organic

My Sugar Odyssey

Now that the Government is slapping a tax on soft drinks I am going to indulge in a reminiscence of my troubled relationship with sugar, health and food. My first job, as a 7 year old kid, was to scour the streets of a Pittsburgh suburb called Bridgeville, collecting discarded soda bottles and taking them to my aunt Gloria's store to collect the 2¢ deposit refund.  At that time a soft drink was 10¢, so the drink was 8¢ and the bottle deposit was 2¢ and people still threw the bottle away.  The deposit didn't make much change in behaviour.  When people wanted sugar, they paid what it cost.

I didn't really have much appetite for sugar for most of my childhood, our mother was pretty strict about it.  I remember the day in 1953 when confectionery came off the ration in the UK  and some schoolmates emerged from a sweet shop with a bag of humbugs they'd just bought  without having to cajole their mother to come along with her ration book.  The nation went mad for sugar and the Government had to put it back on rationing until supplies recovered.

It was in 1965, when I was in Afghanistan, recovering in Kabul from a serious case of hepatitis, enhanced with dysentery, that I understood sugar.   My liver was on strike and the doctors told me that I should eat lots of simple sugary food to keep my blood sugar levels up.   The dysentery told me otherwise: I knew from an early bout in Shiraz, that a diet of unleavened whole meal flat bread and unsweetened tea was the key to stopping the runs.   So I tried it again and the dysentery cleared up in 2 days.   Amazingly, so did the hepatitis.  My liver stopped throbbing with pain and the whites of my eyeballs went from greenish yellow to something close to white.

That autumn, back in Philadelphia, I adopted the macrobiotic diet which forbids sugar.  My health rose to an even higher level and I haven't once needed to see a doctor since about my health.  After a few years I was able to reintroduce alcohol into my diet but tried to keep a lid on sugar.

In 1966 I was in London, aiming to open a macrobiotic restaurant and study centre. From December, I was a regular at the UFO Club, where proto-hippies would listen to the Pink Floyd and then buy macrobiotic food that my mother had helped me make.  My little band of macrobiotic missionaries would then explain to people trying this strange food that brown rice was good for you and sugar should be avoided.  I opened a little basement restaurant in Notting Hill in February 1967.  Yoko Ono was one of our first customers, as she knew about macrobiotics from Japan.

We made bread without yeast, macrobiotic-style and I imported books like Zen Macrobiotics by Georges Ohsawa (Nyoiti Sakurozawa) that were sold in Indica Books, the bookshop owned by Paul McCartney and Barry Miles.

Macrobiotics avoided yeast for the same reason they avoided sugar: too much could cause dysbiosis of the gut flora.  Meanwhile the American Medical Association called macrobiotics a diet that 'could lead to death'

Dr. Arnold Bender, Britain's top nutritionist, said white bread was the most easily digestible and nutritious bread you could eat, slapping down the wholemeal alternative as too slow to digest and with lower nutrients, because wheat bran fibre has no protein and carbohydrate.

In 1968 I had to leave Britain and my brother Gregory opened a larger restaurant in Bayswater called Seed.

None of the desserts were made with sugar - a touch of salt was enough to bring out the sweetness of the apples in the crumbles.  At festivals like Glastonbury and Phun City we would serve up porridge to the festival goers and got into trouble at one festival as our customers would head off to an adjoining catering tent to get sugar to sprinkle on their porridge and muesli.  We had a shop on the Portobello Road called Ceres Grain Shop that sold all the whole grains, beans, seeds and organic vegetables but the only sweet thing we sold was Aspall organic apple juice.

I wrote a book called About Macrobiotics in 1972 that was translated into 6 languages and sold half a million copies where I wrote: "If sugar was discovered yesterday it would be banned immediately and handed over to the Army for weapons research."

We were hard core.  My kids didn't dare even ask for sweets - they might sneak them with friends at school but would destroy the evidence before they got home.

We didn't believe in refined cereals either - no white flour or white rice touched our lips.  Our macrobiotic food wholesaling company Harmony Foods introduced the first organic wholegrain rice.   In 1973, with other pioneering natural food companies we wrote the manifesto of the Natural Foods Union.  We promised each other not to sell sugar or any products containing sugar or white flour or white rice.  We were committed to developing organic food sources which were then rare.  Signatories included Community Foods, our own Harmony Foods and Ceres Grain Shop, Haelan Centre, Infinity Foods, Harvest of Bath, Anjuna of Cambridge and On The Eighth Day in Manchester.

We published a magazine called 'Seed - The Journal of Organic Living' that had cover stories with headlines like "Garbage Grub - How The Poor Starve on Rich Foods" and a story on Britain's future which set out a dystopian vs Utopian vision where on one side people were clamouring for 24 Hour TV and More Sugar.  On the other they were tending goats and living in countryside communes eating whole natural foods.

Then in 1977 I worked out how to make jam using apple juice.  Being higher in fructose it was possible to make a jam with a lot less sweetening, so it tasted light and fruity.  They were 38% sugars from fruit when other jams were 65% sugars from sugar cane and fruit.  Whole Earth jams were an international success as they reached out to the increasing numbers of sugar avoiders in the UK, Europe and North America.

However our sales met stiff competition from much sweeter jams that used fruit juices like grape juice that were higher in glucose than white sugar and they used a lot of it, to match the sweetness of regular jam.  Our moral restraint cost us sales to these much more sugary jams.   However we also used apple juice to sweeten other products, marketing baked beans, soft drinks and salad dressings.  Even our best selling Whole Earth peanut butter contained a touch of concentrated apple juice to make it taste more mainstream.

Then, while searching for another source of organic peanuts I connected with Ewé tribal people in Togo, West Africa, who grew delicious peanuts as part of an organic crop rotation.  Unfortunately the peanuts failed our aflatoxin tests but the farmers also grew organic cocoa beans.  There was no organic chocolate on the market at that time so I got a sample made up of 70% solids chocolate made with organic cocoa beans.

We called it Green & Black's and launched it in September 1991. It was the first time I had sold a product containing real sugar from sugar cane.  It was the first organic and the first 70% and the first chocolate with a transparent supply chain.   So we put a sugar warning on the label – I think this is the only time that any company has done this. It read:  “Please Note:  This chocolate contains 29% brown sugar, processed without chemical refining agents. Ample evidence exists that consumption of sugar can increase the likelihood of tooth decay, obesity and obesity-related health problems.  If you enjoy good chocolate, make sure you keep your sugar intake as low as possible by always choosing Green & Black’s.”

How did I square this with my conscience?  Well, a French author called Michel Montignac had written a best-selling book called 'Dine Out and Lose Weight' that was one of the first places the idea of glycemic index had been in print.  In his book 70% dark chocolate had a ranking of 22 on a scale where sugar was 100.  Brown rice was at 50 and carrots at 70.  Fructose was at a mere 20.

Two of our best Whole Earth foods customers, Community Foods and Planet Organic, flat out refused to stock Green & Black’s because it contained sugar.  Tim Powell at Community said: "Craig, you were the one who got us all to not sell sugar back in the day - we can't stock this."  (they came around eventually)

I mentioned earlier that apple juice was higher in fructose.  The crystals of fructose and glucose, the two monosaccharides that make up a sugar molecule (sucrose), have exactly the same chemical formula: C6H12O6.  So what's the difference between glucose and fructose?

  1. If you beam a light into the glucose molecule it bends slightly to the right. If you beam a light into a fructose molecule it bends slightly to the left.
  2. If you put a given amount on your tongue the fructose will taste more than twice as sweet as the glucose
  3. If you eat the glucose it raises your blood sugar within 20 minutes. If you eat the fructose it has almost no impact on blood sugar.

If you eat a given amount of sugar the glucose half hits your bloodstream, the fructose half passes down your digestion and is eventually turned into glycogen or into fatty acids.  These provide an energy source that is managed by the body rather than just absorbed in the way that glucose is.  So Lucozade, a glucose drink, was marketed on the premise that ALL the sugar - because it was glucose - got through to you immediately and that this would 'speed recovery.'  It was a deluded proposition, but it captured the fact that you got twice as many sugar bangs for your bucks.

If you have apple juice, there is more fructose than glucose or sucrose, so you don't get the same 'hit' as a lot of the sugar takes a different metabolic pathway.  Corn syrup is about 80% glucose.  Because glucose isn't very sweet on the palate, you have to use a lot more of it to get to the same level of perceived sweetness.  This increases the load of glucose to satisfy the taste for sweetness, with a resulting harsh impact on the blood sugar level.    'High fructose corn syrup' has a higher level of fructose, between 45 and 55%, so it is used in industry because it has nearly the same glucose/fructose balance as white sugar.  It's healthier than ordinary corn syrup, as measured by blood glucose impact.

If you really want to get all the glucose right away then it's best to drink it on an empty stomach.  All sugars are not absorbed equally.  If you eat dessert before you eat a meal the sugar will get into your system very quickly.  If you eat dessert after a meal then it has to work its way through the previously ingested food and has a longer exposure time to your digestive bacteria. The higher the fibre content of your meal, the longer it takes for the sugar to be absorbed.   There are some fibres that are particularly good at delaying the impact of sugar.  One of these is psyllium seeds.  Not only do they delay sugar absorption by up to an hour or so, they also bulk up, by absorbing water, your intestinal contents, helping regular passage of food.  Glucomannan also has this property as does oat bran.  Wheat bran doesn't absorb water to the same degree, but it absorbs sugar and delays its release in digestion.  The longer it takes for sugar to be absorbed, the less impact it has on blood glucose level.

There are also foods that help with insulin production and that reduce insulin resistance, thanks to the presence of  chromium.  Chromium-rich foods include black pepper, broccoli, bran, brown rice, lettuce and green beans.  The leaves of the white mulberry are considered particularly effective at delaying sugar absorption,  containing a component called reductase.

There are also co-factors that accelerate the rate at which your body metabolises sugar or that challenge your natural regulatory mechanisms.  These can increase the likelihood of a blood sugar drop, known as hypoglycemia, the symptoms of which are fatigue, depression and a craving for more sugar.

These co-factors include:

Coffee and, to a lesser extent, other caffeine stimulants like tea,  maté, cola, guarana and cocoa.  They will increase the rate at which the brain burns sugar.   Small wonder then that when you purchase a cup of coffee there is always an extensive display of white flour and sugar sweetened products to tempt you.  Your body knows it's going to be short of sugar after you drink the caffeine, so you instinctively go for the antidote to have on hand as you consume the stimulant.

The liver is the main organ, along with the pancreas, that regulates your blood sugar level.  As blood flows through the liver its glucose level is measured and, if it needs topping up, the liver dips into its store of glycogen, converts it to sugar and drip feeds it into the blood.

Alcohol  When you drink alcohol the liver prioritises dealing with what it perceives as a poison and puts dealing with blood sugar on the back burner.   The pancreas also finds it harder to produce insulin and regulate insulin levels when it also has to deal with the presence of alcohol.

Dope is another culprit.  When you smoke marijuana it increases the blood level in the brain by an estimated 40 millilitres.  This increases the amount of sugar available for the brain to burn and this heightened mental activity is part of what is called being 'high.'   However this increased usage of sugar makes it harder for the liver to keep up and the resulting drop in blood sugar is the symptom known to dope smokers as 'the munchies' - an irresistible craving for sweet foods.

Glyphosate or ‘Roundup’  - research has shown that ultra low doses of Roundup consumed over time leads to fatty liver disease.  Fatty liver doesn’t function very well and therefore makes it harder for the blood to maintain the right glucose levels.  Farmers spray Roundup at the end of wheat harvest to kill off the wheat plants.  When the plants realise they are dying, they frantically make as many babies as possible, i.e. wheat grains.  This is reflected in an increased harvest quantity, but ensures that every loaf of non-organic bread or other flour product contains a low dose of Roundup residue.

Antibiotics also can lead to powerful cravings for sugar.   If antibiotics are ingested, they don't just target the disease bacteria they are taken to cure.  They wipe out the beneficial microbes that are our healthy population of gut flora.  That's why it's advisable to consume yogurt or sauerkraut or other foods rich in lactobacilli to replace these important microorganisms.  It's also a good idea to eat foods rich in fibre to help the equally important bifidobacteria which are a pivotal part of the immune system in the large intestine.  A small population of these and other beneficial bacteria are always present in your appendix.  The appendix is the body's equivalent of a survivalist's food store, a place, at the junction of the small and large intestine, where, once the antibiotics are finished, the intestines can be repopulated.  Antibiotics can not kill off the tiny population of yeasts that are a part of the wider bacterial community of the gut.  But once the dominant lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are out of the way, yeasts quickly mutate into a fungal form, candida, a sticky white slime that imbeds itself firmly in the walls of the intestines.

There is an established communication between the gut and the brain and this is a vital part of our food choices, what smells nice, how hungry we feel and also what antibodies the gut flora need to produce to combat pathogens - what we call our immune system.  When candida gets a grip, like a Russian hacker taking over the CIA,  it  takes over the communication channel and sends a message to the brain demanding more sugar.  The more of these foods it gets, the more powerful it becomes and the more successfully it outcompetes the beneficial microbes that are trying to repopulate the gut after the antibiotic A-bomb has exploded.  Getting rid of candida is not easy, but there are ways to do it:

  1. Saccharomyces - these little microbes compete effectively with candida for sugar, thereby holding back the growth of candida and starving them out. They come in capsule form
  2. L-glutamine - this also attacks candida. Also in capsules
  3. Fasting - I often say that 'breakfast is the most important meal of the day…to skip.' This is because by the time you wake up in the morning the liver's reserves of glycogen are low and it's time to convert fat into glucose to keep the blood sugar level up.  This keeps sugar away from the gut and the candida, which then die off.  If you eat a carbohydrate-rich breakfast, perhaps with a glass of fruit juice, the sugars keep the candida topped up and maintaining or expanding their population, perhaps even migrating to other parts of the body such as the vagina or skin.  Starve them out by fasting for 17 hours a day.
  4. Colonic irrigation - pumping water into the large intestine and then pulling it back out removes a lot of candida.
  5. Lactobacillli - probiotics. Eating foods rich in lactic acid and consuming spores of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria helps to create ideal conditions for repopulating your beneficial gut microbes that compete with candida
  6. Inulin - this is a molecule that is made of a long string of fructose molecules strung tightly together. It is indigestible and counts as fibre but when it gets to the large intestine the wonderfully beneficial bifidobacteria feast on it and increase their numbers by the billions.

Good food sources of inulin include whole grain wheat and rye, shallots, onions, leeks, chicory root and the white part of chicory leaves and Jerusalem artichokes.  These are all valuable nutrition for the gut microbes.  Inulin powder, extracted from chicory roots, is a concentrated source.

Candida puts pressure on you to consume the sugar it needs and urges your brain to crave refined flour products, dairy, wine, beer and sugar.  It's not just antibiotics that give candida its supremacy in the gut, it also benefits from hormone replacement therapy, the birth control pill, steroids and hydrogenated fat.

Vinegar also plays a role in sugar metabolism.  Nobody’s quite sure why, but if you take 2 tablespoons of vinegar before a meal the increase in blood glucose later is 34% lower than if you don’t take vinegar.  That’s a big difference as it keeps the level at a level less likely to be stressful.

Lactate

The brain consumes glucose as the energy source that enables neurons to fire.  It's the 'carb' or 'carbon' in 'carbohydrate' that is the energy source.  Oxygen feeds the fire of carbon in the body, which is why we breathe.  So we are like a coal fire, burning carbon to keep ourselves warm and to enable our brains and bodies to function well.  However,  lactate is another rich source of carbon for the brain.  If there is lactate in the blood then the neurons in the brain will preferentially coat themselves in it rather than with glucose.  It's as if lactate is like gas fuel for the brain, glucose more like coal or wood.  Where do we get lactate?

  1. When our digestive system has a healthy population of lactobacilli they will compete with candida and other microbes that are eating starch or sugar and a by-product is lactate
  2. When we walk, run, jump or dance or do any exercise our muscles burn glucose and give off lactate.

At some point in evolution our brains evolved to function best on the super fuel of lactate in preference to glucose.  Glucose for the body, lactate for the brain.

So exercise is really important as it provides a better quality of energy for the brain  - lactate also delays brain ageing and neurodegeneration.  The heart and liver use it, too. Insulin function works much better too if there has been exercise and lactate production.  This is why exercise is increasingly being used as a cure for pre-diabetic conditions and for curing Type 2 diabetes in many cases.

Plato wrote: 'I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency'.  Kellogg's say 'Breakfast is the most important meal of the day."  Who to trust on this?  Everyone has a different metabolism, but they all have the power to change bad habits.

Metabolic Syndrome is the name for the multi-symptom disease that is typical of modern sedentary people.

It's also known as 'Sitting Disease.'  If a person gets up in the morning, sits down for breakfast, then sits in a car or on a train or bus, then sits at a desk or an assembly line and then sits down to return home to sit down to eat a meal and then sits watching television or enjoying social media they lay the foundations for Metabolic Syndrome

Contributing factors are

  1. Inactivity/laziness (Both cause and effect but a natural human condition)
  2. Overeating - large food portions of food low in nutrients
  3. Stress
  4. Pesticides - these have a hormonal effect as well as being mildly toxic
  5. Processed denatured food that is low in fibre
  6. Hydrogenated fat - harms the circulatory system, reducing blood flow
  7. Sugar and refined cereal such as white bread and low fibre breakfast cereals
  8. Television, electronic games and sitting at computers.

So what's the answer?

Our Government has one solution for everything:  Tax it.

A tax on soft drinks will have little impact as the appetite for sugar is not responsive to pricing.  If your candida want sugar or you are on a cycle of high and low blood sugar you don't give a damn what the cost is of a soft drink.  It's the cheapest form of sugar already and a tax won't make a difference.  You get more sugar in a chocolate brownie than in a can of Coke and a brownie costs at least 3 times as much.   The best selling soft drink in Britain is Red Bull.  It costs double the cost of Coke and has just as much sugar.

A tax will help in one way though: The Government currently subsidises sugar beet farming and sugar production to the tune of £250 million per annum.  A sugar tax will raise an estimated £400 million.  So the soft drinks tax will neatly subsidise the taxpayers money that goes to sugar producers.  How smart is that?

There is a far more intelligent alternative.  Researchers studied a group of 46,000 people in a Japanese city who were over 48 years old.  They measured their blood sugar, blood pressure, lung function and other measures of health and then recommended actions to rectify any problems before they became serious diseases.  Not all of them complied, but enough did to make a difference.  They became ill less often and therefore cost the health system less.  The estimated average saving came to £200 per person per year.

In the UK, with 26 million people over the age of 48, that would be a saving to the NHS of  £5.2 billion every year.   Why don't doctors and pharmaceutical companies recommend it?  Why don't wine makers discourage wine drinking?  Why don't car makers urge walking instead of driving?  No business likes to lose its customers, even the caring professions.

In 2011 the Soil Association applied for and won a £17 million National Lottery grant to initiate its Food For Life project.  It was a huge success, with schools coming in at Bronze entry level and working up to Gold, where they offer a significant proportion of school meals that are organic, locally sourced and freshly prepared on the premises.  There are now 2 million school dinners a day served under the Food For Life Programme.  A lot of those schools have stopped serving desserts on some days a week.  These kids perform better and learn something really important: you are what you eat.

Those kids will fare better in life, but we have a couple of generations who got the worst of crap food, hydrogenated fat (recommended by doctors), exposure to lead and pesticides and other environmental toxins. They are the ones who need help.  Diabetes levels are already dropping in the Western world as more people eat more wholesome food and exercise a lot more, but there is still work to be done.  A soft drinks tax is pathetic when you consider what the government could be doing to support healthier lifestyles

Change begins with the individual and it's about education.  If people are junk food junkies they will always find junk food. Trying to reform the food industry, which is responding to demand that arises from a multiplicity of causes, is to fight the wrong battle.  If we change demand then supply will follow.

The new science of epigenetics informs us that acquired characteristics can be inherited.  The unhealthy acquired characteristics of previous generations has been one factor in the increase in autism, birth defects, hereditary diabetes and other diseases, food allergies and other developmental problems.  But we need not despair, this is already being turned around and future generations can look forward to even better food produced in a cleaner environment to make healthier happier people, whose babies will be even healthier and happier.  We know more now about these factors than we ever did before, so we have the power to evolve positively.

