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Get your hands dirty

Gizzi Erskine and Yeo Valley Organic put the spotlight on organic, regenerative farming this World Soil Day
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Gizzi Erskine and Tim Mead

To mark World Soil Day (05 December 2020), chef and award-winning food writer Gizzi Erskine is partnering with the UK’s leading organic brand, Yeo Valley Organic, to get the UK talking about the importance of soil and regenerative farming as a solution to the climate crisis.

Together Gizzi and Tim Mead, of Yeo Valley Organic, have prepared a video to help people better understand our role in it all.

The educational new video supports the United Nations’ mission to get people thinking about soil this World Soil Day.

Both Gizzi and Tim strongly believe that healthy organic soil and regenerative farming are the key to curbing climate change.

‘As a chef, I’m obsessive about food and the best ingredients, but over the last few years I’ve been on a journey focusing on where our food comes from and how it impacts the environment.

‘I’ve learnt that it all comes back to the soil, whether it’s animal, dairy, veg or grains – the soil is key to the food we eat and almost more importantly it’s crucial for the environment too. I’ve turned into a total soil geek!

‘In my opinion buying produce from land that’s been organically or regeneratively farmed and from brands that look after their soil really can make a difference. 

‘When Yeo Valley asked me to visit the farm for World Soil Day, I was thrilled as it couldn’t be more relevant to the focus of my new book, Restore. Campaigning for good soil is my mission and working with such an accessible brand which understands how important this is gives me hope.’

Chef and award-winning food writer

Regenerative farming

In line with the UN’s focus on soil health, everything at Yeo Valley Organic starts with healthy soil: it grows the very best food and draws down carbon from the atmosphere back into the soil to help slow down climate change.

The farm follows the five principles of regenerative farming, using clover and grass mixes to keep the soil covered and maximise crop diversity and maintaining living roots year-round. It all helps to restore nutrients into the soil.

Livestock – cows (of course!) but also sheep – are a key part of the farm and are used to naturally fertilise the soil, which helps to minimise soil disturbance year-round.

All Yeo Valley Organic’s delicious dairy produce is not only organic but actually part of a regenerative farming cycle that helps to keep nutrients in the soil and protect one of our most precious resources – the soil. Not every natural yoghurt can claim that!   

‘It’s a huge concern for us that people in the UK, and globally, eat diets that are completely at odds with seasonality, local growing conditions and in some cases, ethics. It seems eminently sensible to look at what your country can produce and you try and balance your diet roughly around that. In the UK that would mean eating more seasonal vegetables, oats and grains, and grass-fed dairy and meat.

‘You’ve got to look at the geography of where you are and what you can produce. In rainy Western Europe – Ireland, England, Northern France and Germany – the one thing that we can produce in abundance is grass but it’s how we use that fact that can help make a difference to the climate crisis.’

Yeo Valley Organic

Sustainable soils

The aim of UN World Soil Day 2020 (#WorldSoilDay) and its campaign ‘Keep soil alive, protect soil biodiversity’ is to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems and human wellbeing.

By encouraging people around the world to proactively improve soil health, the initiative hopes to fight soil biodiversity loss and increase awareness of soil.

As well as supporting the UN, Yeo Valley Organic continues to work with the Sustainable Soils Alliance and the Soil Association to raise awareness of the importance of looking after the soil.


Gizzi’s soil health tips

Below are Gizzi’s top tips to promote soil health, plus simple ways to put nature first in everyday life.

Switch your everyday purchases to organic ones. Supporting organic farming can help to slow down climate change. If you’re on a mission to make a difference, a really simple step you can make is to swap out your current groceries, like milk, cheese and yoghurt, with organic alternatives.

Create your own compost. Homemade compost is a fantastic way of recycling plant material, feeding plants, soil life and locking carbon back into the ground. Keep your old veg peelings, apple cores, banana skins and mouldy fruit – when added to a compost bin they will mulch down over time, encouraging worms, woodlice and insects to digest the food and create a pile of nutrient-rich compost to spread on your soil.

Buy grass-fed meat, little and often. The grazing of plants by animals has a major, positive impact on climate change by cycling more carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into the soil. By occasionally choosing to buy high-quality meat, you can have a positive impact on the environment.

Cover it up. Keep bare soil covered at all times with a layer of green manure – introducing fast-growing plants like clover, which protect soil and prevent erosion. The plants pull carbon down from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, making carbohydrates and sugars that travel through the roots and into the soil, feeding the millions of microorganisms that live in the earth.

Can you dig it? No, you can’t. Digging destroys soil structure – tearing apart the home created by living organisms that create natural soil fertility. Avoid the use of chemical pesticides and artificial fertiliser which are designed to kill insects and other pests.

Mix it up. Aim to introduce a range of different plants to create biodiversity in your garden. Grasses, shrubs, vegetables and legumes all thrive in harmony with each other and each of them plays a role in maintaining soil health.

‘When we heard Gizzi was a soil activist and passionate about the environment, it seemed like the perfect time to invite her down to the farm for a chat about soil and how we can inspire people to tackle climate change by putting nature first.

‘Organic regenerative farming not only supports nature but works with it. We can build soil fertility naturally, helping to lock more carbon into the ground where it belongs and encouraging wildlife to flourish. Eating organic food is one of the easiest ways to put nature first so we’re delighted to have Gizzi on board to help spread the word.’

Yeo Valley Organic

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