Here I am at The Bull in Ambridge. Well no, itâ€™s actually the Old Bull at Inkberrow in Worcestershire. But this is the one the fictional pub is said to have been based on. In my time as a script-writer on The Archers I must have set dozens of scenes in this place. And as agricultural editor â€“ a sort of Farm Minister for Ambridge â€“ Iâ€™ve kicked off a good few storylines here.
And this is me in Archers country. Over the years Iâ€™ve spent in Ambridge big changes have taken place in the real countryside. Family mixed farms â€“ the sort you see in kidsâ€™ story books â€“ have mostly gone. Today the foods that end up in our supermarkets start off as bulk commodities on large, intensive crop farms or big-scale animal units.
The plan to put up a mega-dairy in Lincolnshire with up to 8000 cows got people hot under the collar. But while the scale was unusual, the system wasnâ€™t. Many dairy farmers are now building big herds and keeping them in sheds for much of the year. Traditional dairy farms, with cows on pasture most of the time, are being forced out.
In the fields we have some of our best farmland growing bulk grains and oilseeds with full inputs of nitrates, pesticides and diesel. These methods damage the soil, waste water and deplete crops of micronutrients. The cheap raw materials are then processed into branded foods that cause the diseases which cost the NHS Â£110 billion a year.
There must be a better way of producing food, you may think. Well there is. Itâ€™s called ecological agriculture or agro-ecology. Which is just a fancy way of saying farming according to laws of biological. Or making soils work properly. Itâ€™s what a growing number of world scientists are proposing, including the 400 or so who contributed to the World Bank funded IAASTD report in 2008.
So hereâ€™s what this siteâ€™s about:
- Healthy, nutrient-rich foods at affordable prices.
- Flourishing farms and thriving rural communities.
- Fertile, biologically-active soils.
- Farming systems that respect animals.
- Rich wildlife populations.
- A healthier, wealthier, happier countryside.
Sound too good to be true? Letâ€™s just seeâ€¦
- Degree in agriculture at Bangor in the 1960s followed by post-grad research on grassland.
- Many years freelance writing on food and farming for the national and the farming press.
- My books include The Forgiveness of Nature (2000), We Want Real Food (2006), The Carbon Fields (2008)
- Joined The Archers script-writers in 1984. Agricultural story editor 1997-2011.
- Co-founder with Ruth West and biologist Colin Tudge of the Oxford Real Farming Conference. Motto: Good food for everyone forever.