1960s Rebels: Craig Sams, Health Food Pioneer from Victoria & Albert Museum

In conjunction with their exhibition You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 (10 September 2016 – 26 February 2017), the Victoria and Albert have uploaded a series of videos interviewing 1960s Rebels including myself.

The late 1960s saw progressive ideas emanate from the countercultural underground and revolutionise society. Challenging oppressive, outdated norms and expectations, a small number of individuals brought about far-reaching changes as they sought to attain a better world. Their idealism and actions helped mobilise a movement which continues to inspire modern activists and shape how we live today.

Agribusiness

xorganic-farming-640x426-jpg-pagespeed-ic-thzrqz2irqWhen a business sector sees a rash of mergers and acquisitions, it's for one of two reasons, growth or decay. The organic food industry has seen a lot of acquisitions by companies anxious to get in on the ground floor of the 5% annual growth rate in organic food and regenerative farming. Meanwhile, on the dark side, Monsanto is facing takeover by Bayer, not for any positive reasons, but because they are both looking into the abyss. Merger is one way to survive when the farmers they are competing for are spending less. Farmers aren't stupid - they can do the maths. When they see diminishing returns on their investment in seeds and agrichemicals, they reduce their spending. Normally in a situation like this the agribusiness operators would go to the EU or Washington and just wheedle more subsidies out of the national purse, bleating about food security while encouraging biofuels to prop up soy, rapeseed and corn prices. Who cares if you're destroying the earth's precious farmland at 30 football fields a minute? If you were a big landowner, you'd feel entitled to being paid to do this. That's what us mugs are here for. Now that the EU even subsidises grouse moors you'd think the gates were wide open. But the money is running out. Half the EU budget goes to farmers, much of it British money going via Brussels to France. The US spends $350 billion a year propping up agriculture in the US, channeling money through farmers to agribiz.

Let's take a look at who's eating whom. The potash fertiliser price has halved in the past 3 years, from $450 a tonne to $219. So in Canada, Agrium and Potash, two of the world's biggest potash producers, are merging in a desperate attempt to keep afloat while they wait for a bounce in price that may never happen. Bayer and Monsanto are both facing plunging sales and profits. Monsanto have the seed and Bayer have the pesticides to go with them. But again it's desperation. They hope that innovation will save them, but innovation is not something you find in mega corporations.   GMOs are losing support - US farmers never wanted them but were denied choice after Monsanto bought up all the seed companies and forced GMOs down their throats.

The whole ethanol biofuels scam is blowing up, too. It was never even vaguely 'carbon neutral' - it takes more energy to produce a litre of ethanol than the energy you get by burning it. It's more energy efficient to just mix corn with coal and shovel it into a power station, but that would be too obvious and repulsive.

Chem China has taken over Syngenta. They make the herbicides that Syngenta's GM seed can resist. Nobody in China will eat GMO rice but they'll tolerate pork or chicken fed on GM maize. But the real prize for Chem China is Syngenta's strong presence in US market: they're after Bayer/Monsanto's piece of the diminishing pie. Their US competitors are suddenly bleating about food security.   Two other agrichemical giants, Dow and DuPont, also merged recently. They're all like a bunch of drunks spilling out of the pub after a good night out, trying to keep each other from falling down.

If you're a farmer, what do you do? You used to be able to play off one agrichemical giant against the other, but soon you'll just take what you're given. Or look for an alternative and boy, what an alternative is on the horizon!

When the French '4 per 1000 initiative' succeeds at the Marrakech COP22 climate conference in November every hectare of organic farmland will be set to get over €150 a year in carbon credits. A hectare of chemical-dependent farmland will have to pay for its carbon footprint and that could cost close to €100 per hectare.   It won't happen overnight but the French have fixed a price of €56 per tonne for carbon, to take effect by 2020. The world will probably follow, even the US.   If you were a government that was facing huge annual costs to subsidise farmers with money that flows through their bank accounts to Dow/DuPont, Bayer/Monsanto and Chem China/Syngenta and you could instead just let the carbon markets transfer the money from fossil fuel power stations direct to organic farmers, what would you do? Keep on propping up a dying industry or finally recognise that organic food, when the carbon is priced in, is actually cheaper than the degenerative kind that is destroying our available soil at the rate of 30 football fields per minute? (I can't repeat this often enough)

Governments have been holding back for quite a long time because of the immense political power of the agrichemicals industry and of the landowning fraternity. They passionately hate socialism in all its forms, until it comes to their welfare payments.

It's time for a change. We need to bring freedom to farming. Carbon pricing that encourages regenerative farming instead of degenerative farming is the way forward. Organic is good for you and the climate, too.

How to regenerate organic – privatize it

How can we free organic from its self-imposed bureaucratic box? We could always ask Brussels to privatize us, says Craig Sams

Q. What do Slow Food, LEAF, Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Cosmos, Marine Stewardship Council, Red Tractor, Vegan, Vegetarian, Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) and Woodmark all have in common?

A. They all operate trusted authentication symbols that are 100% independent. They can decide what they can certify and how they can certify.

Q. What do the Soil Association, Ecocert, EKO, KRAV, Nature et Progres, OCIA, QAI, OFF, OF&G and 400 or so other organic symbols have in common?

A. They operate trusted authentication symbols that are 100% Government-controlled. They cannot decide what they can certify and how they can certify.

This ‘nationalisation’ of organic certification didn’t happen by accident or by force, we actually asked for it. The independent symbols have grown organically to global respect and stature while the organic ‘brands’ have been stifled in their self-imposed bureaucratic box.

“This ‘nationalisation’ of organic certification didn’t happen by accident or by force, we actually asked for it”

Back in the late 1980s I got to know key players at the Soil Association (up till then we were OF&G licensees). When I heard they were seeking to get the EU to enforce organic standards I was dismayed. Francis Blake of IFOAM and the Soil Association told me that if I wanted to have any influence I should stand for the Soil Association board. I did and didn’t get elected. Boo Hoo. But the Council wanted me anyway and appointed me Treasurer In 1990. I argued from within against letting our precious organic standards go under the control of the agricultural departments which subsidised industrial farming and were 100% behind GMOs. Regrettably the train had already left the station and, short of tying myself to the tracks, there was nothing I could do to stop it.

The infant organic industry was stressed about fraudulent claims and thought calling in big brother would stop that. In fact the opposite happened. When the Soil Association sampled a licensee’s oat flakes a few years ago and found chlormequat residues at quite a high level they told the licensee to take them off the market. Defra and UKAS and the oat processor who supplied them all cried foul. The paperwork was in order, that was all that mattered to the enforcers. The Soil Association came close to being banned from certifying but luckily the horsemeat scandal broke out and the EU said lab sampling of products should be permitted.

Not long ago the most venerable players of the organic world came together, along with the new-kid-on-the-block Regeneration International, to call for “Organic 3.0,” a nice term for evolved organic standards that combine elements of Slow Food, Fairtrade and a less oppressive certification regime for small farmers or farmers who regularly perform well on inspections. It’s a great idea and just the breath of fresh air that the organic movement needs. Meanwhile the EU organic officials are mired in endless delays just to bring about a much-needed update of existing organic standards. The latest review should have been completed long ago and is still years away. The consensus of Organic 3.0 hasn’t helped move things along in Brussels.

Regeneration International and IFOAM are setting their sights on the COP 22 convention in Marrakech in November 2016. This is the follow up to the Paris COP 21 climate talks last November. More than 170 countries have signed up to the Paris agreement, but the detail is still fluffy. Marrakech will focus on how farming and sequestration of carbon in the soil can stop global warming. We are losing 39 football fields of soil every minute thanks to farming – not one of those football fields is organic. The French will be promoting ‘4 per 1000.’ They say if we could increase soil organic matter by 0.04% each year it would offset ALL of our annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Organic farming increases soil organic matter by 0.1% per year, or ’10 per 1000.’ So organic’s the easy route to compliance with the Paris agreement and it regenerates soil for future generations instead of stealing it from them for cheap food today. With composting, crop rotation, fallowing, agroforestry, permaculture, biochar and other organic inputs farming could easily be 100% of the solution to global warming instead of 30% of the problem. But the Governments that control farming are hostages to the agribusiness lobby. If we can’t beat them can we go around them?

All those other independent organisations need the organic movement to join forces with them, indeed lead them. Organic agriculture is at the heart of the drive towards our shared environmental goals. Can we just ask Brussels nicely to privatise us? It works for everything else. Might be worth a go. The existing regulations cover claims like ‘organic,’ ‘biological, ‘økologisk’ or ‘Ecological’, so if privatization was off the menu and we wanted our freedom we’d need to find a new name to break free of Brussels and Washington.

Regeneration International, born out of the Organic Consumers Association, applies organic principles to food, climate, biodiversity, small farmers and health. So, how about ‘Regenerative?’

My Salad Breakfast

This morning, for breakfast, I went into the garden with a couple of slices of bread slathered with mayonnaise and a rice cake smeared with Jersey butter. Then I proceeded to pick from my winter salad garden: lamb’s lettuce, French parsley, various Japanese winter veg including mizuna and two frilly but intensely hot mustardy greens, land cress (a thicket self seeded from a single plant earlier this year), lettuce, winter purslane and, for a touch of the bitters, artemisia – wormwood. I added a leaf of radicchio from plants that have sprung up through the brickwork of a path. Just as we think of ‘food miles’ there is a parallel concept of ‘food days’ from harvest to consumption. In this case it was ‘food seconds’ – the leaves barely knew they had been plucked before they disappeared into the welcoming warm darkness of my esophagus, still brimming with vitality as they headed for the acid bath of my stomach.  The garden owes everything to Rocket Gardens Winter Salad Collection, a superb collection of cold-tolerant plants that were delivered to me back in September, to get established before the cold set in. They haven’t been tested by frost (well, a very light one a few weeks ago) but my experience has been that my biochar-rich soil has such an active biology that the warmth it gives off acts as underfloor central heating for the plants. Soil is everything and I am lucky to have Carbon Gold at my fingertips, continually discovering new aspects of the joys of biochar gardening.

But enough about the soil, it’s the variety that gets me every time I have my salad breakfast.

Here they are, sharing a plate with a buttered rice cake and the lamb’s lettuce growing just behind.   But read on for the individual varietals and pictures.

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I love the light mucilaginousness of winter purslane, with its spade-shaped leaves that look like they’ve escaped from a deck of playing cards. Purslane.jpg

Then there are the red chicories – radicchio and rosso de Treviso, both squeezing through the brick path. These provide a crisp bitterness.

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The Japanese Red Frills Mustard leaves are hot and mustardy and satisfyingly crunchy. Here are the purple ones, finding space between the turnips and the spring onions.

IMG_1264 (1).jpg And here are their green cousins, the Green Frills Mustard

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The land cress is easily as peppery as its aquatic cousin

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The Lamb’s Lettuce miraculously replaces removed leaves almost, it seems, overnight. Light in flavour and texture.

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French parsley does the same, endlessly offering up new leaves to replace those plucked earlier.  Here it is in the foreground, with emerging Babbington’s leeks just behind.

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Mizuna rounds it out, though it seems to be struggling more with the cold than the others.

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A dab of Artemisia is always a good digestive tonic, but very bitter, so I get that down first and then follow with the sweeter and more pungent leaves.

YUM!

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Nordic thriller

The Nordic Food Lab fuses the finest gastronomic traditions with cutting edge science to thrilling effect, writes Craig Sams

You have to hand it to the Danes.  They took over Britain in 1066 and have ruled it with a firm hand ever since.  Now Nordic Food is where it’s at with food technology. This isn’t the food technology that destroyed the health of a couple of generations when, back in the 60s hired liars in white coats assured us that hydrogenated fat, DDT residues and carcinogenic flavourings and colourings were good for you and that sugar was a vital source of energy. This is food technology that takes the best of past tradition and combines it with cutting edge science. The heart of this progressive movement is the Nordic Food Lab, sited atop the Noma Restaurant in Copenhagen.

Voted World’s Best Restaurant year after year, Noma is the only restaurant in the world to have 2 Michelin stars despite not having tablecloths (OMG!).  I chose the vegetarian options but with egg and dairy and paired juices.  Then the fun began.  I sipped a thyme-y herbed apple juice as we awaited the first of 20 courses. Highlights of the petite starters included rye flatbread with rose petals, crispy deep fried cabbage leaves sandwiching a filling of chopped samphire held together with a watercress puree, reindeer moss with ceps, smoked  pickled quail’s egg, a boulet of blackcurrant and roses and a lovely baked onion in walnut oil. My accompanying juices included: cucumber with yogurt whey; apple with Douglas fir pine needle; celery and seaweed; nasturtium; salted grape and lingonberry; each pairing perfectly balancing the course it accompanied.

The ‘mains’ were also superb, I haven’t eaten beechnuts in years because they’re such a fiddle, but they were perfect with butternut squash and kelp ribbons. The roasted and braised lettuce root was a revelation, served with St. John’s wort – opiates and tranquilisers in one dish.  Puddings included aronia berries with an ice cream centre. Oh, did I mention the ants?  Wood ants, of course, served on a charcoal roasted green bean.  I mentioned to our waitress Cat that I’d shove my hand into wood ants’ nests in Burnham Beeches (where I used to forage for beech nuts) just to enjoy the unique physical pleasure of ‘formication,’ where hundreds of ants’ feet run up and down your arm (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it).  She responded that was how their forager harvested them.

After a four-hour gastro-journey, a Geordie called Stu took us into the front kitchen where we saw how the person who served your food also took the final steps of preparation. Then we visited Lars, the enzymologist who makes fermented sauces out of almost anything and has bred cultures from Japanese koji that perform miracles when added to fermentable carbohydrates. We bonded when I told him about how I started using enzymes at Ceres Bakery back in 1972 – they are the key to making good sourdough breads. We also looked at his garums, savoury sauces historically made by Romans from anchovies, but his included beef and other protein sources.  We went upstairs and met Rene Redzepi, the creative force behind Noma. We chatted about Slow Food, school meals, how kids can be raised on good food at home and then be corrupted on the first day at school, cooking with burdock root and eating biochar.  I’ll send him some of my biochar oatcakes

To enlist science in the interests of human health, local integrity, artisanal quality, organic production and, above all, total and unalloyed deliciousness is a dream we’ve all dared to imagine from time to time.  At the Nordic Food Lab I have seen the future, and it’s wild, wholesome, fermented, smoked, cooked, raw and yummy. It is reinventing food culture and marking a path that anyone anywhere can follow.  You don’t have to be Danish to do it.  Noma is a university that is turning out chefs and artisan food biotechnologists who are going to change the way all of us eat.  The Nordic approach will work anywhere – it’s about building gastronomy on a foundation of local geography and protecting your natural environment by eating it.

I asked Stu if some of the people who worked there had ambitions to open their own restaurant or food business. He replied “All of them, if they don’t then they shouldn’t be working here.”

• The Nordic Organic Food Fair, the leading organic food event for the Scandinavian region, takes place in Malmo, Sweden, on 26-27 October 2014.

 

Soil Carbon: Where Life Begins

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Back in 1967 my brother and I ran an organic macrobiotic restaurant and food store – we followed macrobiotics, the way of eating described in the book Zen Macrobiotics by Georges Ohsawa. The restaurant bought as much as possible from organic producers around London so we built strong links with the Soil Association, which was founded by Lady Eve Balfour in 1946.   In order to talk about biochar I will first talk about soil, because that is the context into which biochar fits.   Satish Kumar also spoke about soil last year in his excellent magazine Resurgence.

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What is soil? Where did it come from? When life on earth began there was no soil, just rock. On and in that rock lived fungi that eked out a precarious living extracting carbon from the calcium carbonate of limestone. The atmosphere was mostly carbon dioxide and when it rained the rain became a weak carbonic acid solution that helped fungi to extract carbon from rock.

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The rock slowly broke down to sand, silt and the finest particles - clay. But there was no ‘soil’, no humus, none of the decomposing plants, organic matter and living organisms that define soil.

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Then a miracle happened

Tiny single celled organisms, ‘cyanobacteria’ (Latin for ‘blue bacteria’) developed the ability to take carbon dioxide and water and, with the help of sunshine, convert CO2 and H2O into simple carbohydrate: C6H12O6, or sugar. This was and is the fuel that powers all life on earth. The fungi saw their opportunity and locked the cyanobacteria into cells and strung them together in chain gangs.

Then they started to bundle them together in a form that we would recognise as plants

pic8 These strands of cyanobacteria became the earliest plants, such as horsetail

Plants were an efficient way to comb CO2 out of the air. The original plants didn't even have roots, the fungi had their own root system inside the plant to extract the sugar as soon as it was made. The plants were the root extensions of the fungi, not the other way round, which is how it appears today. Plants evolved with root systems and the fungi continued to keep their root network in the plant's root system. These fungi are called 'vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi'   ‘Arbuscular’ means 'tree-shaped' and reflects the form they take when the occupy the root system of a plant. 'Myco' means 'mushroom' and 'rhizzal' comes from rhizome and means 'root' - so they are ‘tree-shaped root mushrooms’. ‘Vesicular’ refers to the vesicles that are the storage areas where the mycorrhizae hold a stock of nutrients and sugar.

mycorrhizae

A plant will deliver in its sap from 10-20% of the sugar it makes in its leaves to the mycorrhizae, retaining the rest for its own growth. The mycorrhizae increase the reach of the plant’s roots by up to 10 times, penetrating soil that plant roots can’t access.

The ‘arbuscular’ shape of the fungus is shown in a root cell – this tree-like shape is a mirror of a root system – the fungus has its roots in the plant, the plant has its roots in the soil.

fungus

There are other organisms in the soil that live symbiotically with the mycorrizae. Most notable are the actinomycetes bacteria – originally they were thought to be fungi because they copied the form of fungal hyphae, with filamentous threads. With the advent of electron microscopes they turned out to be bacteria that had strung themselves together in chains in order to efficiently ferry nutrients to the mycorrhizae in exchange for sugar.   Most of our antibiotics come from soil bacteria. Streptomycin When a plant needs medicine, the mycorrhizae can farm it by feeding sugar to the bacteria that can produce that particular antidote – most commonly jasmonic acid, salicylic acid (aspirin) or ethylene. These medicines are sent up with the sap of the plant to provide it with immunity to fungal and insect attack.

One example of how mycorrhizae are used in farming is the French practice of ‘alley cropping’ where rows of fruit trees keep the fungal network going and enable crops planted in between to flourish rapidly thanks to the existing network of mycorrhizae supported by the trees. In Windsor Great Park an oak nursery accelerates the growth of oak saplings by raising them in ground surrounded by mature oaks – the big oaks provide the sugar to support a large mycorrhizal population. The baby oaks get sugar and nutrients from the mycorrhizae and grow away rapidly and healthily.

Soil is fascinating. It’s wonderful stuff. So what do humans do with it? Since the dawn of agriculture we mostly just kill it. Ploughing breaks up the neural network within the soil, though it reconnects fairly quickly but with a lot of casualties. Adding chemical fertilisers breaks up the symbiosis – the mycorrhizae no longer can exchange mineral nutrients for sugars because the farmers is providing them for free. The plant cuts off the sugar supply to the mycrorrhizae clustered around its roots and the mycorrhizae die off. Their 10,000 or so co-dependent microbial species also die off. The plant is then exposed to the challenge of fungi and other pests that give it nothing and just want to consume it. This creates the need for pesticides including fungicides, which further deplete the microbial population of the soil.

I have several generations of form in the area. My great great grandfather farmed virgin soil on the Koshkonong Prairie in 1842, cutting down trees and raising crops of grain and grazing cattle. My great grandfather farmed virgin prairie in Nebraska. These Norwegian farmers were notoriously stingy. They were frugal people in everything they did, they wasted nothing and recycled everything. Here’s an example:

Frugalism-Less is More

My grandfather would deliver eggs from his chicken houses to the Safeway supermarket and other stores in Sioux City. He would then purchase tools, sugar, flour, salt, paper and other essentials that could not be produced on the farm. The flour sacks were made of calico, so the farmer’s wives would recycle the bags to make overalls for their boys and dresses for the girls.

Nell Rose flour company bags

Flour is a commodity – one bag of white dusty flour is just like the next. So the Nell Rose flour company marketing people got clever and printed nice floral patterns on their flour bags.

This appealed to people like my grandmother and she used Nell Rose flour to make the dresses for my mother (on the right) with her sister Thelma and their cousins.

