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Greetings from the Yorkshire Dales, where we're a few frosty weeks away from the Dales bursting into life once more. The drops in temperature will be followed by snowdrops, crocuses, and the long nights of the lambing season. I can hardly wait for the fresh, lively air of spring. It's these redolent moments of the year that ground us in the seasons and that should be a central part of the human experience in the British Isles well into the future, as they have been for millennia.
I want to use my update this month to discuss how our farmers in this country need our support, following the launch last month of our Save Our Seasons (SOS) campaign. The ongoing campaign's focus is a simple idea: we should be tied to the seasons through the sensation of taste and our nutrition. Not only does this make for better flavours, but it is without doubt better for the environment, promoting good management of our land in this country and not overly-relying on food from elsewhere.
The response has been astonishing. Our message quickly found its way into the national press, and tens of thousands shared our infographics about food miles, water use, and soil health online. The fact is heritage breeds of cattle and sheep are an efficient use of land in our windswept Northern uplands. These creatures were bred for this environment and provide benefits to the ecology and landscape. The nutrition they give us amounts to 'superfoods' essential to human health.
Our most vocal supporters for seasonality have been from the farming community, where we struck a chord in particular. Naturally, farmers are the most dependent in our country on the environment, and they are the interface between the bounty of our seasons and wider society. They also have direct experience of how the seasons are becoming more unpredictable, and the impact this has on our wildlife and harvests.
As custodians of the countryside, the position of responsible farmers in this country is almost unique. On the one hand, they are romanticised à la James Herriot in the television schedules, and, on the other, they are scrutinised like no other sector, tarnished by images of factory farming and squeezed by the economies of scale this unnatural food production gives.
You'd be forgiven for thinking agriculture caused the most carbon emissions in this country going by the public discourse (it is transport, by some margin). Although there is without question much work to be done, the small-scale livestock farmers that I represent are, to some, a useful scapegoat in the face of wider reluctance to address other, polluting aspects of our economy. For many in this country, the idea that red meat is bad for the environment and should be entirely avoided has become a truism and that's bad news for our countryside.
I believe we need more holistic thinking and creative policy making when it comes to food sustainability. As I have discussed at length previously, global statistics mislead the public about the reality of British livestock farming, and erode support for the beneficial activities of farmers. When I discuss livestock with sceptics, people imagine gigantic feedlots in the American Midwest or soya fed beef in Brazil - not the tops of the Dales. In comparison to the monumental ranches of the US, or the horizon-to-horizon fields of wheat and corn drenched in chemicals, the British farmers who supply my business are more like professional smallholders, their activities localised, and in balance with their environment providing plenty of benefits too. In Wharfedale for instance, the Galloway cattle rotate their way around pastures over the course of the year, and, closer to our Ripon base, pigs root and forage in the woodland resulting in an explosion of plant growth. They provide ecological benefits as well as highly nutritional meat to be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. Meanwhile, plant-based diets reliant on exotic or unseasonal foodstuffs may be inadvertently contributing to deforestation.
The root and branch reform towards sustainable, seasonal, and British supply chains is a way off yet. The implementation of a Seasonal Food Levy by the Government might be a shrewd piece of policy-making towards encouraging seasonal eating and farmers. For now though, it is through consumer choice that something new and better will emerge. Buying seasonal food and backing responsible British farmers and smallholders has to be the order of the day to encourage a wider transition to regenerative agricultural techniques. We need to keep the skills of these producers alive and within our communities to provide us with a resilient supply chain for the future. In contrast, global supply chains dependent on the mass production of foodstuffs are vulnerable to disruption. The provenance and traceability of this food is easily obfuscated when crossing borders.
The transformation of British food culture towards cooking from scratch and eating locally and seasonally is already well underway. I foresee this will accelerate as disruptors like ourselves at Farmison & Co go direct to consumer and the supermarkets catch up to growing awareness that you can choose better.
If you have any comments or feedback, please do not hesitate to reach out to me via [email protected]. I always make time to read your comments.
John Pallagi, Founder & CEO of Farmison & Co