The Organic Centre seeks to verify through research the health and environmental benefits of organic foods and to communicate those beliefs to the public.
Ladies and Gentlemen, can I start by thanking you most warmly for inviting me to attend your dinner this evening and I am only sorry that I am unable to be with you in person. I am, however delighted I can address you in this disembodied form and in suitably low-carbon fashion!
It hardly seems possible that it is now almost four years since my wife and I last visited California and experienced the vibrancy and warmth of the organic farmer’s market in Marin County. It really was a memorable trip which, as I recall, also took in the Edible School Yards and Star Route Farms - wonderful places where everyone was so welcoming and friendly.
As you may know, my own commitment to organic food and sustainable farming goes back almost twenty-five years, to the time when I first started putting organic principles to work on my own farm. It took a few years for us to make the journey, but I am delighted that the Duchy Home Farm at Highgrove is completely organic and provides – I hope – some form of example to others that it really can be done. It shows it is perfectly possible to grow food, with excellent yields, and without (perish the thought!) the use of pesticides, artificial fertilizers, antibiotic growth promoters or GM crops - and still produce a profitable margin.
The next step was to show that there was a market for added value organic food, so back in 1991 I launched a new range of organic products under the Duchy Originals label. I wanted to show that it is possible to produce food of the highest quality by working in harmony with Nature and with the environment; growing the best organic crops, adding value to them through the skills of expert and artisan producers, and then re-investing all of the resultant profits in the good causes of my charitable foundation. This “virtuous circle” has proved to be very successful and I am pleased to report that Duchy Originals has so far raised over twelve million dollars for my foundation, whilst at the same time establishing and maintaining the highest standards of product quality by which all other organic food companies in Britain are judged.
I cannot tell you how heartening it is to me, personally, that plans to launch Duchy Originals in the USA are now well advanced. I hope that, through my American company, I will be able to add my own small contribution to your excellent work in promoting organic or genuinely sustainable agriculture as a durable way of life for family farmers and future generations of Americans.
The Organic Centre has, I know, already achieved a great deal in this regard, particularly through its unstinting efforts to increase understanding of the health and environmental benefits of organic foods and farming practices.
It is, if I may say so, of the greatest importance (indeed it is absolutely crucial) that organic produce succeeds in America, for yours is such an immensely influential country and your consumers set trends that are followed around the world. If US families choose organic food at the same rate British customers do, then we really will be making substantial progress. It will send a message to the whole world that the organic approach really does provide the sustainable alternative that is so vital to both the long term health of the soil and our environment, as well as to that of humanity.
Thanks to The Organic Centre, and similar organizations around the world, there is now a substantial body of evidence to show that the world’s increasing population can be fed most successfully and healthily in the long-term by sustainable and organic agricultural systems that work in harmony with Nature, rather than against it.
The challenge for the whole of humanity – of course – is to recognize that the population on this planet is growing, and will continue to grow, at seemingly exponential rates. Whether it is possible, or even desirable, to demand ever more of Nature to support this growing population is a question that will be asked with increasing rapidity over the coming decades.
Only a few months ago the United Nations Environment Programme published a report which showed that organic local farming practices could provide the whole of Africa with the food they need. But equally importantly, such practices would be of immense and crucial significance in terms of benefit to the environment through – for instance – nutrient recycling, better water resource management and the use of traditional varieties of crops that require less water.
If these are the benefits in Africa, just think what it could do in some of the more temperate climes of the USA?
The whole question of food production and food security is very much in the news at the moment and is an issue very close to my heart, as it is no doubt to yours. There are plenty of people arguing that the only way to feed a growing world population will be through ever greater intensification of agriculture, with larger farms and more ‘efficient’ production. In this scenario, traditional practices are swept away in favour of ‘modern’ systems that rely on external inputs of fossil fuels, chemicals and heavy machinery – not to mention GM techonologies!
Like many of you, I believe fundamentally that the solution to global food security and shortages, climate crisis and our grandchildren’s future rests largely with the truly sustainable farmer who works in harmony with Nature, harnessing positive forces through healthy soil, healthy crops and healthy animals and, in so doing, providing healthy food. But it is vital that more people know and understand this.
That, of course, is the great challenge – how to explain this to an urbanized population disconnected from the land and from Nature herself.
This is why I believe The Organic Centre’s mission is desperately important – to research and describe not only the many benefits of organic agriculture and sustainable food systems but also the inherent long term risks to food and environmental security through an over-reliance on conventional, agro-industrial systems, and thus with the knowledge and facts gained, educate and inform today’s consumers about the protection of our planet for generations to come.
I do hope that all of you gathered here for this evening’s dinner will continue to give your support to The Organic Centre in its efforts. So, may I just send you my warmest best wishes for what I hope will be a very enjoyable evening for you all.