Margie on the farm

This remarkable frugalism and avoidance of waste stands in stark contrast to the way that the soils of the Midwest were relentlessly wasted, often beyond recovery. Here there was no recycling, just relentless ploughing and harvesting, breaking down the soil. The farmer’s wives wasted nothing, their husbands wasted the fertile heritage of millennia. When land was ‘farmed out’ people would just move further west.

The original Louisiana Territory and adjacent territories embraced the great river network of the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri Rivers, a 2000 mile wide water system draining into the Gulf of Mexico.

Original Louisiana

By 1925 more than 80% of the trees in this great river network had been cut down in order to create productive farmland.

trees cut down

The result was inevitable – the Mississippi Floods of 1927 were devastating – 27,000 square miles were inundated, up to depths of 30 feet. It triggered huge migrations of Afro-American farmers to Northern cities. Below Memphis Tennessee the Mississippi was 60 miles wide, 3 times the width of the Straits of Dover. The land was flooded from April to June. Floods

This great flood was followed by further devastation. The weakened fractured soils of the prairie began to turn to dust and the winds blew up vast clouds of dust that reached as far as Washington DC, prompting Congressional action.   President Roosevelt created the Civil Conservation Corps and 3 million recruits planted 10 billion trees from Mexico to Canada to try to hold down the soil.

Dust bowl

This destruction of soil happened also in Argentina, Manchuria, Ukraine, and other fertile breadbaskets around the world as tractors and chemical fertilizer accelerated the rate of soil destruction.

The greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane that were emitted accounted for half of all the increase in greenhouse gas levels between 1850 and 1980. Since then agriculture’s annual rate of emissions has continued to grow, but has fallen behind the astronomic rate of emissions growth from manufacturing, energy and transport.  But it is still responsible for at least one third of our excess emissions.

Emissions

From 1850-1980:

Total CO2 from Farming:      160 Billion Tonnes

Total CO2 from Fossil Fuels: 165 Billion Tonnes

How can we stop this wasteful and environmentally damaging activity?

Part of the answer lies in a discover that was made nearly 500 years ago. When the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzarro was buy looting the silver and gold of the Incas he heard about cities of gold with even greater wealth. He deputed his brother and Francisco de Orellana to find these cities and to bring back their gold.

Orellano

The parties were separated and Orellana could not return up river. The chaplain on his boat kept records of their travels. They encountered wealthy populations but were repelled by armed natives, led by fierce women warriors. These natives knew already that if you came close to a white man you would break out in red spots of measles or smallpox and then, because they had no immunity, die. They attacked and drove them away – Orellana described his boat as looking like a porcupine after one such attack. They called this region the Land of the Amazons and this is how the river got its name. When explorers sailed up the Amazon about 30 years later the wealthy civilisations Orellana had described were gone – wiped out by disease. People questioned whether the ‘El Dorado’ he had described ever really existed.

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Within the past 50 years archaeologists have found that the areas he described as populated coincide with areas where the soil is black to a depth of several metres - the ‘Terra Preta’ of the Amazon river settlements. Farmers who have Terra Preta have little need for fertilizer and even sell their soil to less fortunate farmers who are on the typical infertile jungle soils. The Terra Preta was made by the Amazons by taking all their waste, including animal bones and forest waste and domestic waste, piling it into pits, covering it with clay and setting fire to it. Once it was burning hot they’d cut off the supply of air and the material became charcoal and provided the growing medium for the next season’s crop.   The contrast between Terra Preta and soils of the forest is apparent when the land is cut away.

Terra Petra

Brazilian farmers who farm on Terra Preta benefit from its fertility and crops like corn grow vigorously when planted in black earth. They sell it to other farmers and bag it up for sale in garden centres. It is what we now call ‘Biochar’ – charcoal for use in the soil rather than charcoal for use for barbecuing sausages.

So what is Biochar? What does it do?

Biochar provides a supportive environment for mycorrhizae and their associated microorganisms. This leads to a doubling or more of the microbial population that is the living essence of soil.

Biochar had a high surface area – a single gram of biochar can have twice the surface area of 2 tennis courts – this means there are lots of points where minerals can stick, each point has a negative charge, so it sticks to minerals with a positive charge – this stops the leaching of nutrients from soil, keeping it in the zone where it can reach the plant.

Biochar also helps retain moisture. The result is healthier plants, more nutrient availability, more water availability and better soil structure.

Biochar also reduces soil emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.

Biochar stays in the soil, too, for anything from 10 years to 4000 years, depending on the type of biochar, the soil type and the farming system. The scientific consensus settles around 1000 years. This represents carbon dioxide that is kept out of the atmosphere – most woody biomass ends up returning to the atmosphere by rotting or being burned. Thus biochar can be an important tool for reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. It is estimated that recycling woody waste as biochar could remove 1 billion tonnes of CO2 annually from the atmosphere. Instead we burn it.

Biochar cell  structure

Biochar retains the cell structure of the original feedstock. So biochar from bamboo has larger pores, biochar from chestnut has small pores. But all those pores provide a refuge for mycorrhizae and a base from which they can expand even if they are disturbed by ploughing or by predators such as mites, protozoa or nematodes that feed on them.

Imagine the pieces of biochar as a ‘five star hotel’ for mycorrhizae or, even as Norman castles in the English countryside. Each biochar particle is a base for a contingent of mycorrhizae, helping them to weather the stresses and pressures of life in the soil.

We have an image of mushrooms as passive softies but they are much more than that. When nematodes that threaten a plant enter mycorrhizal territory they get more than they bargained for. The mycorrhizae attach to them with sticky substances that hold them fast, then insert their filamentous hyphae into the tiny worm and suck out its amino acids, providing protein for more mycorrhizal growth and nitrogen for ‘their’ plants. Some mycorrhizae form lassoes that are scented with fragrances that attract nematodes – the nematode pokes through the lasso that then snaps tight, holding the nematode while it is digested.

nematode

Mycorrhizae also oversee the production of insecticides and fungicides. When there is a threatening insect or fungal pest the news travels fast through the underground internet – the mycelial network. The appropriate preventive medicine such as jasmonic acid, salicylic acid or ethylene is produced and delivered via the plant’s sap to the threatened area. How is this done? We don’t really know but it is likely that the mycorrhizae simply feed more sugar to the bacteria that produce these defensive chemicals and then pass them over to the plant.

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It may be that the plant produces the defensive chemical itself or that it produces it in conjunction with the soil microbes. Both the plant and its supportive microbial community have a shared interest in defeating any disease threats quickly, before they have time to weaken the plant.

Biochar, by providing a resilient and abundant network of soil fungi and bacteria, is the framework of the plant’s immune system and helps it with nourishment and water.

So what have we done at Carbon Gold to turn this theoretical ideal situation into a reality?

biochar kiln

The first thing we discovered was that the production method for charcoal was expensive, slow and inefficient – we wanted to reduce our carbon footprint in biochar production as much as possible and make it available cheaply to small farmers. We developed the Superchar 100 kiln.

It makes a 100 Kg batch of biochar in 8 hours instead of the usual 3 days. It delivers double the yield of traditional ring kilns. It has greatly reduced emissions – we recycle the gases emitted by the wood and burn them to heat the kiln contents instead of letting them escape into the atmosphere. They’re now hard at work in Belize, Botswana, Turkmenistan, Fiji, Brazil and the UK, with orders for more in the pipeline.

We also make a double-barrelled kiln that will produce 2 x 400 kg batches of biochar in a 12 hour day.

This one is part of a marshland regeneration project north of Perth, in Scotland

double barrelled kiln

Whitmuir Organics, just south of Edinburgh, are making biochar for their horticultural operation and are experimenting with it in pig feed, where a small amount makes a big difference to pig health and feed conversion.

The first UK field trials of biochar were on my smallholding near Hastings in September 2010. We planted cabbages and winter lettuce in late September, some with biochar and some without. In November we had heavy snows and the lettuces were covered in snow for 3 days. When the snow melted the winter lettuces without biochar had died. Those with biochar were intact. I think this could be that a high microbiological population in the soil acts as underfloor central heating, biological activity generates heat and this is probably what saved the plants. We also discovered that biochar has no repellent effect on hungry pigeons, which destroyed the cabbage crop completely.

biochar field trials

We work closely with Rijk Zwaan, the world’s 5th largest seed company and one that regards GMOs as an obsolete technology – they are world leaders at using natural breeding methods harnessed to genomic data. Their Field Trials Manager, Martin Kyte, stopped a comparative trial of Carbon Gold seed compost and peat compost after a few months because the results were so obviously in favour of our seed compost.

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And Fergus Garrett, head gardener at the marvelous Great Dixter gardens in Sussex, has switched to biochar.

Stephanie Donaldson, Gardening Editor of Country Living magazine, trialled Carbon Gold with lettuces. After one month the difference was significant:

In Belize one of our shareholders took 3 Maya cacao farmers to Cornell University in 2008. We studied biochar production and its use with Johannes Lehmann, the world’s leading authority on biochar and founder of the International Biochar Initiative. After that we helped the farmers build a simple kiln. They did trials and found that cacao tree seedlings raised with biochar outperformed those without biochar in the nursery. A $50,000 UNDP grant helped them expand production and recently the Inter American Development Bank funded the establishment of 9 new nurseries with a target of producing 45, 000 cacao trees to really expand cacao production. It normally takes 6 or 7 years for a cacao tree to begin to produce, with biochar it starts in 3 years – that makes a huge economic difference to a farmer who has invested in establishing a cacao orchard.

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Belize: Biochar + Cacao = fruit within 3 years

Normal maturation time: 6-7 years

We’re also working with farmers in Africa.

In Ghana, where tomatoes retail at $12 per kilo, Sunshine Organic Farms are starting to grow tomatoes near the capital, Accra. Biochar will help ensure healthy abundant cropping.

In Ivory Coast cashew nut waste will provide a feedstock that can then be used on cashew trees and in Senegal it will be rice husks that provide the feedstock.

We have just shipped a kiln to Botswana. Farmers in Fiji are now making biochar with our kilns to improve their fertility and cropping.

Wight Salads grow more than half of the organic tomatoes sold in the UK every year. They have greenhouses in Portugal and the Isle of Wight. Last year they started using biochar from us. The results:  8% higher yield, 10% higher sugar content in the fruit, less watering and fertilizer cost and, most excitingly, a dramatic fall in the population of root-eating nematodes. They had a lower level of this pest in their organic biochar production than in their conventional production where they use nematicide to kill this damaging pest.

Wight Salads tomatoes

They were considering cutting back on organic tomato production because of these nematodes, but now they are going to expand.

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Some nematodes work collaboratively with mycorrhizae, some eat them, some just eat plants and some provide food for the mycorrhizae when they venture too close to the plant the mycorrhizae are protecting. Once lassoed they are soon converted into nitrogen compounds

Biochar works wonderfully on turf as well. Forest Green Rovers Football Club trialled Carbon Gold last year and found that at the end of the season this year the treated part of the pitch had withstood the stress of weekly games and practice far better than the rest of the pitch. Last week they spread biochar over the entire pitch and their groundsman has helped initiate trialy by the groundsman at Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal. Those trials will open up new opportunities on sports grounds everywhere and help reduce the use of nitrates and other chemical treatments.

We make products for gardeners too. These are available from some garden centres, but most of our sales come from our own website, other online retailers, QVC and Amazon. This is because biochar still takes a bit of explaining and garden centre staff are not always available or able to tell a customer about it.

Last year we worked with Bartlett Tree Experts, the Queen’s tree surgeons, on trials with Carbon Gold biochar. They successfully cured honey fungus and saw accelerated growth in horse chestnut seedlings. The results of their research were published in April in the prestigious Arb Magazine, the journal for members of the Arboricultural Association. An ash dieback trial they initiated last year has so far shown no sign of infection, but they are waiting until this October before publishing any results. They have endorsed our tree growth enhancement and protection range and are now offering it to all their customers.

Biochar to CO2

We are not yet capturing the carbon offset value of using biochar, but it is now becoming available as a carbon offset of value. The conversion ratios vary – our own figure is based on making biochar in a Carbon Gold kiln and reflects the greater efficiency and lower carbon footprint of the Superchar range of kilns.

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In 2011 I visited the Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas in Brussels. She invited me back to present the biochar story to the Green Group of MEPs. In attendance were representatives from DG Agri and DG Enviro. They had a meeting after our meeting and the outcome was Eurochar. This programme funds research into biochar as a strategy for long term carbon sequestration and funds research into greenhouse gas mitigation with biochar.

Lady Eve Balfour lost the post war argument about the future direction of agriculture, but the Soil Association continued to fight the good fight while the introduction of subsidized nitrate fertilizer forced farmers into the industrial fold. The same process happened in the rest of the world and led to the Green Revolution, which is now running out of steam. Ten years ago there was a major collaboration to map out the future of agriculture in a world with diminishing resources and increasing population. WHO, FAO, UNDP, UNESCO, Defra, USDA, Monsanto and Syngenta were just a few of the global stakeholders who selected a crack team of 400 of the world’s leading agronomists to look at how we could reduce hunger, improve livelihoods and ensure social and environmental sustainability. 2 weeks before their report was published in 2009 both Monsanto and Syngenta went public by rubbishing its contents. Why? Because it said that the Green Revolution hadn’t delivered sustainable results, that genetic engineering was a dead end and that we should listen to small farmers and adopt traditional farming systems.

All of the other benefits of their proposals are summed up in rewarding farmers who prevent climate change. Whether you call it organic farming or agroecological farming, the fact is that farming in support of the living soil and its wonderful microbiological population is the only sustainable way to go. It is lower in carbon emissions and hugely effective in carbon sequestration. If only Lady Eve had lived to see this outcome that so firmly vindicated her predictions in The Living Soil published in 1943.

carbon farming

We are eating oil – it takes vast amounts of fossil fuel energy to make food energy and this is plainly unsustainable.

Farming Systems Trial

The Farming Systems Trial at the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania has been growing the same crops side by side using organic methods and conventional methods. Once the health of the soil was restored, the organic crops matched conventional yields, showing greater resilience in years of drought.   Every year the organic soil added 1 tonne of carbon to the soil, while the industrial crops gradually lost it. The organic crops used 45% less energy.

Professor Pimentel at Cornell University mapped it out: organic farming could reduce atmospheric CO2 by 1.1 trillion pounds a year. That’s half a billion tonnes of CO2 – about 1/10 of the annual increase in CO2 equivalent. Add in biochar and you would get at least another half a billion tonnes, bringing down CO2 levels by 20% a year.

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If the cost of CO2 was factored into food production, then organic farming would deliver a € 350 per hectare cost benefit if carbon was priced at the real cost to future generations of €70 per tonne. Add in the benefit of €210 per hectare for every tonne of biochar added to the soil and agriculture could be part of the climate change solution instead of a major element of the problem. Lord Nicholas Stern quoted the figure of €70 per tonne in his book Blueprint for a Safer Future but a few months after it was published he said he was mistaken the real cost was €150 per tonne. Anyone who experience Hurricane Sandy in New York would probably agree. But even if CO2 was only priced at €35 per tonne it would deliver an economic imperative to farm organically and to use biochar universally. The Paris climate talks in 2015 will not exclude agriculture or transportation, the fatal mistake of the Kyoto protocols back in 1993. That will be when farming has to face reality and get a grip on its emissions.

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And not a moment too soon. Every year 125 million hectares of land become so degraded they can no longer reliably produce crops. That’s nearly 2% of the world’s arable land. We have replaced that lost land by cutting down forests, but that is no longer an option. We have to live within the means of our natural capital of soil and that means not spending it but saving it and building on it.

Public health will benefit too. Antibiotics saved millions of lives – they were derived from soil bacteria. Now, due to overuse in agriculture they have created resilient disease pathogens that can no longer be treated effectively with antibiotics. 80% of all antibiotic use is in agriculture, to keep animals alive that could not survive in the filthy conditions in which they are raised, on beef feedlots where they wallow in their own excrement or in pig and chicken farms where antibiotics are the only thing that keeps the animals alive during their brief lifespan.

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The sad thing is that industrial farming isn’t feeding the world. The world is feeding itself despite the waste and inefficiency of industrial farms.

70% of world’s food grown on farms smaller than 5 hectares

NO SUBSIDIES

30% of the world’s food grown on industrial farms

$350 Billion yearly SUBSIDIES

No wonder the IAASTD was so adamant that small farmers using agroecological and traditional methods were the only way to feed the world. They can produce up to six times as much per hectare as industrial farms, using fewer fossil fuel-based inputs and more human labour. Our taxes are being wasted on subsidising the destruction of our soils and dangerous increases in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Only a carbon tax can reverse this.

As this is a Slow Food Eire event it would be remiss of me not to touch on the similarities between the microbiological health of the soil and the microbiology of its counterpart in us, the gut flora, whose product is often referred to as ‘night soil.’ One third by weight of what we excrete is the offspring of the gut flora that have multiplied on our food in our digestive system and pass out along with the digested food. There are clear parallels in function between mycorrhizae and actinomycetes bacteria in the soil and the lactobacilli and bifidobacteria and associated microbial forms in the gut.

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We know that babies born by C section are likely to lack the microbial flora that are part of a healthy immune system. It’s now established that stool transplants in patients with clostridium difficile can save lives – 110,000 Americans a year die of this infection, which arises after antibiotic use.

In the soil, worms are a sign of good health. The emerging medical treatment of helminthic therapy reflects the finding that the absence of worms in the human gut is associated with diminished immune function. When an earthworm consumes soil containing actinomycetes bacteria, an important part of the soil’s immune system that produces antibiotic substances, it excretes six times as many as it ingests. Roundworms in the human gut consume food we eat and excrete cytokine, an immune booster.

pic48In Chinese tradition, Kwan Yin is the Goddess of Mercy and ‘mercy clay’ has saved millions from famine – it is rich in humus, minerals and microbial activity and can sustain a person when no other food is available.

pic49In Haiti the production of clay cakes is commonplace. Made with clay, salt and oil, they aren’t consumed to keep hunger at bay, they nourish and have special benefits for pregnant women as it prevents morning sickness. Clay helps eliminate toxins and infections.

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When one’s tummy is upset, particularly if traveling in foreign lands where a combination of different prevalent bacteria and different hygiene standards can lead to digestive disorders, charcoal tablets have the same beneficial effect on our digestive night soil as it does in the soil in which we grow our food.

I began this talk by quoting three people who have deeply influenced my thinking about soil and about its fundamental importance to our lives.

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I would like to close by quoting an even higher authority:

Genesis 3:19

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

The soil’s living community provides an example to our society of how a cooperative community of plants and microorganisms can maximise and efficiently share the production of food derived from the abundance of water, sunlight and carbon dioxide with which our planet is blessed. We come from the soil and we return to the soil, we owe all life on earth to the soil.

We should never treat it like dirt

The Future of Food, Wessanen

GOOD AFTERNOON.  AND MANY THANKS FOR INVITING ME TO SPEAK HERE THIS AFTERNOON.

AS THE FOUNDER OF WHOLE EARTH I’D LIKE TO DISCUSS HOW WE TOOK OUR VALUES, WHICH FOR MANY YEARS HAD BEEN A COMPETITIVE DISADVANTAGE, AND TRANSFORMED THEM INTO A COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE.

FORGIVE ME FOR DRAGGING YOU BACK INTO THE DIM AND DISTANT PAST, BUT TO OFFER ANY COMMENTS ON THE FUTURE FOR WESSANEN ORGANICS IT HELPS TO KNOW A BIT ABOUT ITS HERITAGE AND THE STORY OF THE WHOLE EARTH BRAND HAS BEEN WOVEN INTO IT FOR AT LEAST 34 YEARS. 

IN 1965 I TRAVELLED THE ‘HIPPIE TRAIL’ JUST A FEW YEARS BEFORE IT ACQUIRED THAT NAME, HITCHHIKING, WALKING AND TAKING TRAINS AND BUSES FROM LONDON TO INDIA VIA SYRIA, IRAQ, KUWAIT, IRAN AND PAKISTAN.

EVENTUALLY I WAS IN NEW DELHI, WHERE I SPEND A NIGHT IN THE GENERAL HOSPITAL WITH ADVANCED AMOEBIC DYSENTERY AND INFECTIOUS HEPATITIS.

