The art of organicEthical Food & Drink News & Features
This article first appeared in our Consumer Revolution issue of My Green Pod Magazine, released on 19 Dec 2019. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
What do you get when you arm a collective of artists with 3,000 buckets of manure and drop them off in a field in Somerset?
In the case of Yeo Valley, the answer is a giant cow artwork that celebrates organic farming.
The cow poo mural was painted into a field owned by Yeo Valley to coincide with the organic dairy company’s 25th birthday, which fell in Organic September – a month dedicated to raising awareness of the benefits of organic.
‘We made it using the cow muck from the farm to get a message across – that organic farming works with, and not against, the natural environment’, explains Yeo Valley’s Sarah Mead. ‘Organic farming can help tackle climate change because healthy soil can store excess carbon from the atmosphere.’
Logistics for the moo-ral
70 metres wide and 50 metres high, the giant cow artwork compares with other well-known West Country landscape murals like the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset (55 metres high) and the Westbury White Horse in Wiltshire (55 metres high and 52 metres wide).
Heather Jane Wallace and Rebecca Barnard, directors of Heritage Courtyard Gallery and Studios in Wells, Somerset gathered 10 artists to create the work of art, which took a week to complete.
Heather admits that carrying the poo up the steep hill was ‘very exhausting’, and that it was also difficult to get the scale right. Great big household brooms were used to paint the manure into the grass, but Heather soon realised that only huge shapes could be seen from a distance, and details like eyelashes were lost.
Despite the challenges, when Sarah Mead brought the idea to the gallery Heather loved it. ‘I’m a Somerset girl’, she says. ‘My brother, nephew and grandfather are farmers. I really understand the message.’
Disappearance of the countryside
When Heather grew up, farming was naturally organic; today, according to Defra’s Organic farming statistics 2018, organically farmed area represents just 2.7% of the total farmed area on the UK’s agricultural holdings.
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‘The giant cow won’t be here for long. Nature will have the last laugh, as ever. That’s also part of the message. It’s about putting nature first.’
‘I remember when farmers were encouraged to spray their crops after the war to produce more and more food at lower prices’, Heather continues. ‘The result of this was the decline and disappearance of the countryside and wildlife.
‘My art now is hugely influenced by seeing this when I was a child. So that’s a big part of the reason why we got involved – it really spoke to me personally when Yeo Valley came up with the idea. Organic farming is so important.’
500 years of family farming
The Mead family’s North Somerset farming roots can be traced back 500 years. Roger and Mary Mead started farming at Holt Farm, Blagdon in 1961; they had 30 cows, a few sheep and some arable crops. In 1969 Lag Farm, the farm next door, came up for sale and Roger and Mary decided to buy it and expand.
They opened a tearoom and a ‘pick your own’ fruit farm. Using leftover fruit and skimmed milk from their clotted cream, they started making yoghurts.
Roger and Mary were so pleased with the results that before the year was over, they had taken to the road and were selling Yeo Valley yoghurt around the valley in their Morris Minor.
A well-loved brand
In 1994 the Milk Marketing Board was deregulated and Tim Mead, Roger’s son, helped seven local dairy farmers set up The Organic Milk Suppliers Cooperative (OMSCo). Tim saw the opportunity for an organic yoghurt; he bought all the milk from the newly formed OMSCo and used it to relaunch the Yeo Valley brand as organic.
Today Yeo Valley is Britain’s biggest organic brand, and the family-run company is helping to share the benefits of organic with 50,000 annual visitors. In its 25th year, Yeo Valley has a lot to celebrate.