Defending the Imperative for Real Food and Real Farmers, by Julian Rose — Agribusiness has raped the land under contract with the leading supermarket chains
Defending the Imperative for Real Food and Real Farmers
by Julian Rose – Nov 10, 2015
Our educational system has trained us to compartmentalise that which is whole, and to believe that knowledge is superior to wisdom. This presents a significant drawback for the preservation of the planet, because she operates according to a quite different set of values.
Gaia, our planet Earth, is a living, breathing and subtly responsive entity; yet one we mostly treat as a lifeless, unresponsive and largely foreign material object. Is it any wonder that she labours under the yoke of human occupation?
Yet there is, in amongst the callous destruction, much that expresses positive and creative aspiration for something much better. The message that radiates out from these sources speaks of mankind’s courage, love and determination in the face of adversity. Of our determination to defend the sanctity of life – at all costs.
So it is that millions of unsung heroes are engaged in acts of benign support of nature. And the foundation stone of such benign support comes from farmers who have inherited or adopted ecologically sensitive systems of growing food and compassionately nurturing the animals in their care.
Back in 1975 I decided to go down this road and adopt an environmentally friendly ‘organic’ farming methodology. Some years earlier I had inherited the family farm and immediately felt ill at ease with the standard chemically assisted monocultures that were rapidly taking hold at that time.
Joining the Soil Association that same year, I started the process of converting the farm to an organically managed holding, introducing a wide variety of animal units to help put heart back into the soil and increase the overall fertility, without the need for synthetic nitrogen.
Very soon the biodiversity of nature once again started to thrive and the livestock barely ever needed the intervention of a vet. The food coming off the land was both wholesome and tasty.
Going ‘organic’ is basically a return to farming regimes that were used on all small and medium sized family farms throughout Europe and North America up until the Second World War. There are still countries that remain largely committed to this form of land management and one will find most examples of these in Eastern Europe. Which brings me to Poland.
Poland is a country still blessed with around one million three hundred thousand small family farms, with an average size of around seven hectares. These farms have resisted both a Russian communist occupation with a penchant for creating large state-owned holdings, and now a Western capitalist regime with a penchant for corporate take-overs and mass exploitation of soils for profit.
The significance of such resistance (Poles are famous for the Resistance Movement in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War Two) cannot be ignored. It speaks of the potential for a return to values that hold food production as ‘a way of life’ not simply a market force-led way of turning a profit.
This ‘way of life’ always attracted me – as it does all those who feel an innate affinity with the land, the seasons and the great outdoors. Poland is one of the last countries in Europe to have a high percentage of farmers who put the need for self sufficiency ahead of the ambition to ‘make money’.
The significance of this is great. If all farmers were to adopt this approach, the World would be transformed overnight and the great majority of its inhabitants would enjoy robust good health and longevity.
Today, scorned by the European Union, government and the leading agribusiness corporations, the small family farms are considered an anachronism – a hindrance to the further expansion of the agribusiness model which has raped the land under contract from the leading supermarket chains.
In spite of this, the determination to hold on to what is, in essence, their bread and butter means that the small and medium sized family farms remain a core protectorate and guardian of the Polish countryside. Thanks to their minimal use of agrichemicals, many areas under their stewardship remain rich in wild flowers, farmland birds, species-rich hay meadows and a great swathe of medicinally valuable plants. There are still forty thousand pairs of nesting storks which return each year on their long haul flights from Africa.
The small peasant farmers of Poland are exemplary in their fastidious ‘no waste’ policies. Everything useful is saved and reused – it has to be. In the hilly areas of Southern Poland the work horse is still preferred to the tractor.
The quality of the food that comes off the land makes long food mile, plastic-wrapped hypermarket foods look seriously depleted and sterile – which they are. However, the Polish government has imposed upon these farmers the most Draconian food hygiene and sanitary laws in Europe, making all farmhouse-processed food ‘illegal’ unless the farmer registers a separate building as ‘a business’ and suitably attires it with the stipulated sanitary and hygiene materials. None of which are affordable to a small farmer.
The objective is undoubtedly to force the producers of ‘real food’ off the land and to replace them with agribusiness monsters buying and selling on the global market.
The World Trade Organisation, European Union, national government and supermarkets have formed an unholy alliance to try to take total control of the food chain throughout the World; and the only force that can stop them is a united resistance by small farmers around the planet. This, plus a supportive consumer base which responds sympathetically to the farmer’s cause and takes appropriate action by buying direct from them.
If you have sensed my blood temperature rising in describing these deeply biased events, it is because I have fought long and hard for small farms and direct sales of ‘real food’. Initially on my own farm, and now as President of the International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC).