REALISING I MIGHT DIE IF I STAYED IN THE HOSPITAL, I STRUGGLED ON TO KABUL, WHERE I RESORTED TO THE SIMPLE FOLK REMEDY OF UNLEAVENED WHOLEMEAL FLATBREAD AND UNSWEETENED STRONG TEA TO TREAT THE DYSENTERY.

THE LIVER PAINS SUBSIDED AND I WAS FIT ENOUGH TO TRAVEL BACK TO LONDON.  HOWEVER, I HAD LEARNED THAT DIET AND HEALTH WERE INEXTRICABLY INTERLINKED AND, BACK AT UNIVERSITY IN PHILADELPHIA LATER IN 1965, I ADOPTED THE MACROBIOTIC DIET.

ON GRADUATION IN 1966 I DECIDED TO OPEN A MACROBIOTIC RESTAURANT IN LONDON, SOON TO BE JOINED BY MY BROTHER GREGORY.

SETTING TRENDS:

- MACROBIOTICS

- Organic - Sustainable

- Wholegrain

- Local and Seasonal

-‘Justice’ (Fair)

- Balanced

- Zen/Japanese (Miso,Nori)

- No Additives, hormones

- Avoid sugar

- Eat only when hungry

- Exercise

SEED RESTAURANT WAS A SUCCESS,  IT WAS THE LEGENDARY HIP - AND HIPPIE - MACROBIOTIC WATERING HOLE OF THE LATE 60S, WHERE BROWN RICE AND ORGANIC VEGETABLES DOMINATED THE MENU. OUR RESTAURANT ROCKED, BOTH WITH PROGRESSIVE MUSIC AND A GROOVY CLIENTELE DRAWN FROM LONDON’S ALTERNATIVE SCENE OF MUSIC, THE ARTS AND FASHION.

JOHN LENNON WAS ONE OF OUR REGULARS AND HE GAVE MY BROTHER GREGORY A LITTLE CARTOON IN GRATITUDE FOR OUR FOOD AND FOR HARMONY, THE PIONEERING MAGAZINE GREGORY PUBLISHED.

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WE ESPOUSED A DIET THAT PRESCRIBED WHOLEGRAINS AND ORGANIC FOODS THAT WERE LOCAL AND SEASONAL – AND PROHIBITED ADDITIVES,  COFFEE, SUGAR, FACTORY FARMED MEAT AND YEAST.  WE THOUGHT MACROBIOTICS WAS THE ESSENTIAL FOUNDATION FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE IN A WORLD RUNNING OUT OF RESOURCES, WITH A GROWING POPULATION AND INCREASING DEGENERATIVE DISEASE.   I STILL DO.

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THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION RATHER ALARMINGLY SAID THAT THE DIET WOULD ULTIMATELY LEAD TO DEATH.  THEY WERE OF COURSE, ABSOLUTELY RIGHT.  I HAVE FOLLOWED A MACROBIOTIC DIET FOR 49 YEARS NOW AND, MUCH AS I HATE TO ADMIT IT, IT’S A MATHEMATICAL CERTAINTY THAT I’M CLOSER TO DEATH THAN I WAS IN 1965

BUT I FEEL HEALTHIER THAN I DID THEN AND I’VE NEVER FELT BAD ENOUGH TO NEED TO SEEK MEDICAL HELP OF ANY KIND, FOR WHICH I AM GRATEFUL.

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MY BOOK, ABOUT MACROBIOTICS, WAS PUBLISHED IN 1972 AND HAS BEEN TRANSLATED INTO 8 LANGUAGES, IS STILL IN PRINT IN PORTUGUESE AND HEBREW.

I WROTE A FEW OTHER BOOKS, THE LITTLE FOOD BOOK COVERED FOOD ISSUES FROM A 2002 PERSPECTIVE AND THE GREEN & BLACK’S STORY INCLUDED SOME OF THE STORY OF WHOLE EARTH FOODS

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WE SOON HAD CERES (LATIN FOR DEMETER) - EUROPE’S FIRST NATURAL FOODS STORE - GOING FULL TILT ON THE PORTOBELLO ROAD, IN THE ALTERNATIVE SOCIETY’S THEN HEARTLAND.  THEN OTHER BUDDING RETAILERS WHO WANTED TO DO WHAT WE DID CAME TO US FOR SUPPLIES, FORMING THE WHOLESALE CUSTOMER BASE FOR HARMONY FOODS.

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WE WERE KNOWN AS THE BROWN RICE BARONS, BECAUSE IF YOU BOUGHT BROWN RICE IN THE 1970S IN BRITAIN OR IRELAND IT CAME FROM US.

WITH OTHER RETAILERS, WE FORMED THE NATURAL FOODS UNION, PROMISING EACH OTHER NEVER TO SELL PRODUCTS CONTAINING SUGAR OR ARTIFICIAL INGREDIENTS, THUS DEFINING THE NATURAL FOODS MARKET.

WE ALSO MADE PEANUT BUTTER UNDER THE HARMONY BRAND.

IN 1977 I CREATED APPLE JUICE SWEETENED JAMS THAT WERE THE FIRST PRODUCTS IN THE ‘NO SUGAR ADDED’ CATEGORY.  THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WE ALSO STARTED TO SUPPLY SUPERMARKETS, BREAKING THE BRAND BARRIER THAT STILL INHIBITS RETAIL SALES OF ORGANIC PRODUCTS IN MANY EUROPEAN COUNTRIES AND MAKES THE DEVELOPMENT OF NATIONAL BRANDING MORE DIFFICULT.  WE HAD DEVELOPED THE WHOLE EARTH BRAND TO BE OUR SUPERMARKET BRAND BUT THEN DECIDED TO USE WHOLE EARTH TO BRAND ALL OUR PRODUCTS AND MIGRATED OUR HARMONY PEANUT BUTTER ACROSS TO WHOLE EARTH AND THE HARMONY BRAND WAS RETIRED.

WE WERE THE FIRST WITH ORGANIC BROWN RICE, SOURDOUGH BREAD, NORI SEAWEED, MISO, BREWED SOYA SAUCE, ADUKI BEANS, NATURAL PEANUT BUTTER, NO SUGAR ADDED JAMS, ORGANIC BAKED BEANS AND CARBONATED FRUIT JUICE DRINKS - BUT THERE WAS ALWAYS SOMEONE BIGGER AND STRONGER THAN US WHO WAITED UNTIL THE CATEGORY GOT BIG ENOUGH, THEN DID WHATEVER IT TOOK TO GET RID OF US. OFTEN THEY WERE OUR OWN DISTRIBUTORS AND IT WOULD BE UNREALISTIC NOT TO MENTION DISTRIBORG AND NATUFOOD, BOTH OF WHOM BUILT THEIR BUSINESSES ON EXCLUSIVE DISTRIBUTION AGREEMENTS OF WHOLE EARTH JAMS AND THEN LATER SWITCHED CUSTOMERS TO THEIR OWN LABEL VERSIONS, NATUFOOD AND BJORG, FRUSTRATING OUR HOPES OF BUILDING A EUROPEAN BRAND IN PARTNERSHIP WITH OUR IMPORTERS.

NONETHELESS, BY THE LATE 1980S WE MANAGED TO CREATE A VERY SUCCESSFUL AND MUCH-LOVED PRODUCT IN WHOLE EARTH PEANUT BUTTER.  IT HAD A RESPECTABLE 20% OF THE BRANDED PEANUT BUTTER MARKET. THEN NESTLE TOOK OVER SUN PAT.  THEY COULDN’T ACCEPT OUR EXISTENCE AND TOOK STEPS TO ELIMINATE US.

IN 1989 NESTLE SUN PAT LAUNCHED WHOLENUT – THE LABEL ARTWORK LOOKED LIKE OURS, THE NAME SOUNDED LIKE WHOLE EARTH EVEN THE RECIPE EMULATED OURS.   VISITING A SUPERMARKET BUYER WAS LIKE SEEING YOUR OWN FUNERAL REFLECTED IN THEIR EYES – THEY KNEW THAT THIS WOULD PROBABLY BE YOUR LAST VISIT – THEY’D SEEN THE STORYBOARDS FOR THE £5 MILLION TV ADVERTISING LAUNCH THAT NESTLE WERE PLANNING. WE MANAGED TO SEE THEM OFF, SHOWING THE POWER OF THE WHOLE EARTH BRAND. THEY COULD HAVE BOUGHT OUR BRAND AT THAT TIME FOR £2 MILLION AND SAVED £3 MILLION BUT EGOS DON’T WORK LIKE THAT.  NESTLE’S WHOLENUT LASTED JUST 4 YEARS.

Sugar vs Apple Juice
Sugar vs Apple Juice

WE ALSO LAUNCHED THE FIRST NO SUGAR ADDED SOFT DRINKS IN 1984 – SWEETENED WITH APPLE JUICE

THESE WERE THE FORERUNNERS OF THE WHOLE EARTH SOFT DRINKS RANGE

REPLACING SUGAR WITH APPLE JUICE WAS THE BACKBONE OF THE WHOLE EARTH RANGE IN THE 1980S BUT THE FUTURE FOR THIS CONCEPT OF NO ADDED SUGAR IS LIMITED – UNLESS THE CALORIE CONTENT IS LOWER THERE ISN’T REALLY MUCH DIFFERENCE.

AT WHOLE EARTH’S 20TH BIRTHDAY PARTY IN 1987 I MADE A HERBAL BREW BASED ON OUR WHOLE EARTH COLA BUT WITH ADDED GUARANA AND CHINESE HERBS.  IT REALLY PEPPED UP THE OCCASION.  WE COULDN’T LAUNCH IT AS A WHOLE EARTH PRODUCT AS IT WAS EDGIER THAN RED BULL – NOT RIGHT FOR THE BRAND. SO WE NAMED IT GUSTO.

Gusto poster
Gusto poster
Gusto poster 2
Gusto poster 2

MY SON AND DAUGHTER LAUNCHED GUSTO IN 1990 AND IT BECAME A £500,000 BRAND.

IN 1999 WE SOLD SHARES IN WHOLE EARTH FOODS TO A GROUP OF INVESTORS AND THEY MISTAKENLY REFORMULATED GUSTO AND LAUNCHED IT IN NEW PACKAGING, ON THE ADVICE OF A WAITROSE SUPERMARKET BUYER. IN 2002 WE SOLD WHOLE EARTH AND GUSTO TO WESSANEN AND I OFFERED £100,000 TO TAKE GUSTO OUT OF THE DEAL.  I WAS REFUSED. A YEAR OR SO LATER WAITROSE DELISTED GUSTO AND I BOUGHT THE BRAND BACK FOR £2000.  MY SON WENT BACK TO THE ORIGINAL FORMAT, MADE IT ORGANIC AND IT IS NOW A £300,000 BRAND AND GROWING

IN 1989 WE LAUNCHED THE FIRST ORGANIC PEANUT BUTTER. TESCO GAVE US A LISTING.

THEN A SHIPMENT OF PEANUTS FAILED OUR QUALITY CONTROL AND IT TOOK 7 WEEKS FOR ANOTHER CONTAINER FROM PARAGUAY TO REACH US. SO WE STARTED LOOKING FOR A SUPPLIER WE COULD RELY ON.  LISBETH DAMSGAARD OF URTEKRAM TOLD ME ABOUT AN ORGANIC PROJECT IN TOGO, WEST AFRICA AND I GOT IN TOUCH WITH ANDRE DEBERDT, A FRENCHMAN WHO WORKED WITH THE GROWERS. ANDRE SENT ME A PEANUT SAMPLE AND WE TESTED IT FOR AFLATOXIN.  IT FAILED. I RANG ANDRE TO GIVE HIM THE BAD NEWS. HE MENTIONED THAT THE SAME FARMERS ALSO GREW ORGANIC COCOA BEANS.  I GOT HIM TO ARRANGE FOR A SAMPLE OF 70% SOLIDS CHOCOLATE TO BE MADE FROM THOSE BEANS.  WHEN IT ARRIVED I MANAGED TO KEEP SOME BACK FOR JOJO FAIRLEY, MY GIRL FRIEND AND A JOURNALIST.

WHEN SHE TASTED IT SHE SAID “THIS IS THE BEST CHOCOLATE I’VE EVER TASTED! YOU’VE GOT TO DO IT!”

IT COULDN’T GO UNDER THE WHOLE EARTH BRAND AS WE WERE A NO SUGAR BRAND.  JOJO HAD JUST MOVED IN WITH ME AND HAD £20 GRAND IN THE BANK FROM THE SALE OF HER FLAT IN FULHAM, SO I DECIDED TO TAKE A RISK - WITH HER MONEY.

THERE WAS NOTHING ELSE THAT HAD EVEN 50% COCOA SOLIDS, NOTHING THAT WAS ORGANIC AND NOTHING THAT TASTED AS GOOD, SO WE CHARGED INTO THIS TRIPLE NICHE.

WE SAT IN BED ONE NIGHT THINKING UP A BRAND NAME – WHOLE EARTH WAS A NO SUGAR BRAND AND HAD TO STAY THAT WAY.

I’M GLAD WE DIDN’T CALL IT ECOCHOC, ORGANICHOC OR NATUCHOC

WE WANTED A BRAND THAT SOUNDED LIKE IT HAD A GLORIOUS CONFECTIONERY HERITAGE.  IT NEEDED TO SOUND LIKE WE’D BEEN CRAFTING ARTISAN CHOCOLATE SINCE TIME IMMEMORIAL.

WE WERE ‘GREEN’ BECAUSE WE WERE ORGANIC AND ‘BLACK’ BECAUSE WE HAD THE DARKEST CHOCOLATE ON THE MARKET, SO GREEN & BLACK’S PUSHED ALL THE RIGHT BUTTONS.  AND YOU COULD PRONOUNCE IT IN ANY LANGUAGE.  SOME OF YOU HERE MAY HAVE HAD TO REPEAT THE WORDS ‘WHOLE EARTH’ SEVERAL TIMES BEFORE ANYONE UNDERSTANDS WHAT YOU’RE SAYING. AS SOON AS SHE SAID ‘GREEN & BLACK’S’ WE KNEW WE HAD OUR NAME.

THE WHOLE EARTH OFFICES WERE IN THE SHOP BELOW MY FLAT ON PORTOBELLO ROAD SO I LEAPED OUT OF BED AND MOCKED UP A DESIGN IN 10 MINUTES.

Green & Black's 1st design
Green & Black's 1st design

THE NATURAL FOOD TRADE WERE RESISTANT.  SUGAR WAS STILL A BIG NO-NO IN THE TRADE AND YOU CAN’T SWEETEN CHOCOLATE WITH APPLE JUICE..

Green & Black's 1st bar
Green & Black's 1st bar

COMMUNITY FOODS, THE BIGGEST NATURAL FOODS WHOLESALER, REFUSED TO STOCK GREEN & BLACK’S BECAUSE IT CONTAINED SUGAR.  HOWEVER, BECAUSE THEY WERE ALSO A MASTER DISTRIBUTOR FOR THE WHOLE EARTH RANGE. I URGED THEM TO RECONSIDER THEIR NO SUGAR POLICY AND THEY WERE RELUCTANTLY BLACKMAILED INTO STOCKING THE CHOCOLATE.  THAT WAS THE END OF THE NO SUGAR RULE IN THE UK NATURAL FOODS SECTOR.

WE ALSO GOT IN TO SAINSBURY’S AND SAFEWAY.

FROM THE OUTSET WE EDUCATED THE PRESS AND CONSUMERS ON THE ETHICAL ISSUES, EMPHASISING THE BENEFITS TO THE AFRICAN PRODUCERS.

IN 1992 WE WON THE FIRST ETHICAL CONSUMER AWARD AND GAINED THE IMPORTANT SUPPORT OF THE WOMEN’S ENVIRONMENTAL NETWORK, WHO HAD JUST PUBLISHED CHOCOLATE UNWRAPPED, A BOOK WHICH HIGHLIGHTED THE DREADFUL PLIGHT OF WOMEN ON LARGE COCOA PLANTATIONS AND SUGGESTED WOMEN SHOULD REFUSE TO BUY CHOCOLATE

Chocolate Unwrapped
Chocolate Unwrapped

JOJO BONDED INSTANTLY WITH BERNADETTE VALLELY, WHO FOUNDED THE NETWORK AND WE MADE SURE THAT OUR CHOCOLATE WAS AVAILABLE AT ALL THEIR EVENTS.  IF YOU JOINED THEIR NETWORK, YOUR JOINING GIFT WAS A BAR OF GREEN & BLACK’S.

WE CALLED IT GUILT – FREE CHOCOLATE.  BUT FIRST WE HAD TO EXPLAIN TO PEOPLE WHAT THEY SHOULD FEEL GUILTY ABOUT.

WE ADDRESSED MORAL GUILT - WE PAID FAIR AND FIXED PRICES AND THE GROWERS WERE NOT EXPOSED TO DANGEROUS CHEMICALS.

WE ADDRESSED SUGAR GUILT - IT WAS LOWER IN SUGAR THAN ANY OTHER CHOCOLATE, ALL THE REST WERE 50-65% SUGAR, OURS WAS ONLY 29%.

WE ADDRESSED ENVIRONMENTAL GUILT - WE WERE SHADE-GROWN ORGANIC, SO WE HELPED THE RAIN FOREST.

ABOLISHING GUILT ON CHOCOLATE-RELATED ISSUES HELPS TAKE THE EDGE OFF THIS PURITANICAL GUILT OF SELF INDULGENCE AS WELL.

A HEADLINE IN THE INDEPENDENT SUMMED IT UP: “RIGHT ON – AND IT TASTES GOOD, TOO.”

Independent on Green & Black's
Independent on Green & Black's

IN 1993 I CONTACTED SOME OLD FRIENDS AMONG THE MAYA IN BELIZE, WHOSE COCOA PLANTATIONS I HAD VISITED 5 YEARS EARLIER AND WHO WERE MEMBERS OF THE TOLEDO CACAO GROWERS ASSOCIATION.

Toledo Cacao Growers Assoc
Toledo Cacao Growers Assoc

I FOUND THAT THERE WAS AN OPPORTUNITY TO LAUNCH A PRODUCT AND A PROJECT THAT FROM THE OUTSET COULD BE DESIGNED TO BE A PERFECT EMBODIMENT OF ORGANIC AND FAIR TRADE PRINCIPLES.

WE WORKED OUT A NEW DEAL FOR A NEW PRODUCT CONCEPT - MAYA GOLD - AND MADE AN OFFER TO THE TCGA.

1. A FIVE YEAR ROLLING CONTRACT, PAYING $1.75 PER POUND

2. HELP TO OBTAIN ORGANIC CERTIFICATION.

3. A  $20000  CASH ADVANCE SO THAT THE FARMER MEMBERS WERE GUARANTEED ‘SPOT CASH’.

4. WE TRAINED KEY COOP MEMBERS IN MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTING, CORRECT FERMENTATION AND QUALITY CONTROL TO ENSURE THAT OUR ORGANIC COCOA BEANS TASTED BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE’S.

A FEW WEEKS LATER I MET MIKE DRURY OF THE FAIRTRADE FOUNDATION, WHO URGED US TO CONSIDER THE FAIRTRADE MARK.  IT HADN’T YET BEEN SEEN ON ANYTHING AT THAT TIME AND WHAT WE WERE DOING MATCHED OR EXCEEDED ALL THEIR CRITERIA, SO WE AGREED.

Maya Gold 1st packaging
Maya Gold 1st packaging

MAYA GOLD WAS LAUNCHED ON MARCH 7 1994 ON THE OXFAM STAND AT THE BBC GOOD FOOD SHOW IN LONDON.   WE DIDN’T ADVERTISE – WE DIDN’T NEED TO.  BBC NEWSROUND SENT A CAMERA CREW TO BELIZE AND CAME BACK WITH FOOTAGE OF MAYA KIDS EATING MAYA GOLD, THE FIRST TIME MANY OF THEM HAD EVER TASTED CHOCOLATE AND PROBABLY THE FIRST TIME THAT PRODUCERS OF CACAO HAD SEEN THE FINISHED PRODUCT OF THEIR EFFORTS.

THAT DATE MARKED THE BIRTH OF THE FAIRTRADE MARK AND TOOK IT FROM A WORTHY IDEA TO A SUPERMARKET SHELF REALITY, STARTING WITH SAINSBURY’S AND SOON IN ALL THE MAJORS.  CLIPPER TEAS AND SOON FOLLOWED

Fairtrade
Fairtrade

BEING FIRST WITH THE FAIRTRADE MARK GENERATED A HUGE WAVE OF PUBLICITY -

.

