominating the headlines as people across the country feel the impact of global events on their household budgets, worsened by the rising costs of energy and fuel. The need for emergency food provision is higher than ever, and The Institute of Grocery Distribution says prices are rising at 15% which will hit vulnerable households hardest.
Against this turbulent background, the quality and environmental impact of food is being discussed less, but speakers at a new food festival believe choosing organic is more important than ever.
The festival, Spots on My Apples is organised by Lucy Hine, co-owner of Futtle Brewery, based at Bowhouse in Fife. The festival is partly to celebrate Futtle’s 4th birthday, but Lucy says, “we thought it would be a nice opportunity to get a group of interesting people together who had something important to say about why organic growing and production matters so much. To consider the impact that it has on the environment, planet, people’s health and our communities as well”.
Organic, as defined by The Soil Association is, “a system of farming and food production. Organic farmers aim to produce high-quality food, using methods that benefit our whole food system, from people to planet, plant health to animal welfare.
For Lucy there are many reasons why organic is important: “I think the first thing would be health, personal health, I think the fewer pesticides you can put into your body and your family, the better and for the health of our communities, and then the environmental impact as well.”
In scheduling the festival, Lucy and her partner Stephen wrote “a dream list” of “inspirational speakers, brands and businesses that are doing things organically and with a lot of heart – and many of them said yes.” She says, “we’re trying to get as many different voices in there as possible- from people actually growing and working in the fields to brands like ours, where we’re dealing with the consumer end. We’ll discuss the value in being certified organic and what that means for us as producers and our drinkers.”
Pete Ritchie, is an organic farmer and food policy expert and executive director of Nourish Scotland and he will be chairing many of the sessions at the festival. He says the Covid pandemic showed many people how long our supply chains are and had them asking, “How is it that we’re surrounded by fields, but none of the stuff that has grown near where we live gets to us?”
Pete Ritchie says: “I think organics really play into that whole agenda of a more resilient food system. Since the Second World War we’ve had a chemical approach to farming. I think we’ve underestimated the whole biological nature of farming and the way in which we have to work with nature, with the sense of the soil as a living entity and the planet as a living entity, that we have to sort of understand and respect and work with rather than trying to control it.”
There is a need to explain the hidden costs of non-organic food too. Lucy Hine mentions the impacts on health and soil, Pete Ritchie adds insect life, water courses, and biodiversity. All are negatively impacted by a food system reliant on pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer. Lucy says, “I hope part of the discussion will be how we move the conversation away from cost and more about actual impact.”
Pete Ritchie believes we must first ensure everyone in the country has enough money to live well on, and better support organic producers so that organic food becomes the normal choice. Lucy Hine says, “We need to move the bar for consumers so that they don’t just view organic as something that’s expensive. Which I think is a barrier for people at the moment. Some see it as a bit of a con, I think as a way of producers and farmers being able to charge you more for something.”
For the speakers at the festivals as well as the attendees, it will be a chance to collaborate and learn from each other.
Dave Broom is a leading drinks writer, he hopes festival attendees will feel inspired by depth of the movement, “and I think most importantly at this time of crisis, to show that there is hope. We need to reframe the argument about sustainability, educate and excite people by showing what is possible and do-able.”
Local farmer Katherine Riach of Lochaber Farm is looking forward to “sharing joint experience or knowledge about organic practices. As farming can often be quite solitary work it is really beneficial to share and learn from each other and gives you the impetus and inspiration you need to keep going.”
Organic is important to Katherine: “It feels right to work with natural systems at the heart of what we do. Since having our kids, we have thought more carefully about what we eat and where it comes from and this led us to decide to convert our farm to organic. The results so far, from the improvements in our land and the quality of the produce speak for themselves.” She understands the financial pressures on families, but hopes that: “if we can focus a portion of our spending on locally sourced and organically produced food that we can make long lasting, valuable changes to the current food production system.”
Giacomo Pesce is a baker and co-owner of Baern, the on-site cafe at Bowhouse. He says: “Using organic produce is the easiest way to ensure the produce we use is made by people who share our ethos, which is to make and eat food that is good for us and good for the planet. We try to ensure the food we use is made with key factors in mind, such as sustainability, seasonality and with minimal intervention.”
To end the festival Baern is hosting a long table dinner where the conversation and organic drinks will continue to flow.