The Culinary Caveman on why organic agriculture is crucial for healthy soils – & healthy humans
Published: 3 September 2021
This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod
This article first appeared in our ‘Why organic is the answer’ issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 03 September 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
I’ll never forget the day I was shopping in a supermarket in the Netherlands, and noticed the organic fruit was labelled ‘biologisch’.
It seemed peculiar; surely everything is biological?
This label demonstrated that vegetables grown with chemicals needed to be segregated from the biological, or natural, produce; the suggestion here was that non-organic was non-biological.
More than 30 years later, nothing has changed in the agricultural industry – though more and more people are cottoning on to a tragically ironic statement: the modern agricultural system is not only non-biological, it is actually anti-biological.
The agricultural revolution
Farming, defined as a way to domesticate certain plants and animals, has been with us for roughly 12,000 years. It sprang up in various places around the world – including south-east Turkey, South America, Papua New Guinea and China – whenever population pressure and local resources became dicey, or certain plants were favoured and a guaranteed harvest was required.
This transition from collecting wild foods to ownership of grain is known as the agricultural revolution, and with it began an epoch characterised by man’s dominance and subjugation of nature (and other humans). It also marked the beginning of our disconnection from our true mother.
Nearly all farming was organic before the second world war, as for millennia it had proved a sustainable strategy. Then modern farming – or monoculture – became the dominant practice, with its massive machines, chemicals and sterile seeds. In less than 70 years this approach has revealed itself to be completely unsustainable and desecrating.
It has been estimated that crop loss from pests and weeds in 1940 was around 30%; today, after approximately 140 million tonnes of some of the most toxic chemicals ever invented by mankind have been freely and legally sprayed onto our food and the land, 37% of crops are lost to pests.
If that were not worrying enough, a 2019 survey from the International Food Policy Research Institute concluded somewhat alarmingly: ‘the cost of the damage caused by agriculture is greater than the value of the food produced.’
The world experts also worryingly suggested that the £560 billion of subsidies – which is nearly £1m per minute – given out worldwide to farmers was actually driving the climate crisis and destruction of wildlife.
This is where organic farming comes in; all it really means is a continuation of the farming practices that existed before monoculture wiped out our cultural knowledge, along with the life in the vital top layer of soil, and made farms dependent on machinery, fertilisers, seeds and pesticides.
As Jim Morrison from The Doors lamented, ‘What have they done to the earth? What have they done to our fair sister? Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her, stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn and tied her with fences and dragged her down.’
Of the many notable scientists, authors and luminaries who have pioneered organic farming and the concept of keeping it natural, four deserve a mention as a fantastic start to begin any further research: Eve Balfour, Rachel Carson, Albert Howard and. Rudolf Steiner. They are all linked by a simple observation: a nation is only as healthy as the soil upon which it stands.
Healthy soil, healthy planet
The agricultural and farming ideals that have arisen as a reaction to monoculture – including organic, biodiverse, biodynamic, complimentary, natural, sustainable or the new favourite, permaculture – all prioritise the regeneration of
the soil and the land.
Respect for the soil has been woven into folklore all round the world, but today priceless knowledge about the local environment has been replaced with economies of scale and a monoculture that has ripped the soul, life and community out of the countryside.
The way forward is surprisingly simple: family-run, self-sufficient permacultural 10-acre smallholdings, supplying all the local food in an interconnected system that covers the entire country. This could dramatically improve the health of the land and everything that lives on it.
This common-sense concept of healthy soil providing healthy plants – and thus providing health for those consuming it – was perfectly encapsulated in Masanobu Fukuoka’s 1975 seminal The One Straw Revolution: ‘The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.’