THE ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF MARKET SECURITY TO THE GROWERS ARE OBVIOUS.  A BONUS HAS BEEN A CASCADE OF UNFORESEEN ADDITIONAL BENEFITS – A VERITABLE FAIR TRADE VIRTUOUS CIRCLE.

Maya village
Maya village

EVERY MAYA VILLAGE IS SITED ON A RIVER, WHICH SERVES AS BATH AND LAUNDRY AND DRINKING WATER SUPPLY. SKIN DISEASES, RASHES AND BLISTERS ARE A THING OF THE PAST NOW THAT CHEMICAL USE HAS BEEN ABANDONED.

Maya bird
Maya bird

MIGRATORY BIRD POPULATIONS HAVE INCREASED DRAMATICALLY, REFLECTING INCREASED FOREST SHADE COVER AND REDUCED PESTICIDE RESIDUES.

MAYA RESERVATION LAND HAS BEEN KEPT INTACT AND THE BANK HAS NOT FORECLOSED ON THE OLD LOANS.

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parrot

THE AMERICAN AUDUBON SOCIETY OWN A SCARLET MACAW BREEDING RESERVE IN BELIZE.  THE FARMERS THERE HAVE STARTED GROWING CACAO IN ORDER TO PROTECT THE HABITAT OF THIS AREA WHERE MACAWS FROM ALL OVER CENTRAL AMERICA COME TO BREED

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fish

THE MANGROVE AND CORAL REEF WERE BECOMING SILTED UP FROM AGRICULTURAL RUNOFF AND DAMAGED BY PESTICIDES.  NOW TARPON ARE RUNNING UP THE RIVERS, ATTRACTING AMERICAN FLY FISHERMEN, ANOTHER GOOD SOURCE OF TOURIST INCOME.

OUR ENLIGHTENED SELF INTEREST PAID OFF.  MOST ENTREPRENEURS BENEFIT FROM KEEPING THEIR SUPPLIERS AND CUSTOMERS IGNORANT OF EACH OTHER.  OUR SUCCESS AROSE FROM BEING ACTIVELY TRANSPARENT.

THE SOCIAL BENEFITS WERE THERE, TOO

UNTIL WE BEGAN TRADING WITH THE MAYA, THERE WAS VIRTUALLY NO SECONDARY EDUCATION FOR CHILDREN FROM THE COCOA-GROWING VILLAGES.  TODAY, 80% OF MAYA PRIMARY SCHOOLCHILDREN GO ON TO ATTEND SECONDARY SCHOOL, AND QUITE A FEW HAVE MOVED ON TO UNIVERSITY.

Craig with Maya women
Craig with Maya women

WOMEN CONTROL THE FINAL STAGES OF CACAO PRODUCTION AS THEY DO THE FERMENTING AND DRYING.  THEY TAKE IT INTO TOWN ON MARKET DAYS AND CONVERT IT INTO CASH. THIS STRENGTHENS THE ECONOMIC POSITION OF WOMEN AND WOMEN SPEND MONEY ON HEALTH AND EDUCATION.

AN ENTREPRENEURIAL CULTURE IS EMERGING, TOO.  CYRILLA CHO, FOR EXAMPLES, RUNS A NURSERY THAT SELLS LOCAL VARIETIES OF CACAO TREES TO FARMERS, REPLACING THE UNRELIABLE HYBRIDS INTRODUCED IN THE 1980S.  SHE ALSO MAKES CHOCOLATES FROM HER OWN COCOA BEANS, WHICH ARE SOLD IN LOCAL HOTELS AND SHOPS.

Cyrilla Cho & Craig
Cyrilla Cho & Craig

ANDREW PURVIS

WE WOULD NEVER HAVE DARED TO MAKE THE CLAIMS THAT THE ARTICLE MADE ABOUT US - SOMETIMES PR IS THE ONLY WAY TO TELL A REALLY GOOD STORY.

Observer Food Monthly
Observer Food Monthly

ALL THIS HAPPENED WITHOUT US EVER ACTUALLY MAKING A BAR OF CHOCOLATE.  IN FACT I STOPPED MAKING PEANUT BUTTER AND JAM WHEN I SOLD MY EQUIPMENT TO DUERR’S IN 1988.   A FACTORY THAT MAKES THINGS IS NO MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE ROAD OR THE TRUCK THAT DELIVERS THINGS.  THE ORIGIN OF INGREDIENTS, WHEN THEY ARE ORGANIC, CLIMATE FRIENDLY, FAIRLY SOURCED AND SUSTAINABLE ARE THE ISSUES THAT CUSTOMERS AND STAKEHOLDERS CARE ABOUT.

SCALE OR RESILIENCE?

WHAT WE ACHIEVED IN BELIZE HAD MUCH WIDER RAMIFICATIONS.  INSTEAD OF BEING SEEN AS A MARGINAL AND QUIRKY APPROACH TO CACAO PRODUCTION, THE ORGANIC AND SUSTAINABLE APPROACH IS COMING TO REPLACE THE CHEMICAL DEPENDENT PLANTATION MODEL IN COFFEE, OIL PALM AND RUBBER TO NAME A FEW EXAMPLES.  THE SMALLHOLDER FARMER IS NO LONGER SEEN AS A BACKWARD PEASANT TO BE REPLACED BUT IS BENEFITING FROM A REAL SHIFT IN THE BALANCE OF POWER IN THE FOOD SUPPLY CHAIN.

UNTIL THE 1960S ALMOST ALL THE WORLD'S CACAO WAS GROWN BY SMALLHOLDER FARMERS ON HOLDINGS OF A COUPLE OF HECTARES. IN THE EARLY 1970S A MAJOR PROGRAMME OF DEVELOPING INDUSTRIAL SCALE COCOA PLANTATIONS EMERGED, WITH THE MAIN NEW LOCATIONS BEING THE MALAYSIAN PROVINCE OF SABAH AND THE REGION OF BAHIA IN NORTHEAST BRAZIL

HISTORICALLY CACAO TREES WERE PLANTED 15 FEET APART, WITH SHADE TREES IN BETWEEN.  THE SHADE TREES CAPTURE SUNLIGHT FROM THE CANOPY AND RAISE MINERALS AND WATER FROM DEEP WITHIN THE SOIL.  THE LEAF FALL FROM THESE TREES FEEDS THE CACAO TREES AND THE SHADE ALSO INHIBITS THE SPREAD OF INSECT AND FUNGAL DISEASES.  IT'S A FUNCTIONAL ECOSYSTEM.  THE NEW INDUSTRIALISED SYSTEM PLANTED TREES 8 FEET APART. THERE WERE NO SHADE TREES.  CHEMICAL FERTILISERS WERE APPLIED TO SUPPLY NUTRIENTS AND ENCOURAGE HIGHER PRODUCTION. LACK OF SHADE MADE THE TREES PRONE TO FUNGAL DISEASE.   THE HOPE WAS THAT FUNGAL DISEASES AND PESTS COULD BE CONTROLLED WITH FUNGICIDES AND INSECTICIDES. THEY COULDN’T

THE PLANTATION MODEL IS FLAWED BECAUSE ITS COSTS AND RISKS ARE EXCESSIVE

FERTILIZER AND PESTICIDES COST MONEY

CLOSE PLANTING AND REDUCED SHADE ENCOURAGES FUNGAL DISEASE

WITHIN 20 YEARS BIG PLANTATIONS FAILED ALL AROUND THE WORLD.

IN 1989 85% OF BRAZIL’S COCOA PRODUCTION WAS IN THE PROVINCE OF BAHIA.  AN OUTBREAK OF THE FUNGAL DISEASE WITCHES BROOM WIPED OUT MOST OF THE PREVAILING MONOCULTURE CACAO PRODUCTION. COCOA PRODUCTION FELL 90% FROM PREVIOUS LEVELS

IN MALAYSIA THE COCOA PRODUCTION AREA FELL FROM 414000 HECTARES IN THE LATE 1980S TO A CURRENT LEVEL OF 20,000 HECTARES, A 95% REDUCTION.

SO WHERE ARE WE NOW?  LEADING CHOCOLATE PROCESSORS HAVE INTRODUCED INITIATIVES TO BUILD RESILIENCE BACK INTO THEIR SUPPLY CHAIN.   THESE PROGRAMMES ARE WELL FUNDED

MONDELEZ, OWNERS OF CÔTE D'OR, GREEN & BLACK'S AND CADBURY, HAVE INITIATED THE COCOA LIFE PARTNERSHIP, WITH $400 MILLION FUNDING AND A 10 YEAR DEVELOPMENT PLAN TO ACHIEVE THE FOLLOWING GOALS, IMPLEMENTED IN COLLABORATION WITH WWF AND ANTI-SLAVERY INTERNATIONAL.

INCREASE SMALLHOLDER INCOMES BY IMPROVING CACAO YIELDS AND QUALITY.

INTRODUCE CACAO VARIETIES THAT THRIVE WITHOUT AGRICHEMICALS

TRAIN FARMERS IN TRADITIONAL SKILLS SUCH AS SHADE MANAGEMENT, PRUNING, NATURAL FERTILITY BUILDING AND DISEASE CONTROL

ENCOURAGE DEMOCRATIC FARMER COOPERATIVES, CUT OUT MIDDLEMEN AND ESTABLISH LONG TERM SECURE CONTRACTS WITH FARMER COOPS

THIS IS ENLIGHTENED SELF INTEREST – BUT ALSO SATISFIES INVESTORS WHO CARE ABOUT SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY AND SATISFIES CONSUMERS WHO NOW EXPECT ALL BRANDS TO OPERATE AT A HIGHER MORAL LEVEL THAN HITHERTO.  BARRY CALLEBAUT HAVE A SIMILAR SCHEME

Cacao
Cacao

MARS HAVE ALSO DONE A WONDERFUL THING

THE MARS COCOA GENOME PROJECT HAS MAPPED THE ENTIRE GENOME OF DIFFERENT VARIETIES OF CACAO AND HAS PUT THIS INFORMATION FIRMLY IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN. RESILIENT CACAO VARIETIES ARE BEING DEVELOPED AND NO OPPORTUNISTIC COMPANY LIKE MONSANTO WILL BE ABLE TO CAPTURE THIS INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY FOR THEIR PRIVATE GAIN.

SMALLHOLDERS ARE THE BACKBONE OF ANY DEMOCRACY. PEOPLE WHO OWN THEIR OWN BUSINESS OR THEIR OWN LAND CHERISH FREEDOM, INDEPENDENCE AND HUMAN RIGHTS. INDUSTRY WILL NO LONGER NEED LARGE ARMIES OF WORKERS AS AUTOMATION TAKES OVER MOST MANUFACTURING AND ASSEMBLY OPERATIONS.  BUT THEY WILL STILL NEED CUSTOMERS FOR THEIR PRODUCTS.  SMALLHOLDERS, WITH DECENT INCOMES BASED ON FAIR PRICES, REPRESENT THAT FUTURE MARKET. THE ERA OF CHEAP FOOD BASED ON EXTERNALISING ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS SUCH AS CLIMATE CHANGE AND SOIL DEGRADATION IS COMING TO AN END.  RESILIENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY WILL BE ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENTS OF FUTURE FOOD PRODUCTION.  THE CACAO EXAMPLE IS AN EARLY INDICATOR OF THE FUTURE OF MOST FORMS OF AGRICULTURE.

CLIMATE AND FOOD SECURITY

MANY PEOPLE THINK THAT IT’S FACTORIES AND AIRPLANES THAT ARE CAUSING GLOBAL WARMING. IN FACT LAND CLEARANCE AND AGRICULTURE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR NEARLY HALF OF ALL THE GREENHOUSE GAS INCREASE SINCE 1850.

Original Louisiana
Original Louisiana

MY PLATTDEUTSCH FARMING ANCESTORS BEGAN TO CONTRIBUTE TO THIS PROCESS IN THE 19TH CENTURY, PLOUGHING VIRGIN PRAIRIE IN WISCONSIN – THE BLUE ON THE MAP AND THEN DOING THE SAME IN NEBRASKA, IN THE GREEN PART, WHERE I WAS BORN.

trees cut down
trees cut down

BY THE 1930S 80% OF THE TREES IN THIS TERRITORY HAD BEEN REMOVED.

REGULAR PLOUGHING AND CHEMICAL FERTILIZER USE ALONG WITH THE INTRODUCTION OF TRACTORS EXHAUSTED THE SOIL CARBON CONTENT.  IT FELL FROM 100 TONNES PER HECTARE TO 5 TONNES PER HECTARE. THE CARBON RICH HUMUS OF THE BLACK SOIL DISAPPEARED AS CARBON DIOXIDE.  THE SOIL LOST ITS WATER HOLDING CAPACITY, WHICH WAS IN ITS ORGANIC MATTER

THE RESULT WAS INEVITABLE

Floods
Floods

IN 1927 A PERIOD OF PROLONGED RAIN LED TO THE GREAT FLOOD OF THE MISSISSIPPI.  WATER CRESTED AS MUCH AS 9 METRES ABOVE THE FLOOD STAGE AND A MILLION AMERICANS BECAME REFUGEES.  INSTEAD OF REPLANTING TREES, THE GOVERNMENT BUILT LEVEES AND DAMS TO CONTAIN FUTURE FLOODING.

THEN IN THE 1930S CAME DROUGHT.

Dust bowl
Dust bowl

AN AREA LARGER THAN ALL OF THE BRITISH ISLES TURNED TO DUST, EVERY SUMMER, YEAR AFTER YEAR.  A MILLION REFUGEES MOVED OUT – THE ‘OKIES’ OF JOHN STEINBECK’S BOOK THE GRAPES OF WRATH.

THIS ALARMED PEOPLE IN EUROPE AND IN BRITAIN, WHO FEARED THE SAME THING WOULD HAPPEN IF FARMING WAS INDUSTRIALISED ALONG AMERICAN LINES. IT WAS A MAJOR FACTOR IN THE FOUNDING AND NAMING OF THE SOIL ASSOCIATION

Soil Association founder
Soil Association founder

THE SAME PROCESS HAS SINCE HAPPENED IN THE CHINA, INDIA, BRAZIL, UKRAINE, KAZAKHSTAN AND AUSTRALIA.  THE RATE OF CARBON EMISSION HAS DECREASED ONLY BECAUSE OUR SOIL CARBON STOCKS ARE SO DEPLETED THERE IS LITTLE LEFT TO WASTE.  BUT WE CAN RESTORE CARBON TO THE SOIL.  IT IS A BANK THAT WE'VE ALMOST EXHAUSTED OF CAPITAL, BUT WE CAN REBUILD ITS.  AS A CARBON STORE IT IS UNRIVALLED AND ALSO SECURE - CARBON IN THE OCEANS CAN RETURN TO THE AIR AS OCEANS HEAT UP. CARBON IN FORESTS CAN BE CHOPPED DOWN AND BURNED.  CARBON IN SOIL STAYS THERE.

IN 1995 THE PRINCE OF WALES DELIVERED A LADY EVE BALFOUR MEMORIAL LECTURE CALLED ‘COUNTING THE COST OF INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE.’  I REALISED THAT IF THE CARBON EMISSIONS SAVINGS OF FARMING ORGANICALLY WERE PRICED INTO THE COST OF FOOD AT THE REAL COST OF EMITTED CARBON THEN ORGANIC FOOD WOULD BE CHEAPER THAN INDUSTRIALLY PRODUCED FOOD.

400 OF THE WORLD'S LEADING AGRONOMISTS CAME TO THE SAME CONCLUSION 4 YEARS AGO.

IAASTD
IAASTD

-

  • Stop subsidies
  • Put human health first
  • Green Revolution had unintended consequences
  • Genetic Engineering a problem, not a solution
  • Little time left
  • Protect our agricultural capital (soil)
  • Support small farmers and diverse ecosystems
  • Study and learn from traditional farming
  • Reward farmers who prevent climate change

THIS REPORT IS NOW THE MAIN DETERMINANT OF UN POLICY ON AGRICULTURE.

I’VE HIGHLIGHTED THE LAST POINT – TO REWARD FARMERS WHO PREVENT CLIMATE CHANGE

Industrial Farm – 12 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food
Industrial Farm – 12 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of food
Organic Farm
Organic Farm
Farmer
Farmer

Farmer with a hoe:    120 times more energy-efficient than an organic farmer

                                   240 times more energy-efficient than an industrial farmer

AN INDUSTRIAL FARM USES 12 CALORIES OF FOSSIL FUEL TO PRODUCE ONE CALORIE OF FOOD – WE ARE EATING OIL

AN ORGANIC FARMER USES HALF AS MUCH ENERGY TO PRODUCE THE SAME AMOUNT OF FOOD ENERGY

A FARMER WITH A HOE USES ONE CALORIE OF THEIR OWN ENERGY TO PRODUCE 20 CALORIES OF FOOD ENERGY, SO IS 120 TIMES MORE EFFICIENT IN ENERGY TERMS THAN AN ORGANIC FARMER AND 240 TIMES MORE EFFICIENT THAN AN INDUSTRIAL FARM

ORGANIC ISN'T PERFECT - IT STILL DEPENDS TOO MUCH ON FOSSIL FUELS, BUT AT LEAST IT PUTS SOMETHING BACK IN EXCHANGE FOR WHAT IT TAKES OUT.

OBVIOUSLY WE CAN’T ALL GO BACK TO HOEING THE SOIL, BUT WHAT IF THE WHOLE WORLD JUST WENT ORGANIC?

Farming Systems Trial
Farming Systems Trial

Rodale Institute 30 year trial results

  1. Organic uses 45% less energy
  2. Average yields match conventional (soybeans/corn)
  3. C sequestration 1 MT/ha (3.7 T CO2/ha) per annu

A 30-YEAR TRIAL IN PENNSYLVANIA SHOWS THAT ORGANIC FARMING CONTINUOUSLY SEQUESTERS 1 TONNE OF CARBON PER HECTARE PER ANNUM.

WHAT WOULD THIS MEAN GLOBALLY?

- USA arable: 172 Million Ha

Global arable: 1.4 Bn Ha

US is 1/8 of Global farmland

Organicc
Organicc

- USA in Metric:         Per Annum

- Conventional:  .45 Gt Co2 emitted

- If Organic:       .50 Gt CO2 sequestered

- Worldwide  Per Annum

- Conventional:  3.6 Gt CO2 emitted

- If Organic:       4    Gt CO2 sequestered

- Net improvement 7.2 Gigatonnes

- Net annual CO2 growth 2013: 5.5 Gt CO2

- Good  - but can we do better?

IF EVERY ONE OF OUR 1.4 BILLION HECTARES OF ARABLE LAND WAS ORGANIC THERE WOULD BE A NET REDUCTION OF 7 BILLION TONNES OF CARBON DIOXIDE TAKEN OUT OF THE ATMOSPHERE ANNUALLY – ENOUGH TO STABILISE AND REVERSE GREENHOUSE GAS LEVELS.

THE CLIMATE COST OF INDUSTRIAL FARMING

  • 7,000,000,000 tonnes CO2 p.a. difference
  • 1,400,000,000 ha arable land
  • = 5 tonnes CO2 per Ha per annum
  • The real cost of CO2 emitted is €70 tonne
  • €350 per ha cost benefit from organic farming

IF WE TAX CARBON EMISSIONS AND REWARD CARBON SEQUESTRATION ORGANIC FOOD IS CHEAPER

HOW MUCH CHEAPER?

WHAT WOULD THE IMPACT BE ON THE COST OF FOOD?

THE COST OF A TONNE OF CO2 EMITTED IS ESTIMATED AT BEING AT LEAST €70 PER TONNE TO FUTURE GENERATIONS.  CARBON MARKETS CURRENTLY PRICE IT AT BETWEEN ONLY €3 and €20 PER TONNE.

CARBON TAXES FACE FIERCE RESISTANCE FROM OIL, AGRIBUSINESS, MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL AND TRANSPORTATION LOBBIES WHO UNDERSTAND WHAT CARBON PRICING WILL DO THE MARKET FOR PETROLEUM, AGRICHEMICALS, INDUSTRIAL FOOD, WAR AND TRANSPORT.

