WARNING! This posts contains opinions! Those that are easily offended please be ware.
Since being in Evesham, we have been working for the Styan’s both picking, packing and selling fruit and veg grown on their farm and by a few local farmers. The Styan family farm is eighty acres of orchard and vegetables, including a number of poly tunnels. With a large berry cage full to the brim with; cherries, gooseberries, currants, raspberries and even blackberries. The Styan’s themselves are amazing people, generous and savvy. Roger and Liz built the business from the ground up back in the 80’s, and now they are one of the biggest market gardeners in the region.
I have experienced a lot of firsts in this job; first time working on a vegetable farm, first time selling on a stall and first time actively trying to get people to buy things. Its certainly been for me, a unique experience being on the other side of the farmer coin. It has been an eye opener in many ways as well. Not only has the organic vs non organic debate been a constant at the forefront of the stall. But also another side of the Brexit story has come into play.
Liz and Roger employ eastern European workers during the summer harvest season. The prospect of closing down the freedom of movement with Europe is a concern for farmers like the Styan family because they do always need people who will get stuck in and get the work done. Of course the question is why not employ English people. It is however the age old story the people in the country don’t want the manual labour jobs. They don’t want seasonal work. Try as they might fruit and veg farmers simply just can’t get their own countrymen and woman to come do the job. So the coming prospect of Europeans now requiring visas is an added hassle to what was already a struggle to find workers. On the other side of the coin those working for Liz and Roger relish the opportunity to earn good money with provided accommodation. This money then goes home and provides for their families in countries where the same job (picking and packing) simply is not enough to live off.
The more interesting topic for me working here however has been the organic debate. Now let it be known I am all for organic.. Scratch that. No. I am all for environmentally and wildlife friendly farming practices. Unfortunately my experiences in Britain with organic labeling have been somewhat disheartening. And working here has only made it more so. Every country in the world has a different standard for “organic” there is no one right way to achieve it. That means when buying food, apparel any sort of organically labelled thing unless you have done the research on that particular countries version of organic you don’t really know what that is. Even in the UK trying to decode the organic standards website is a bit of a mind field. Unless your in the know it’s very difficult to understand what your reading.
For example in Britain to be certified as organic the product must have only been treated with something that is naturally occurring. Now this is very broad, that means under that label organic farmers in England can still use pyrethroids. (Admittedly under fairly strict requirements. Which is fine as long as everyone is using them correctly…) Pyrethroids are broad spectrum naturally occurring insecticides which are toxic to bees, dragonflies, mayflies and some other invertebrates, including some aquatic invertebrates. They are also toxic to aquatic organisms including fish. Whereas “conventional” farmers from years of research have the ability to spray with targeted insecticide which only kills a particular stage in the life cycle of an aphid. Leaving other stages of the aphid alive which are then eaten by the ladybirds. This encourages ladybirds to the crop without harming them and ensures better control over aphids in future, hopefully eliminating the need to spray altogether. But conventional farming is bad don’t you know. This is not to mention how expensive it is to become certified as organic in the first place! If the farm is not big enough in scale of production it’s not worth it to the farmers to get certified. So though they may use largely organic and environmentally friendly practices because they don’t have the piece of paper, the farmer then can’t actually say he is organic at all.
I have had numerous discussions like this on the market stall, as has every other person who has worked a non organic fruit and veg stall I imagine. Another interesting discussion was someone asking if the vegetables had been sprayed with roundup…
Now in case anyone really has been living under a rock roundup is a herbicide. Meaning it kills plants.. I think everyone can work that one out. And before someone starts at me with how bad round up is… Roundup or gylphosate is a broad spectrum herbicide that targets an enzyme in plants to stop growth. And I’m certainly not saying it isn’t carcinogenic, however if you drink cyanide (a naturally occurring product) I imagine that would be worse for you then drinking roundup. To put that in perspective current research being done also suggests sunscreen is carcinogenic.. However so is the sun…
Currently there is no effective alternative to glyphosate, there are some organic methods of weed control such as to create an elaborate crop rotation or possibly to cultivate the ground. Often over and over again. which is often disturbing habitats for animals and insects. Not to mention causing loss in moisture in the ground and evaporation of nutrients, which takes more vital minerals that growing plants desperately need. Now don’t get me wrong there are ways around this. There are natural seaweed based fertilizers and mulching and so on. But all of this is impacted by weather and condition, availability and price. There will always be pros and cons, however there are times that I personally think we are better off using a once off well tested chemical rather then disrupting the habitat of our precious wildlife. And realistically if farmers are doing there job correctly there should never be residual sprays on food and sprays shouldn’t need to be used very often anyway. Spray’s and chemicals are expensive and detrimental to our environment no matter how safe they are. But if they are used in the right way at the right time they can greatly benefit the system of getting food to your plate. There should not be glyphosate in your bread. That is plain and simple someone not doing the job right. This is not to say of course that you shouldn’t buy organic, my point is more to shed light on the vagueness that surrounds the ideal of organic. Because there are definitely a good many organic farmers within the UK and the rest of the world that are farming in a truly environmentally sustainable way. I however feel that the labeling creates a false pretense of what you are buying and in turn discredits the large amount of work these sustainable farmers whether organic or not are putting in day in and day out to produce food in a forward thinking manner.
I am really glad that the people I meet are taking an active role in trying to make conscientious decisions about what they buy and eat. And it’s heartening to see so many people bringing their own reusable bags and buying from local producers. But the missing information sometimes can be frustrating, the dramatized ideal of organic has missed the ball on what we are trying to achieve. We as consumers most definitely need to choose to buy the best local fresh produce. But organic is not always better. When your organic apples have traveled from Spain to get to your plate, over the non organic but largely environmentally friendly local farmer, then truly the system is broken. Choose Eco friendly, choose environmentally responsible, choose free range, choose fresh, choose local and most of all talk to the people you are buying from. Here the story of where it comes from. Not only does it remind you that the price you are paying is because the pickers were out and about all week and through the weekend in the rain, hail or shine to get it to the market stall. But it also reconnects you with the produce your buying, there’s ALWAYS a story you just have to find it.
As always thanks for reading, please let me know what you thought in the comments, and what you would like to see more of. We are currently traveling our, El Camino de Santiago! Check out Instagram to see the latest in our out the gate adventures. And join the flock to keep up to date and find out how it went.