To achieve environmental sustainability, we must start with our soil. The custodians of the soil are the nation’s farmers, and their farming methods – whether livestock or arable – determine the sustainability of our land. And if the farmers are tasked with looking after our soils from above the ground, the earthworm has that job beneath it. As Stackridge once sang, no one’s more important than the earthworm, and there is no clearer truth in agriculture today. Worms allow water and oxygen into the soil and help release carbon dioxide. They decompose organic matter and make nutrients available for use by living plants. If we’re looking after the soil and earthworms, we’re creating a sustainable future for farming.
On Home Farm, where field&flower began six years ago, the Flower family have been farming the same way for four generations. Their family principle is to look after the land and the land will look after you. Post-Second World War farming changed. The emphasis, driven by the government, was now on producing food quickly and cheaply. This meant using fertilisers to speed up grass growth, introducing continental cattle for conformation, mixed grain feed rations and replacement of permanent pasture with highly productive grass leys. These changes helped hit the brief of quick cheap food in the short term, but were expensive for the environment in the long term, damaging soil health and in turn the humble worm, setting in motion an ongoing cycle of land quality deterioration.
The Flower family resisted this pressure to change and become ultra-efficient beef farmers, and they continue to rear cattle in a low input, low output system. What does this mean? Well the cattle eat hay, sileage and grass all year round, they’re never housed and they can grow at a natural rate. This doesn’t make anyone rich but it puts the cattle and the soil first. Sustainability in farming relies on respecting the environment and working alongside it, not to look for quick fixes like nitrogen fuelled grass pastures that just end up needing more and more fertilizer.
We believe meat like the beef we rear on Home Farm will eventually become something of a delicacy, as it should be. The consumer is part of a superficial marketplace. There is an abundance of meat available but this is not sustainable. We’ll have to slow down our consumption of meat and go back to eating as nature intends. The food industry is not giving enough consideration to the sustainability (let alone the earth worm), but they should, before it’s too late. We are lucky that we’re able to connect our farm (along with a handful of small farmers like us) directly with consumers who understand this and value the way we farm. Modernisation doesn’t just need to be a good or bad thing. We love using brilliant technology in our website and logistical planning tools to get our boxes out nationwide, but we’re very happy to reject the farming modernisations we feel aren’t helping our animals, our land or our food. The power to take back control of our land and its future is very much in the hands of consumers, who have increasing changes to make the right decisions about the way they shop and what they support in this way. From conversations with our customers I know they love the fact that when they buy from us they’re not just getting a rump steak, they’re not just getting far more nutrients and better taste, they’re also getting the peace of mind of knowing that they’re actively contributing to sustainability in traditional British farming.
James Mansfield, co-founder of field&flower. Based on the fifth-generation family farm in the heart of Somerset, field&flower aims to produce high-quality, grass fed and free range meats that are locally-sourced and delivered to people in the most convenient way possible with full traceability, right back to the fields in which the animals were raised. field&flower.co.uk