BUT THE PARIS CLIMATE TALKS IN 2015 WILL BE A TURNING POINT.

THE 1994 KYOTO PROTOCOLS EXCLUDED CHINA AND INDIA AND DEVELOPING COUNTRIES AND EXCLUDED AGRICULTURE, FORESTRY AND TRANSPORTATION.  THE USA REFUSED TO SIGN, SO EUROPE ATTEMPTED TO COMPLY ALL ON ITS OWN.  IT WAS HARD FOR EUROPEAN MANUFACTURERS TO COMPETE WITH COUNTRIES THAT EMITTED UNLIMITED CARBON, LIKE CHINA.  THE VOLUNTARY MARKET HAS GROWN ANNUALLY, SUPPORTED BY COMPANIES LIKE WESSANEN WHO OPERATE SOME OF THEIR BRANDS, INCLUDING WHOLE EARTH, AS CARBON NEUTRAL.  THE COOL FARM INSTITUTE HAS LAUNCHED A WEB APP SUPPORTED BY PEPSICO, UNILEVER, HEINEKEN AND MARKS AND SPENCER THAT WILL ENABLE FARMERS TO MEASURE THEIR CARBON FOOTPRINT.  SO IS THERE HOPE, OR DO WE FACE ANOTHER 20 YEARS OF INACTION?

WHAT’S DIFFERENT TODAY?

EUROPE STILL HAS AN EMISSIONS TRADING SCHEME.  CALIFORNIA INTRODUCED ONE A YEAR AGO. QUEBEC INTRODUCED A SCHEME THAT NOW FREELY EXCHANGES AT PARITY WITH CALIFORNIA. CHINA NOW HAS 8 ACTIVE CARBON EXCHANGES IN ALL ITS MAIN REGIONS AND IS NEGOTIATING TO HAVE PRICE PARITY WITH CALIFORNIA.  THE NEW ENGLAND STATES ARE JOINING AND THE MIDWESTERN STATES SEE A HIGH CARBON PRICE AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR WIND ENERGY.

SO AT PARIS 2015 THERE WILL BE CHINA, MOST OF THE US, CANADA AND THE EU ALREADY PRACTICING A CARBON TRADING REGIME AND PUSHING FOR A GLOBAL AGREEMENT.

AFTER PARIS THERE WILL BE A MORE ROBUST CARBON PRICING REGIME AND IT IS REALISTIC TO EXPECT IT TO CHANGE THE WAY WE FARM

pic42
pic42

WE HAVE TO MOVE SOON.  125 MILLION HECTARES A YEAR OF FARMLAND GO OUT OF PRODUCTION EACH YEAR.  AT THAT RATE TODAY’S FARM LAND WILL BE GONE IN 110 YEARS.

pic43
pic43

THE DEMAND FOR CHEAP MEAT HAS SEVERAL DANGEROUS EFFECTS AS INTENSIVE MEAT PRODUCTION RELIES ON ANTIBIOTICS TO KEEP ANIMALS ALIVE IN SHITTY CONDITIONS WHERE THEY WOULD NORMALLY DIE OF DISEASE.

  1. THE LOSS OF FOREST WHICH TURNS CARBON SINKS INTO CARBON EMISSIONS
  2. OBESITY, BOWEL CANCER AND OTHER DISEASES OF EXCESS MEAT CONSUMPTION
  3. THE EMERGENCE OF E.COLI H7/O157, A VIRULENT MUTATION OF E.COLI THAT KILLS 100 AMERICANS A YEAR AND SICKENS 265,000
  4. FAILURE OF ANTIBIOTICS – 80% OF ANTIBIOTIC USE IS ON FARMS AND EMERGING SUPERBUGS THAT ARE ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANT RAISE THE SPECTRE OF A MUTATION OF BUBONIC PLAGUE THAT COULD BE FATAL TO BILLIONS. BACTERIA LEARN FROM EACH OTHER AND TRANSFER RESISTANCE TO ANTIBIOTICS. ALL FOR A CHEAP HOT DOG

Who’s Feeding the World?

- 70% of world’s food grown on farms smaller than 5 hectares

                         NO SUBSIDIES

- 30% of the world’s food grown on industrial farms

$350 Billion yearly SUBSIDIES

THE PRICE WE PAY IN CLIMATE DISRUPTION SOIL EROSION AND DISEASE RISK FOR CHEAP MEAT AND OTHER FOOD IS DISPROPORTIONATE.  MORE THAN 2/3 OF THE WORLD’S FOODS IS GROWN ON SMALL FARMS OF LESS THAN 5 HECTARES, YET ALL THE AGRICULTURAL SUBSIDIES GO TO INDUSTRIAL FARMS THAT CAUSE THE MOST HARM AND ONLY PRODUCE 1/3 OF THE WORLD’S FOOD

Modern Farmer
Modern Farmer

A YEAR AGO IN THE UNITED STATES A MAGAZINE CALLED MODERN FARMER APPEARED.  IT IS REACHING OUT TO THE NEW ‘RURBANISTAS’ – PEOPLE WHO MAKE A LIFESTYLE CHOICE TO OWN AND WORK SMALL FARMS – THE GROW-YOUR-OWN MOVEMENT HAS MOVED FROM PEOPLE’S GARDENS TO LARGER FIELDS AND REFLECTS THE FAILURE OF INDUSTRIAL AGRICULTURE, WHICH CANNOT SURVIVE WITHOUT SUBSIDIES.  CAN IT ALSO REPRESENT THE FUTURE OF SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE?

DROP SHOP

-How will Wholesalers operate when customers shop online and then collect delivery from a Drop Shop?

Drop Shop
Drop Shop

ANOTHER AREA WHERE THE FOOD INDUSTRY CAN SAVE MONEY AND CARBON IS IN DISTRIBUTION.  ONLINE SHOPPING IN THE UK REACHED 20% LAST YEAR.  THE DAY OF THE SUPPLY CHAIN RUNNING FROM MANUFACTURER TO DISTRIBUTOR TO RETAILER TO CONSUMER IS COMING TO AN END.  WHAT WILL REPLACE IT?

THE ‘DROP SHOP’ CONCEPT IS EMERGING, WHERE A CUSTOMER ORDERS THEIR FOOD ONLINE AND HAS IT DELIVERED TO A LOCAL OUTLET.  THE CUSTOMER PICKS UP THE ORDER WHEN READY. THE RETAILER HAS LOW STOCKHOLDING COST, LOW STAFFING COSTS AND NO SHOPLIFTING.  THIS EMERGING MODEL, CALLED DISINTERMEDIATION OR, IN PLAIN ENGLISH ‘CUTTING OUT THE MIDDLEMEN’ HAS IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WESSANEN OWNERSHIP OF DISTRIBUTION COMPANIES AND ITS PARTNERSHIPS WITH RETAILERS. IT WILL ALSO BUST OPEN THE DIFFERENTIATION IN BRANDING BETWEEN SUPERMARKET ORGANIC BRANDS AND NATURAL FOOD ORGANIC BRANDS – THE NATURAL FOODS CUSTOMER WANTS TO AVOID SUPERMARKETS BUT IS HAPPY TO ORDER ONLINE.

WHEN CARBON PRICING COMES IN THIS MODEL WILL BECOME EVEN MORE COST EFFECTIVE AND DISRUPTIVE.

SO WHAT AM I DOING ABOUT CARBON AND SOIL?

Corn Flakes Future Forests
Corn Flakes Future Forests

Future Forests became The Carbon Neutral Company

Carbon Neutral Company
Carbon Neutral Company

IN 1996 WHOLE EARTH CORN FLAKES BECAME THE FIRST CARBON NEUTRAL FOOD PRODUCT.  WE DISCOVERED THAT, BECAUSE IT WAS ORGANIC AND WHOLEGRAIN THAT WE DIDN’T HAVE TO PLANT MANY TREES TO BALANCE OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT.  THAT GOT ME GOING ON THE LOW CARBON FARMING WARPATH.

MY NEW BUSINESS VENTURE IS AIMED AT ACCELERATING THE REMOVAL OF CARBON FROM THE ATMOSPHERE AND REBUILDING SOIL CARBON.

THERE IS AN FAST AND EFFECTIVE WAY TO REBUILD SOIL CARBON.  THIS IS TO MAKE CHARCOAL OUT OF ORGANIC MATTER SUCH AS WOOD CHIPS AND AGRICULTURAL WASTES LIKE RICE HUSKS, COFFEE HUSKS AND SHREDDED PALM LEAVES. THEN YOU PLOUGH THIS CHARCOAL INTO THE GROUND, WHERE IT IS STABLE FOR A HUNDRED YEARS OR SO. THE PRODUCT IS CALLED BIOCHAR, TO DIFFERENTIATE IT FROM THE BARBEQUE CHARCOAL

BIOCHAR DELIVERS SAVINGS IN WATER COSTS AND INPUT COSTS AND PROVIDES HEALTHIER PLANTS WITH HIGHER YIELDS.

RAR IN PORTUGAL WILL HAVE 105,000 OF THEIR 250,000 SQUARE METRES OF GREENHOUSE CROPS RAISED WITH BIOCHAR THIS YEAR. THEY DO THIS FOR ECONOMIC REASONS, BUT THE CARBON CREDITS ARE MEASURABLE .

WHEN THE CARBON BENEFITS CAN BE MONETISED, IT WILL BE EVEN MORE PROFITABLE . THIS IS ALREADY HAPPENING ON THE VOLUNTARY MARKET.  WE HAVE BEEN IN DISCUSSIONS WITH THE CARBON NEUTRAL COMPANY ABOUT THIS

Biochar
Biochar

Biochar

What is it?

• Charcoal made to be used as a soil improver

What does it do?

•Increases microbiological populations

•High surface area adsorbs mineral nutrients

•Reduces plant disease

•Improves soil fertility

•Reduces fertiliser use

•Help soils retain moisture

•Increases crop yields

•Improves soil structure

•Reduces soil greenhouse gas emissions N2O

•Long term carbon sequestration

IN A NUTSHELL, BIOCHAR SAVES MONEY ON INPUT COSTS, INCREASES YIELDS, MAKES PLANTS HEALTHIER AND SEQUESTERS CARBON

NOW WE’RE MAKING IT REAL

Making it Real

Production

Projects

Products

WE DEVISED A SERIES OF MODIFICATIONS TO A TRADITIONAL CHARCOAL KILN THAT MORE THAN DOUBLES YIELDS TO 25-30% AND REDUCES EMISSIONS BY 80%.

Carbon Gold logo
Carbon Gold logo
biochar kiln
biochar kiln

THERE ARE TEN OF THESE KILNS IN BELIZE, WHERE CACAO GROWERS WHO SUPPLY GREEN & BLACK'S USE THEM TO GENERATE BIOCHAR THAT IMPROVES YIELDS AND REDUCES DISEASE.

cacau
cacau

AS WELL AS SALES TO UK GROWERS AND PRODUCERS, WE OFFER BIOCHAR TO HOME GARDENERS.

biochar3
biochar3

SO WE’VE LAUNCHED GROCHAR, A BLEND OF BIOCHAR WITH MYCORRHIZAL FUNGI, WORMCASTS AND SEAWEED. THE PRODUCTS ARE APPROVED FOR USE IN ORGANIC FARMING.

TRIALS WITH BARTLETT TREE EXPERTS THIS YEAR SHOW EXCITING RESULTS IN CONTROLLING HONEY FUNGUS IN BUCKINGHAM PALACE GARDENS, ASH DIEBACK, PHYTOPHTHORA AND IN ESTABLISHING BEECH HEDGING.  TREE DISEASES ARE AN EXPANDING PROBLEM – BIOCHAR OFFERS A SOLUTION.

The Gulf
The Gulf

LAST WEEK I MET IN ABU DHABI WITH THE LANDSCAPE CONTRACTORS FOR THE NEW PRESIDENTIAL PALACE. THEY WANT 1700 TONNES OF BIOCHAR FOR THE PALACE GARDENS.  THIS PROJECT WILL BE A MODEL FOR REGREENING THE DESERTS OF THE ARABIAN REGION AND A MODEL FOR LAND REHABILITATION

The Climate Trust
The Climate Trust

Biochar : Carbon Dioxide

1 tonne : 2.35 tonnes

VCS
VCS

Biochar : Carbon Dioxide

1 tonne : 3 tonnes

Carbon Gold logo
Carbon Gold logo

Biochar : Carbon Dioxide

1 tonne : 6 tonnes

(Biochar made in Carbon Gold Kiln)

ONE DAY THERE WILL BE CREDITS FOR CARBON.  EVERY TONNE OF BIOCHAR WILL GENERATE FROM 3 TO 6 TONNES CO2 OFFSETS.

BUILDING TRUST IN A BRAND

ONE WAY TO BUILD TRUST IS THROUGH THIRD PARTY CERTIFICATION.  NOBODY TRUSTS BRAND OWNERS ANY MORE – THAT’S WHY INDEPENDENT CERTIFICATION OF ORGANIC, FAIR TRADE, CARBON NEUTRAL OR GMO FREE IS THE WAY FORWARD.   SOME COMPANIES TRY TO SELF-CERTIFY, BUT IT DOESN’T GENERATE THE SAME LEVEL OF TRUST. THE HORSEMEAT SCANDAL, COLLAPSING FACTORIES IN BANGLA DESH AND GMOS IN BABY FOOD ALL POINT TO THE NEED FOR THIRD PARTY CERTIFICATION

UNFORTUNATELY IN THE ORGANIC WORLD WE HAVE A PROBLEM – FAR TOO MANY CERTIFIERS.

EMPOWERING CUSTOMERS: Operation Raleigh and Community Development in Dominican Republic

Operation Raleigh and Community Development in Dominican Republic
Operation Raleigh and Community Development in Dominican Republic
Volunteers
Volunteers

THERE ARE 430 DIFFERENT CERTIFIERS OF ORGANIC FOOD IN THE WORLD.  THERE IS ONLY ONE FAIRTRADE, ONE SLOW FOOD, ONE MARINE STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL AND ONE FORESTRY STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL.

THE ORGANIC MOVEMENT HAS ITS ROOTS IN ALL THESE INDEPENDENT CERTIFIERS BUT THE TIME HAS COME TO BRING THEM TOGETHER UNDER ONE BANNER IN ORDER TO ENSURE THE INTEGRITY OF THE ORGANIC ‘BRAND’.  JUST ONE ROTTEN APPLE IN THIS BARREL OF 430 CERTIFIERS CAN DAMAGE THE CREDIBILITY OF ALL ORGANIC FOOD BECAUSE EACH CERTIFIER RELIES ON THE DOCUMENTATION OF THE OTHER ONES.  WE HAVE ALL HAD CLOSE SHAVES WITH ORGANIC PRODUCTS OF DUBIOUS AUTHENTICITY.

THE MANY DIFFERENT CERTIFIERS NEED TO HARMONISE THEIR STANDARDS, CREATE A HARMONISED DATA BASE OF ALL THEIR INSPECTION AND CERTIFICATION DATA AND CLOSE THE LOOPHOLES THAT ALLOW FRAUD.  AT THE SOIL ASSOCIATION WE HOPE TO FORM CLOSER ALLIANCES WITH OTHER CERTIFIERS – WHAT WE SHARE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN OUR COMPETITION FOR BUSINESS.  ORGANIC COMPANIES SHOULD ACTIVELY SUPPORT AN INITIATIVE LIKE THIS AS THE VALUE OF YOUR BRANDS RELIES HEAVILY ON TRUST.

LET ME CLOSE WHERE I BEGAN, WITH A PROPOSED SYMBOL THAT COULD HARMONISE ALL THE DIFFERENT ORGANIC CERTIFICATION BRANDS.

Harmony Logo
Harmony Logo

WITH CARBON PRICING, INCREASINGLY STRINGENT CONTROLS ON HEAVY METALS IN FOODS, THE NEED TO CONTROL THE MEAT INDUSTRY AND ITS DRUG DEPENDENCY, SOIL DEGRADATION AND THE TREND TOWARDS VEGETARIANISM AND VEGANISM THE WESSANEN COMPANIES ARE WELL POSITIONED TO CAPITALISE ON THE FUNDAMENTAL CHANGES THAT ARE TAKING PLACE GLOBALLY.  BUT THIS WILL ALSO HERALD AN INVASION OF YOUR TERRITORY BY COMPANIES THAT HITHERTO HAVE

THANKS

CRAIG

Taking Biochar to Market

IBI Sonoma

Biochar – Farming Carbon

Craig Sams Founder and Executive Chairman

May 8 2012

Louisiana Territory - Virgin Prairie

DUST BOWL 1935 Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska

Eve Balfour Founded Soil Association 1946

Johannesburg April 2008 400 experts Report:

Stop subsidies Put human health first Green Revolution had unintended consequences Genetic Engineering a problem, not a solution Little time left Protect our agricultural capital (soil) Support small farmers and diverse ecosystems Study and learn from traditional farming

Reward farmers who prevent climate change

Carbon Farming Efficiency Energy needed to produce 1 calorie of food:

Industrial Farmer: 12 calories fossil fuel Organic Farmer: 6 calories fossil fuel

(Man with a hoe: 1 calorie of energy produces 20 calories of food)

Rodale Institute 30 year trial results

  1. Organic uses 45% less energy
  2. Average yields match conventional (soybeans/corn)
  3. C sequestration 1 MT/ha (3.7 T CO2/ha) per annum

WE DECIDED TO FOCUS ON ORGANIC GROWERS

USA arable: 172 Million Ha Global arable: 1.4 Bn Ha US is 1/8 of Global farmland

Source: Pimentel Cornell

USA in Metric:

Conventional: If Organic:

If Worldwide

Per Annum

.45 Gt Co2 emitted .75 Gt CO2 sequestered

Per Annum

Conventional: 3.6 Gt Co2 emitted If Organic: 6Gt CO2 sequestered

Good - but can we do better? Biochar could double the figure – if all farming was organic

Making it Real and Creating Routes to Market

Production Projects Products

Carbon Gold

Biochar Kiln (Near Fairlight)

66% yield increase

Up to 90% emissions reduction

Farm-scale 10 sold overseas 5 sold in UK Order pipeline

Carbon Gold Biochar Kilns

CG Tilting Ring Kiln 10m3

CG Tilting Ring Kiln Array

• Skid mounted and semi-automatic • Production capacity 1 tonne/day

• Permanent site •Production capacity of 3.5 tonnes/day

Confidential and Proprietary Information of Carbon Gold Limited.

First UK Commercial production E.Sussex September 2010

Trials: Little Gem lettuces Trial by: Stephanie Donaldson – Gardening Editor Country Living

25th August 2011 23rd September 2011

Replacing Peat

“Delfland Plants ran trials on Carbon Gold’s biochar-based seed compost on 5,000 plants – a mixture of brassicas, lettuce, rainbow chard and red mustard.

The trials ran alongside a control batch of each of these plants using Klassman, our peat-based seed compost of choice.

Carbon Gold’s seed compost produced the same excellent results as our normal seed compost choice and it performed as well in terms of germination and growth rate

We would be happy to use biochar-based compost products for a specific range of vegetable plugs for growers, using Carbon Gold’s excellent product range”

John Overoorde, CEO Delfland Plants

Trial results starting to appear:l

6 July 2012

Trials Oversight

GroChar + Cacao = fruit within 3 years Normal maturation time: 7 years

Slash and burn farming replaced with Slash and char

Rolling it out: UNDP Supporting crop trials and biochar production with $50,000 grant, followed by $500,000 when trials complete

Pipeline Dominican Republic – Cacao –

Honduras - Coffee Ghana – Cacao – Kuapa Kokoo

Partnering for Biochar PRO NATURA PARTNERSHIP

Strong Brand Values

Corporate Brand: Commercial, track record, market leader, global

Product Brand: Tested, trusted, competitive

- Soil Association Certified for organic use - Peat-free - Organic ingredients or from FSC certified woodland

Positioning

Not competing with subsidies CGW or externalised cost peat

Reposition as long term Investment

Branded Products

Design and Packaging: Iconic, Challenger, Disruptive, Engaging

On Sale in Garden Centres, Waitrose, Amazon and other Online suppliers

Replacing Peat

250g Tube GroChar Soil Improver

GroChar Merchandiser

Stock Holding : 60 x 1kg GroChar Tubes

Mechandiser Supplied FOC with 100 Tubes

Stock Value - £290.00

1kg Tube GroChar Soil Improver

8ltr Peat Free Seed Compost

Mixed Merchandiser

Stock Holding :

77 x 1kg GroChar Tubes 80 x 8ltr Seed Compost 42 x 20ltr All Purpose

Merchandiser Supplied FOC

Stock Value - £547.20

All prices quoted are exclusive of VAT

20ltr Peat Free All Purpose Compost

Sales Contact : Nigel Clarke Tel : 01476-530374 Mob : 07798-815832 E : sales@donum.biz

J

J

oi

Advertising

GroChar is packed with all the good stuff your soil needs to give you happier, healthier plants. Its unique biochar complex supercharges your soil – bringing it to life, delivering more nutrients to speed up plant growth. And it reduces your carbon footprint.