Award-winning social entrepreneur and farmer Jadwiga Lopata started ICPPC in 2000. We met at an environmental conference in London that same year, and she invited me to become a director. Ever since, we have campaigned together to try and prevent the worst of the West’s agribusiness steam-roller from destroying the traditional farms and fields of Poland.
Initially this took the form of leading a high-profile and ultimately successful campaign to prevent genetically modified plants and seeds getting into the country. A task which involved persuading all of Poland’s sixteen provinces to use ‘self declarations’ to ban GMO in their province. Then to demand an official national ban from government. In the spring of 2006 a national ban was carried out and Poland became the first country in Europe to prohibit the import and planting of GM seeds. It’s amazing what a few determined people can do!
Subsequent governments, under heavy pressure from GM corporations, have attempted to water down this act of parliament, not least the present government. So the task of holding the line demands continuous and rigorous observation and action to this day.
While undertaking serious anti-GMO campaigning can be a pretty full-time job, it didn’t stop us from simultaneously building up our Eco Centre at ICPPC’s head quarters in the village of Stryszow, near Krakow, in Southern Poland. Here, Jadwiga’s son Chris, when he was just 16 years old, took on the challenge of creating a centre which demonstrates the practical values of renewable technologies; in particular, solar energy, clean water systems and clay/straw house construction. Also at the centre we have organic herb and vegetable production, traditional seed saving and rainwater catchment innovations.
We also hold training sessions to help others become activists like ourselves, so they can in turn take on the campaigning work which must continue if we are to achieve the desired results.
One such campaign is in full swing at this moment. It involves supporting a growing number of farmers in North West Poland and elsewhere who are fighting to prevent government-owned cooperative land, which they rent, from being sold off to the highest foreign bidder. A practice in operation for a number of years which undermines the farmer’s ability to earn a living off the land. Thousands of hectares of land have already been put on the market and sold off at prices far in excess of what Polish family farmers can afford.
This prime farmland has been ‘grabbed’ by foreign corporations and individual speculators intent on benefiting from the generally unexploited soils, EU subsidies and low- priced labour.
To counteract this, farmers in the most exploited region have come together and, utilising convoys of tractors, blocked the government land agency responsible for the sales. They are demanding an end to these land grabs and the right to farm the land in perpetuity.
The critical nature of this issue led us to support the farmer’s call, and we are working with the leaders of these actions. They agreed to include in their demands that Polish farmland must be kept free of GMO and that the repressive food regulations, which prevent farmers direct selling their farm grown and processed foods, be rescinded and replaced by something genuinely supportive.
A few months ago we helped take their actions to the door of the Polish Prime Minister, by establishing a small (illegal) ‘Green City’ tent enclave right opposite the Prime Minister’s Palace in central Warsaw. Here, for the past five months, a rotating group of farmers have maintained the vigil against the government’s high-handed refusal to address their cause.
Together with the protesting farmers, we have performed numerous actions, including eye-catching street theatre and deliveries of ‘illegal Polish farmhouse foods’ to the Prime Minister’s office. The battle continues even as I write – and there are signs that the government has been forced to take the demands seriously. Top-level meetings are taking place and the public, in spite of an almost complete media blackout, is increasingly supportive of the farmers’ position.
The future of our health and welfare, that of the planet and its citizens, depends heavily on how responsibly the challenge shouldered by those who produce our food is taken. If it is undertaken with a genuine respect for nature and the true quality of the food which is nurtured through to harvest – then we have a future.
If such responsibility is missing, and the growing of our foods is seen as nothing more than a quick profit-making exercise – then we don’t have a future.
In the end it’s down to each one of us to ensure that the former is the most widely adopted way forward. That means purchasing real food from real farmers in your locality – and not supporting the globalised agricultural agenda monopolised by supermarket chains that continue to cut a swathe of destruction right across our living, sentient planet.
If we acquiesce to following – or allowing – the corrupted agenda which the status quo lays out for us, we will be inescapably complicit in the destruction of all that is most beautiful and valuable, while unthinkingly committing future generations to a life of impoverishment and slavery.
Let’s make sure we don’t let that happen, by setting aside our selfish self interests for those that harmonise with a deeper calling – the need to walk boldly alongside our brothers and sisters who actively strive to rejuvenate this deeply wounded yet wonderful planet Earth.
(Sir) Julian Rose is an early pioneer of UK organic farming, international activist, social entrepreneur, writer and actor. His latest book ‘In Defence of Life’ is available at www.amazon.org and at Julian’s web site: www.julianrose.info