GroChar is packed with all the good stuff your soil needs to give you happier, healthier plants. Its unique biochar complex supercharges your soil – bringing it to life, delivering more nutrients to speed up plant growth. And it reduces your carbon footprint.

oin the movement for better soil at carbongold.com

n the movement for better soil at carbongold.com

Closeup of Leaflet

PR Activity Cuttings

Catastrophic market conditions

Lucky we didn’t have good sales – stock overhang crisis and default risk But now we know what sells, key price points Rate of sale in 30 typical garden centres

Extrapolate to brand value and net sales value

2013 Sales forecast

 

From Green & Black's to Blackened Greens

Here's the story of how I moved from dark chocolate to even darker materials - biochar

Back in 1995 the Prince of Wales delivered the Lady Eve Balfour Memorial Lecture on the theme of ‘Counting the Cost of Industrial Agriculture.’ He argued that if you incorporate the externalised costs of non-organic farming, such as nitrate pollution, gender-bending herbicides in the water supply, biodiversity loss and the climate change cost of greenhouse gases (from nitrous oxides and soil carbon emissions) the real cost of non-organic food would nearly double.

A year later Dan Morrell of Future Forests (later to become the Carbon Neutral Company) encouraged me to go carbon neutral with Whole Earth’s organic wholegrain cornflakes. The whole life cycle carbon footprint of the cornflakes was calculated by independent experts who found that it was surprisingly low: because organic farmers increase rather than reduce the stored carbon in soil, this offset much of the other carbon cost of the cornflakes.

By now it was pretty obvious to me that the sooner we could get policymakers to force us to include the cost of greenhouse gas emissions in the cost of food the sooner we would all be eating organic food, because it would usually be cheaper.

Roll on 14 years to 2009 – the climate negotiations in Copenhagen have soil carbon and forest carbon on the agenda. Lord Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the Bank of England and author of the Stern Review that put the cost of every tonne of carbon we emit today at £140 for future generations (currently carbon markets value a tonne of carbon at £11) has said that any future climate agreement has to be ‘universal and equitable.’ In other words, no cheating, no get-outs, no let-outs, no sacred cows. That means that all countries and all activities, including agriculture, forestry and transportation must be included in the new climate regime that begins in 2012. Hitherto only Europe has complied and then only for the heavy industries that emit half of our greenhouse gases – farming and transport have been excluded. But no longer.

2 years ago I invited Dan Morrell to join me in a new venture: Carbon Gold. What do we do? For a start, we believe biofuels are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Every bit of biomass carbon is too precious to waste by burning it. At Carbon Gold we aim to capture woody material such as waste biomass, forestry co-products and tree prunings and convert it into charcoal. But we call it ‘biochar.’ Why? Because we don’t burn it, thereby putting the carbon back into the atmosphere as CO2. Once we’ve made the biochar we blend it with fertility-building clays and composts and add it to the soil. Biochar is a wonderful soil conditioner: it improves drainage but also prevents soil drying out; it reduces the leaching of nutrients from soil by rainfall; it provides 5-Star accommodation for beneficial soil fungi and bacteria, increasing their populations; it improves soil structure and aggregation; it helps suppress soil-borne diseases that are harmful to plants and biochar helps raise the pH of acid soils. Universities around the world are gearing up to do biochar research that will more precisely quantify its benefits. These vary depending on soil, climate and the amount of biochar applied to soil.

Meanwhile at Carbon Gold we are busily making biochar and selling the carbon credits from avoided emissions as well as selling the biochar as a soil improver. In Belize cacao farmers produce biochar that is blended with compost and used by banana growers to reduce their dependence on fungicides and irrigation. In East Sussex we are regenerating ancient chestnut coppice woodland and producing organic biochar which we use to produce “Gro-Char” peat-free compost which will be sold through garden centres. Garden Organic members will be trialling it in various applications during the 2010 season. In Mozambique we are partnering with a conservation organisation to help small farmers produce biochar, encouraging them to protect their forests and improve their soil fertility. On my own smallholding near Hastings there is a magnificent peach tree dripping with perfect fruit that had its base covered with biochar last February. The ones that didn’t get biochar haven’t done so well, peach leaf curl was worse for them. My biochar potatoes still show no signs of blight, while everyone else’s have suffered.

I feel like I’m still in the food business (and I have made a delicious risotto nero charbonara that delighted dinner guests recently), I’ve just moved my focus towards food security.

Bio-Fools

Biofuels are causing environmental disaster. Let’s not be biofools...

Last year the average price of a food basket rose by 12%. There are legitimate reasons for this including rising oil prices and more demand for meat. Another cause, which concerns me here, is biofuels - the so-called ‘green’ saviour. The rush into biofuels is a scam to get rid of food surpluses by burning them. Instead of downsizing our cars, we are burning food for oil. Ethanol plants are taking one third of the entire US corn crop and turning it into alcohol for mixing with gasoline. It’s terribly inefficient, but the government gives ethanol plants a $1 gallon subsidy and charges less tax on biofuels at the service station. Many US states now require 15% ethanol to be added to gasoline at service station pumps. It’s another scam to waste taxpayers’ money on inefficient GM and industrial farming, this time under the guise of doing something to fight climate change. The US and the EU are both promoting biofuels as an eco-solution. Don’t be fooled. Two recently published groups of US research found that farming biofuels actually increases greenhouse gas emissions. Clearing carbon-rich peatland and rainforests to plant fuel crops releases even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The industrial manufacturing process only adds to biofuels’ carbon footprint. Grown on an industrial scale, biofuels end up accelerating climate change, not reducing it. Worst of all, the fundamental principle is flawed. If you put £1 million in the bank in July and then withdrew it in August and burned it, would you say you were £1 million better off? Of course not, but the crazy economics of biofuels do just that. When biofuels are burnt, carbon that has just been taken out of the atmosphere in the summer goes right back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, later in the autumn. How on earth is that doing something good for the planet? If we really want to reduce greenhouse gases, then we need to put carbon into the soil and keep it there by farming organically. Carbon does far more good in the soil then it does harm in the air (as carbon dioxide). The soil on organic farms contains up to 6 times as much carbon (as humus) as on non-organic farms. Humus fertilises the soil naturally, retaining moisture and nutrients. But instead of turning land into carbon-rich stores, the EU Commission is calling for energy-intensive, greenhouse gas-forming biofuels. It has recently made new targets: 10% biofuels by 2010 at a pump near you. This will exhaust what little carbon remains in our once humus-rich fertiles soils, all to keep agribusiness going.If the US and EU paid farmers to turn their farms into carbon-capturing meadows and forests, we could add billions of tonnes of carbon to the soil carbon bank annually. But agribusiness doesn’t make money out of set-aside land – no market for chemicals, equipment or fertilisers - it makes money out of land relentlessly farmed to destruction. So we pay more for food as well as, through our taxes, for biofuels. And global warming gets worse.This has terrible social consequences as well as environmental ones. Most of Europe’s palm oil bio-diesel is imported from Indonesia, destroying the orangutan’s habitat and precious rain forest and its human inhabitants. Ethanol from Brazil comes from sugar cane that replaces Brazilian rainforest. We are converting other people’s land and food into fuel for us. EU policies subsidise the theft of land from forest-dwelling people. Nobody, not even Parliament, ever asked for or voted for this.Not in my name, please.

 

Subsidies - who really needs them?

Every year the governments of the world back winners in Big War, Big Ag, Big Energy and Big Pharma. The total bill to taxpayers? A stonking $3500 billion! Yes, $3.5 trillion. How much of this do you get? Nothing. You just get to pay for it. Unless you’re Big.

You can't blame the poor despised bankers for this one, this is our elected representatives doing what they are told by unelected powers and their well-connected lobbyists.

How does it break down? Big Agriculture gets $350bn a year to degrade our soils with chemical fertilisers, kill off our wildlife and living soil with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Big War uses up $1500 bn a year on wars of aggression. Direct and indirect subsidies to Big Pharma cost $1000 bn. And Big Energy gets $550 bn - mostly subsidies to help struggling oil companies discover more oil.

See the pattern? Tax the little guys and subsidise the big and powerful. Then they 'optimise' taxation to make sure they pay as little tax as possible in a place like Britain.

How does it feel to know that the tax on the money you've diligently earned without any help from the government is being spent to help powerful competitors drive you out of business?

Then there's the non-governmental subsidies, harder to measure but with the same effect. Supermarkets subsidise industrialised bread to lure customers to their stores. This is ruinous for small bakers who have to make their profit from baked goods.

Ocado - a direct competitor of many readers, has managed to lose £300,000,000 over the past 10 years and managed to lose £25 million last year, but in so doing it undermines retailers that have to make a profit or go under. This is a subsidy from private equity to gain future profit but its impact is to drive honest traders out of business and clear the field for another monster. Their investors probably include your pension fund.

Every £1 of subsidy from the EU costs us £2. How so? The administration, policing, storage and fraud inherent in running the CAP swallows half the money that goes to farmers. It would be cheaper to give every food shopper a 'CAP tax back’ at the checkout and dismantle this unwieldy system. They claim subsidies help small farmers but the fact is that smallholdings and small farms began to disappear as soon as we joined the CAP.

The Common Agricultural Policy is up for reform in 2013. They've been ‘reforming’ it ever since the 1970s. Because of our subsidies, farmers in other countries can only compete by exploiting slave labour, degrading soil, destroying rain forests and poisoning themselves and the environment with nasty chemicals. Activists campaign to support the forests and indigenous people and to ban slavery, but would freak out if we had to pay the real cost of food at the supermarket. The average dairy cow in Europe gets over £600 a year in subsidy - no wonder milk is cheaper than bottled water! (And there’s still surplus cheap milk to dump to Russia, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria)

Will the CAP be reformed? What happened last time, ten years ago? While negotiators from the UK attempted to inject some sanity into the discussions the heads of state of Germany and France excused themselves and stepped out of the room for half an hour. They returned and announced that there would be no reform of the CAP until 2013. And that was that. Since then they’ve instituted a 10% Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation that keeps the countryside full of rapeseed and pays for deforestation of the last habitats of orangutans to grow palm oil to burn in buses.

These people couldn’t reform a piece of plasticine.

Brussels

Just came from a meeting in Brussels July 19 2009

The reason? A jury of 4 people from the organic sector and 4 people who are designers foregathered to consider 1000 or so submissions for the new EU logo for organic food. (The 9th juror was Miguel Indurain the winner for the Tour de France 5 years running from 1991 to 1995)

The old logo was not widely adopted. Most countries and regions already had a national logo so didn't change to it. However, the EU Commission, during the negotiations for the revised organic regulations, decided to make it mandatory, displayed as well as existing marks of organic certification. From 2010 all organic packaging will be required to have it added on the label somewhere as a second reassurance that the product complies with the EU standard for organic food.

So we foregather, we 9 jurors, to consider designs submitted by art students for a logo to encompass all the products of this €22 billion industry. The brief was challenging: no words such as 'bio' or 'organic' - should show Europe in some way (most likely an artistic letter 'e' or a circlet of stars) - should be memorable. We turn a long list into a short list and then rank the logos. There are a lot of very clever designs, some rather trite, many that were not a logo - more a brand or a 'storyboard.' In the end we jurors settled on a ranked top 10.

Next step? Fix them up with refinements of the designs, then post them on the internet and let the public vote for them.

The organic movement and market has gotten so big that Directorate General Agri, the EU Commission's agriculture executive, seem to need to move from a bystander role to more central control. Requiring food products to bear the new mark will help imprint its authority on the rapidly growing organic market.

I met Elisabeth Mercier, the head of L'Agence Bio, the French multisector quango that is now promoting organic food and farming in France. Her organisation has brought order out of organised chaos in the French organic movement and marketplace. L'Agence Bio's profile has strong resonances with the Soil Association's role in the world of UK organic food and farming. France is showing rapid growth in organic farmiong, , helped by the way L'Agence Bio has brought together all the stakeholders for gatherings of mutual interest and benefit. We talked about the FFL Partnership, how independent schools will give it extra weight, how effective it is at creating the infrastructure that can underpin local food economies.

Subsidised Theft

In 2005, the US government paid $180 billion in direct and indirect subsidies to American farmers.

MY GREAT-GREAT-grandfather Lars Dugstad emigrated to America from Norway in 1842. He lived in a dug-out cave for fifteen years while he cleared eighty acres of virgin Koshkonong Prairie land in Wisconsin. His was the typical pioneer experience.

His son Ole, my great-grandfather, went to Nebraska in 1887 and broke the prairie sod on 160 acres of land in Dakota County. Ole’s son Lewis, my grandfather, farmed it until I was born there in 1944. Lewis’ only son, my Uncle Floyd, sold it and went on to become one of the first beef feedlot operators on the farm he bought across the Missouri River in Iowa.

Floyd offered me 625 acres in 1966, but I didn’t like the idea of sticking diethylstilbestrol hormones behind the ears of cattle, and I made the fateful decision to come to London instead and open a macrobiotic restaurant. That led on to a career in the retail, manufacturing and marketing of organic foods that included Whole Earth Foods and Green & Black’s chocolate, and also my work with the Soil Association.

Uncle Floyd’s son now farms those 625 acres as part of an expanded total of 1,600 acres – all farmed with just one assistant. Last year he lost $40,000 on sales of $300,000 but ended up with a net farm income of $110,000, thanks to a hefty $150,000 subsidy from the US government.

So from Thomas Jefferson’s dream of a rural democracy, where every self- sufficient and prosperous family had a small farm or business, we have reached – in three generations – a corporate state where a viable family farmer needs 1,600 acres, a lot of machinery and GM crops and still operates at a huge annual loss that has to be made up by subsidies.

In 1944 Charles Erwin Wilson, President of General Motors and Director of the War Production Board, called for a Permanent War Economy to prevent a post-war return to the Great Depression. The Permanent War Economy, in giving birth to the military-industrial complex, also gave birth to the military-agricultural complex. Both operated on the same principle – if the free market wouldn’t take everything that was produced, the government would take up the slack, keeping the economy humming. The same companies that made tanks for the war could make tractors and pick-up trucks; the same companies that made nitroglycerine explosives could make nitrogen fertilisers.

The problem was that farmers weren’t up for it. Either a command economy or false economic signals were needed to force them to industrialise and adopt chemical inputs.

In the UK, the Soil Association was lobbying hard for a sustainable post-war agriculture based around rural communities and the avoidance of chemical fertilisers. ICI lobbied hard for increased nitrate use and eventually, with the Agriculture Act of 1947, ICI won the argument and the British government fell in line with the policy of its European and US counterparts by introducing a direct cash subsidy of ten shillings on every bag of nitrate fertiliser.

This subsidy made all the difference to farm economics: once nitrates were in use weeds thrived on the extra nutrients and created a market for herbicides, fungal infections proliferated on the densely packed plants and created a market for fungicides, and the elimination of fertility-building rotations created a market for insecticides to deal with the inevitable build-up of pest populations. CO2 emissions from the soil escalated, as soil structure and carbon-rich humus collapsed under the onslaught of chemical fertilisers.

Subsidies set land prices and farm incomes from then on. Agriculture had, in effect, been nationalised and was part of the Permanent War Economy that has been the economic model of the West and of Russia ever since. From the start, US farmers saw what was coming and formed leagues in which they all faithfully promised each other never to accept subsidies. But once some farmers took the subsidy, they could sell their crops more cheaply; the rest had to follow suit if they were to be competitive. The inherent bias of government policy towards larger producers led to the steady extinction of small farms.

The same thing happened in industry. The US Government pays out $167 billion a year to support the US’s largest corporations. In 1950, 25% of US tax income came from corporations. That figure is now 10%.

In 2005 the US government paid out more than $30 billion in direct payments to US farmers and an estimated further $150 billion in indirect subsidies including tax breaks on fuel and equipment, tariffs, protective pricing, drought loss payments and purchasing surpluses.

The biggest recipients of this support are the largest corporate farmers and commodity giants like Cargill and ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), agrichemical and seed suppliers like Monsanto and Dupont, and huge corporations such as the Fanjul family’s Florida Crystals sugar empire and meat producers Tyson and Smithfield.

The real damage from this subsidy policy is not just the financial cost to the US economy, though the numbers are significant. The real cost is to the health of the global economy, to the stability of our climate and to human health.

THE COST TO THE health of the American people has been spelt out by such authorities as the Harvard School of Public Health. The fast-food industry has contributed directly to the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis. These degenerative diseases threaten the future capacity of Western economies to finance health care. If subsidies on corn and soybeans alone were removed, the cost of a cheap hamburger would be forced up from $1 to $3. This would directly affect rates of junk food consumption. If the subsidised rangeland that supports the production of cheap calves were charged at a market price and if the externalised costs of the beef industry such as unsustainable levels of water pollution, environmental degradation and greenhouse-gas production were taken into account, the same hamburger would cost closer to $5 or $6. At this level hamburger consumption would be reduced to the healthier levels that public health authorities urgently recommend. The cost of obesity to the US is estimated at $117 billion just in lost work days and in additional health-care costs, a high price to pay for unfeasibly cheap burgers.

But the real harm of the subsidy system is to the global economy. So, the question is: How do US subsidies cause world poverty?

US farmers grow maize at a cost of 6¢ per pound. A Mexican farmer can grow maize at a cost of 4¢ per pound. So you would think that Mexico would export corn to the US – and at the very least would dominate the US domestic market. But the world market price is set at 3¢ per pound on the Chicago Board of Trade on the basis of subsidised US farmers. If the Mexican farmers seek to make a profit over their cost of 4¢ per pound, grain traders around the world will import or, more importantly, threaten to import US corn in order to continue to purchase at a price of 3¢ per pound. In the cruel world of subsidised agriculture, the so-called inefficient Mexican farmers go out of business trying to compete with truly inefficient US farmers whose cost of production is really 6¢ per pound, but who have the mighty US taxpayer prepared to subsidise their farm-gate price down to 3¢ per pound. In recent years 100,000 Mexican farmers have been driven off the land, denied access to their domestic market by US imports. Real trade justice would be to either abolish the subsidies or allow farmers all around the world to get the same subsidies from Uncle Sam.

Subsidies in the US determine the commodity prices quoted on the Chicago Board of Trade, which are the benchmark for commodity prices worldwide. It is not the actual exports as much as the fact that a phoney price is the global standard that causes the damage.

Majority world farmers, if they were allowed to benefit from their greater efficiency, would prosper from both increased income and land values, their countries would prosper, and problems of disease, overpopulation and poverty would be greatly alleviated by the increased domestic and foreign income. We also know that, as family income increases, family size decreases: it’s the paradox of wealth but another good reason to liberate food prices in order to non-coercively stabilise global population growth.

So can we quantify the actual cost of subsidies to the world economy?

A simple calculation can be made on the basis of the US and EU current subsidy levels. James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, sets the total annual subsidy spend at $350 billion – nearly $1 billion a day. Subsidies now represent 50% of net farm income in the US and the EU.

This means that, if subsidies were not in place, US farmers would need to double their prices to make a living.

On the basis that the US and the EU represent one-sixth of the world’s food production, we can assume that, if commodity prices doubled worldwide, the increased income for the majority world would be $2.4 trillion per annum. Total foreign aid amounts to $50 billion, or just 2%, which is paid back to the victims of what amounts to global theft from farmers outside the industrial countries that benefit from the rigging of market prices.

However, because the producers of the majority world operate on lower cost bases, are more efficient and have a higher real productivity level, the price of agricultural commodities would probably not double, as market forces would come into play at this stage. US and EU production of cereals and oilseeds would fall dramatically if faced with global competition and a level playing field.

THERE IS ANOTHER factor. The price of oil is going up. It was $12 a barrel in 1998, George Bush came to power in 2000, and it has now touched $70 a barrel and shows little sign of falling. The increase in the price of natural gas has already led to the closure of half of North America’s fertiliser manufacturing capacity in the past four years.

Demand for our diminishing reserves of natural gas for domestic heating and cooking or as motor fuel will ensure that natural gas, which generates tax income, will always be, as a priority, used in those applications where it can bear the extra cost of being taxed. This does not include fertiliser manufacture, where it is already too expensive. People are prepared to pay a 300% tax on petrol and diesel for their cars, because consumers put a high value on personal transportation. When similar taxes are imposed on bunker oil, aviation fuel, heating oil, natural gas and power generation, people’s subsequent choices will reflect the real cost of fossil fuels.

Growing food needs energy. To produce a calorie of food using fossil-fuel-dependent industrial farming takes fifteen calories of energy input. To produce a calorie of food organically still uses five calories of energy input. A gardener with a hoe uses one calorie to produce twenty calories of food. Organic farmers are closest to optimising energy use with productivity, and since their only fossil-fuel use is in running tractors and equipment, they will have the economic advantage as energy prices increase. When the oil price reaches $100 per barrel farmers will no longer be able to justify the use of inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides. On a global scale, the farmer who is ‘carbon-frugal’ is due for big rewards.

Carbon isn’t the only greenhouse gas we get from agriculture. Intensive cattle-rearing also leads to increased methane emissions. Feeding a cow on corn and soybeans leads to an acid rumen, incomplete digestion, and methane emissions several times more than from a cow fed on grass and hay. When you consider that the combined weight of cattle on this planet exceeds that of human beings, that’s a lot of gas. The widespread use of nitrogen fertilisers is the main source of atmospheric nitrous oxide, a gas that is nearly 300 times more warming in its effects than CO2.

As the price of oil-based inputs rises, farming on a small scale will become more attractive. Hobby farming, where farmers have other sources of income but use their farmland to augment that income, will expand. We will see more diversity in the countryside, and more vibrant local economies.

This article is based on the Martin

Radcliffe Lecture 2006. www.brookes.ac.uk/public_lectures

PREVENTION vs CURE - IN FARMING AS IN FOOD for BANT

Untitled
Untitled

The story of my beginnings goes back to 1965 when I first got into the macrobiotic diet.   I had been travelling in Afghanistan and India and amoebic dysentery led to hepatitis. I discovered that a diet of unleavened wholemeal bread and unsweetened tea cured the dysentery and the hepatitis symptoms subsided. This was the beginning of my understanding of the importance of gut health to overall health. Back at university some friends introduced me to the macrobiotic diet and I adopted it enthusiastically

At the time it was radical and Reader's Digest ran a cover story calling it the 'Diet That's Killing our Kids' while the American Medical Association said it could lead to death. Which is pretty much true about any diet, the question is more about when than whether. Nowadays eating wholegrains, organic seasonal and local food, avoiding sugar and hydrogenated fat and artificial additives doesn't seem so weird but at the time it was revolutionary. So revolutionary that the FBI closed down the macrobiotic bookshop in NY and burned its books because they suggested that healthy diet could prevent cancer.

Seed
Seed

So, in 1967, my brother and I started Seed Restaurant, the legendary hip -and hippie - macrobiotic watering hole of the late 60s, where brown rice and organic vegetables formed the backbone of the menu.   We figured if the AMA and the FBI didn’t like it then it had to make sense.

lennon cartoon
lennon cartoon

John Lennon gave my brother Gregory a little cartoon in appreciation of our food and of Harmony, the magazine Gregory published.

Books
Books

I wrote a guide to macrobiotics called, imaginatively, About Macrobiotics, which was translated into 6 languages and sold nearly half a million copies.

More recently I wrote a guide to all issues surrounding food called The Little Food Book

When I wrote About Macrobiotics I just tried to simplify the complexities of Yin and Yang that made some earlier books on macrobiotics daunting and even impenetrable. It was well received for that reason.

We soon had Ceres - Britain's first natural foods store - on the Portobello Road. Then other budding retailers came to us for supplies, forming the customer base for Harmony Foods, which evolved into Whole Earth Foods.

Ceres interior
Ceres interior

Our business thrived on innovation. We were the first with organic brown rice and were known as The Brown Rice Barons because if you bought brown rice in the 70s it came from us.   We bought and milled or flaked all of the organic grains grown in this country and usually exhausted available stocks before the new crop came in. In our retail and wholesale business we only sold food, only wholefood, no sugar and not even honey and no vitamins or supplements. We were macrobiotic then and I continue to follow the diet, not religiously but almost passively. In other words I eat whatever I feel like, but mostly I feel like eating wholegrains and vegetables.   Occasionally I take zinc or Vitamin C when I feel a cold coming on, but otherwise don’t take supplements.

Whole Earth Peanut Butter label
Whole Earth Peanut Butter label

Eventually we pandered to market demand, with a successful brand of peanut butter that rose to take the number 2 position after Sun Pat in the UK market. I created the first range of fruit juice sweetened jams, using apple juice instead of sugar as a sweetener. We had created a market for sugar avoidance - and apple juice - if only for semantic reasons, satisfied it.

In my quest for organic peanuts for our peanut butter I came across a group of farmers in West Africa who also grew organic cacao and from that encounter Green & Black’s, the first ever organic chocolate, was born.

Green & Black's 1st bar
Green & Black's 1st bar

Needless to say, my kids, who had been brought up in a committed macrobiotic household, were somewhat dismayed to see their Dad going into the sugar business, but I consoled myself with the fact that 70% chocolate had a glycaemic index of only 22, less than half the GI of brown rice, and carried on developing the brand.

So what are the key aspects of macrobiotics?

You should eat wholegrains and vegetables as the basis of your diet.

ZEN MACROBIOTICS

You should always choose organic, seasonal and local

You should avoid yeast and sugar

You should avoid preservatives and other chemical food additives.

You should minimise meat and dairy

There are good nutritional reasons for all of the above, seasonal food is fresher, organic food doesn’t contain pesticide residues, wholegrains have more B vitamins than refined cereals and preservatives can give you cancer. But is there more to all of this? A nutritional therapist might feel that there is insufficient emphasis on maintaining a high intake of necessary nutrients and it’s true that in the early days a lot of macrobiotic followers looked rather wan and pasty-faced. They blamed it on expelling toxins but it was more like nutritional deficiency. Was it the fault of macrobiotics or was this part of a transition to better health?

One of the key facets of macrobiotics is that you don’t get sick. Prevention is everything and cures are fairly perfunctory.

One of the key facets of organic farming is that your plants and animals never get sick. Prevention is everything and cures are fairly perfunctory. In fact if you cure a problem with chemicals or drugs on an organic farm, whether with plants or livestock, you lose your organic status.

The Soil Association regularly has a debate about its name. Should we change it to The Organic Society or something similar?   We always decide to keep our rather unappealing name because we firmly believe that ‘The answer lies in the soil.” But we never ask the question: The answer to what?

I submit that it is the answer to the question: “What is the Meaning of Life?”

So how can the soil contain such a revelation?

A gramme of healthy soil contains over 10,000 different species of microbial life, you could say that it is a microbiotic jungle. Except that it is remarkably ordered, with bacteria, viruses, algae and protozoa living in a web of complex fungal growth. Worms play an important role as well.

We are always impressed at how well organised and efficient bees and ants are. But bees only have three variants – the queen, the worker and the drone. Ants are similar.

Yet the most efficiently organised system we know comprises 1o thousand life forms, all working in close tandem. They communicate with enzymes, chemicals and odors and probably electric charges. Research into this is in its infancy. At the heart of the system is the fungal mycelial network that feeds the other life forms, regulates their growth and variety.   In plant growth the most important are the mycorrhizal fungi, which are, to organic farmers the foundation of soil health and fertility.

These organisms predate plants by 100s of millions of years. If your parents predate you then you consider yourself their offspring. We trace our ancestry back to early primates, respecting and recognising their importance in creating what we are today, a recognition confirmed by genetics and DNA research. We respect and honour our ancestors, but soil is seen as something dirty and underfoot, barely worth of recognition. Are we missing the point of our existence?

Long ago, when the atmosphere contained a lot of carbon dioxide, life forms were anaerobic, they didn’t use oxygen in their life cycle.

CYANOBACTERIA

When the earliest microorganisms dwelt on this planet one group, the cyanobacteria developed the ability to convert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, using sunlight, thereby opening up a new food source, thin air.

Once this ability emerged, it was harnessed by the existing network. The cyanobacterial ability to make carbohydrates out of carbon dioxide was captured and enclosed in cells called chloroplasts and we had the first green plants.

Plants are the means whereby a very well organised team of soil microorganisms can extract food from the air.   The mycelial network brings together the rest of the life in soil to support this food gathering mechanism and to extract its main benefit to them, which is sugar. These fungal webs can have eight miles of thin mycelium in a single cubic inch, stretching over miles underground, communicating with each other.

When you look at a tree or a blade of grass or a fern, you are looking at the food gathering and early stage digestion mechanism of a very clever bunch of invisible organisms. The plant works hard up there, busily converting carbon dioxide and sunlight and water into carbohydrates that it then feeds to its underground masters. It even knows who’s boss. It will only feed those mycorryzzal fungi that have the correct identity papers. They are good servants and only take orders from their master. When this happens the fungal lord inserts a tentacle or hypha into a subcutaneous layer of the plant root so that it can drink its sugar solution direct from the source. It needs to keep the plant going so it gathers phosphorus, nitrates and other minerals to ensure that the plant thrives and competes successfully with other plants. The mycorrhizal fungus lives for about 32 days, then as it decomposes it provides food for a network of other soil organisms that support it and that benefit from its demise. It generates a carbon-rich substance called glomalin, both proteins and carbohydrates, that is sticky and helps bind soil together in aggregates that give the soil structure and keep other soil carbon from escaping.

As the world’s atmosphere became filled with the excreta of these plants the level of oxygen increased.

It was now possible for new complex teams of soil biota to organise themselves to move about and capture plants. Animal life was discovered. In effect they invented airplanes and cars to increase their range and were able to capture from above the food of their underground brethren. With flying creatures and worms and eventually mammals, one thing was shared by all: a set of controlling microorganisms that guided every stage of the animal’s development, ensuring that it could gather food and reproduce.

These mobile plants used smell and vision to identify likely food sources and arms, legs, mandibles, and claws to gather it up.

So if we accept that the soil biota created and control plants, why is it so hard for our egos to accept that perhaps the reason for our existence is to perpetuate the dominion of a very clever collection of soil biota who created an internalised soil environment in the gut of living animals? Is it really that humbling? Consider Genesis 3:19

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

This dated from an era before the sky gods took over and mother earth took a back seat

Let’s take a closer look:

There are 200-600 million nerve cells in the gut - more than in spinal cord, what does this tell us about the importance of the gut to intelligence and consciousness? It appears to be linked to information storage, decision-making and joy and sadness.   The question is, who’s holding the reins? Is the control originating in the gut and determining our conscious decisions or do we make conscious decisions in our brains and then, for some reason, pass this information to the gut? A nerve is a 2 way street. No other part of the so called peripheral nervous system acts autonomously and locally. The Enteric Nervous System is called our ‘second brain.’ I submit that it could well be the Primary brain. After all, why does our gut need to tell our brain that it is regulating intestinal contractions, the release of digestive fluids and all the other activity in the gut? Our gut talks to itself and only bothers to communicate with our brain when it considers a message from the eyes, nose or palate about what food is out there. All the gut needs to tell our cerebral consciousness is if it feels pain, hunger or satiety. You don’t need half a billion nerve cells to do that.

There are 500 to 1000 bacterial species alone in the gut with 2 to 4 million genes, if you look at them as one microbiome they contain 100 times more genes than the human genome and represent 10 times the total number of human body cells.   They are overwhelmingly anaerobic, in other words they evolved in the absence of oxygen and like to keep it that way.

The gut biota make a huge difference to the development of capillaries in the intestinal villi, promoting host nutrition. When they are absent a breach in the gut wall can be fatal, when they are abundant a breach in the gut wall is harmless and doesn’t trigger inflammation.

So if soil biota and gut biota are related and our relationship to plants is derived from that ancient relationship what similarities are there between the way we produce our food, in soil and the way we prepare and digest our food, in our gut soil. Which the Chinese call ‘night soil.

So let’s look at a few examples and compare

In the 1840s, when Baron Justus von Liebig discovered that nitrates and phosphates were essential soil nutrients it engendered a revolution in agriculture. No longer did farmers have to faff around with fallow periods, fertility building cycles or any of the traditional ways of extracting a crop from the earth. Instead they could add chemicals. What happened?

First: The nitrates and phosphates short circuited the cycle whereby mycorrhizal fungi fed these minerals to plants in exchange for sugars.

Second: The mycorrhizal fungi died off, unable to compete with free food. As they died and decomposed, the soil structure collapsed and vast amounts of carbon were emitted. Even Justus von Liebig realised what a terrible mistake he’d made and 20 years after he started the chemical farming revolution he wrote: SLIDE LIEBIG

I have sinned against the Creator and, justly, I have been punished.

I wanted to improve His work because, in my blindness, I believed that a link in the astonishing chain of laws that govern and constantly renew life on the surface of the Earth had been forgotten.

It seemed to me that weak and insignificant man had to redress this oversight.

But it was too late, human greed was in full spate and the farmer who didn’t use chemicals had trouble competing on price as part of his yields were sacrificed to keep the soil biota happy, reducing overall yields and income. Nobody got paid for maintaining topsoil depth and quality.

Nearly one half of all the increase in carbon dioxide in today’s atmosphere since 1850 is the result of this folly. Global warming’s roots stretch back to his one big mistake that still haunts us.

Liebig spent his later years on a project to recycle London’s sewage for agricultural use but lost the argument to the great Victorian sewer builder Joseph Bazalgette, who made sure all London’s waste was carried out to the Thames Estuary.

If we are seeking parallels, what is the human equivalent of nitrates? Plants feed the soil biota with carbohydrates in the form of sugars in order to get minerals.   Animals feed on plants in order to get carbohydrates. Around the same time that nitrates were introduced into agriculture, sugar became a major factor in our diet, with equally deleterious effects.

Just as cheap nitrates killed off the web of soil life, so cheap sugar quickly pushed aside slower digestive and gut biota-based mechanisms to deliver glucose straight to the organism. Just like the poor old mycorrhizal fungi in the soil, the carbohydrate - producing digestive flora were outflanked and rendered redundant. Even more humiliating, the consumption of sugar led to rampant overgrowth of aggressive yeasts that caused all manner of upsets and the destruction of whole swathes of formerly stable gut biota. It also led to heart disease, diabetes, tooth decay, cancer and obesity. We don’t know what other quick fixes bypass the gut flora, but we should consider the impact on them when we consume vitamins or supplements that may displace some gut function and render it redundant, creating an ongoing dependency on supplementation.

Bread suffered as well. Roller mills made white flour as cheap as wholemeal and white bread replaced wholegrain breads, with resulting diverticulosis and, thanks to industrial yeast, candida.

Let’s compare 2 ways of making mankind’s principal food, wholemeal bread, the modern and the old fashioned .

Modern – Chorleywood Process – take wholemeal flour and ascorbic acid and sugar and 24 times as much yeast as you would use in a traditional bakery and whizz it in a high speed mixer for 20 minutes until the yeasts are agitated and in a feeding frenzy. Shape into loaves, dump into tins and as they bread goes into the travelling oven it is rising. Oh, add a little hydrogenated fat to give it structure so it doesn’t collapse when it comes out – just one hour after you’ve started. It was introduced in the 1960s, around the time that irritable bowel syndrome, gluten allergy, Crohn’s disease really began to become widespread issues. You could say that we just hadn’t realised those diseases existed before then, but for anyone who’s experienced IBS or had a reaction to gluten you know that’s pretty unlikely

Old Fashioned – Judges Bakery process. Germinate wheat and liquidise. Add to organic wholemeal flour, add kelp powder, sesame seeds, hemp nuts and flax seeds. Make up a dough and let stand overnight in linen lined baskets for 18 hours. The enzymes from the germinated wheat snip the long chain proteins of gluten into shorter, less clingy and tastier proteins and make maltodextrins slowly available for fermentation. The bran softens throughout the process with phytic acid breakdown of up to 90%. Lactic acid bacteria increase magnesium and phosphorus solubitility.

If you were a colony of gut flora, which bread would you prefer?

ROUNDWORMS EARTHWORMS

What about worms? Not only are worms common flatmates with gut flora and soil flora, many species can live freely in soil and also survive quite happily in the digestive system.

In the soil worms are the great grinders of all vegetable matter into fine particles. Charles Darwin wrote admiringly of their ability to pile up vast amounts of soil and raise its height.

The soil doesn’t have teeth, but we do. Chewing your food 50 times does much of the work that worms do in the soil. This is recommended by all macrobiotic dietitians from Christophe Hufeland (Goethe’s doctor) through to George Ohsawa, creator of the Japanese version known as Zen Macrobiotics. So what if we just puree our food? Doesn’t that do the same thing? What about if you puree food and then spit in it and leave it for a while, won’t the salivary enzymes do the job for us?

Research published in the Archives of Surgery showed that patients who had part of their colon removed passed gas and solids up to a day sooner if they chewed gum. The process of chewing stimulates nerves in the gut and hastens recovery. Now we have to ask what is stimulating those gut nerves, is it the chewing, or does chewing activate the gut flora, which then stimulate the gut nerves? When you chew the gut biota are getting a signal that food is on the way, so they become active in anticipation. This activity stimulates the nerves in the gut.

GUT WORMS

In the gut worms are seen as parasites, but they fulfil similar functions in the case of roundworms, of helping with the digestion of food, particularly when it has been poorly chewed. They also provide exudates that prevent auto immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and they are food for many fungi.

EARTHWORMS

In modern sterile soils worms are infrequent. I remember visiting Paul McCartney at his farm in Sussex, which is certified organic. He commented – ‘the Soil Association may say my land is organic but I don’t believe it really is until the soil is teeming with worms when the plough goes through.’   Could we consider the absence of worms as the pathology? When 80% of the world’s population are host to worms, can that be abnormal?

What about Gooey stuff – mucus and humus.

In the soil Glomalin is the product of the mycorrhizal fungi. It is sticky like glue and it binds together bits of sand and clay and organic matter into joined up granules called aggregates. These help to keep carbon in the soil instead of escaping into the atmosphere and they also help retain moisture. This creates ideal conditions for soil biota and a soil that is rich in glomalin has a high and stable population of bacteria, fungi and protozoan life.

What is the digestive equivalent of gooey stuff? It’s the mucus membrane, but how do we support it?

In macrobiotic medicine the cure for all tummy troubles is ume-kuzu. That’s a blend of kuzu arrowroot and pickled underripe plums that are rich in sodium sorbate, a natural yeast inhibitor. The yeasts get controlled and the kuzu provides a rich sticky matrix in which gut biota can flourish and rebuild their populations. Other sources of mucilaginous material are traditional remedies such as comfrey and aloe vera, both of which contain allantoin, which encourages cell proliferation. Chicken soup is a natural gel that also helps in this way.

If our gut biota came from the soil itself, then is soil good for you?

There are lots of examples of what is known as geophagia and not all of them relate to desperate hunger or psychological disturbance.

When we don’t have food, we can still feed our gut flora and they can still feed us. We don’t just eat clay to fill our bellies, it may not have nutritive value by analysis, but if it provides a medium where gut biota can proliferate. We can then get nutrition from them.

KWAN YIN

Pearl Buck’s novel The Good Earth describes how Chinese peasants would eat what they called ‘Goddess of Mercy earth’ named after Kwan Yin, the goddess of Mercy of Taoist tradition. In Taoism Yin is the earth and Yang is the sky.   In Haiti mud cakes are a traditional food, particularly sought after by pregnant women, a compound of clay, fat, salt and pepper.

MUD CAKES FACTORY IN HAITI

Hippocrates described Geophagia 2500 years ago, saying “If a woman feels the desire to eat earth or charcoal and then eats them, the child will show signs of these things.’

Pliny recommended red clay as a remedy for mouth ulcers. In the Levant it was called Terra Sigillata and used to help childbirth and alleviate menstrual problems.   In France they call it argillophagy and a popular hangover cure is to take argile verte, or green clay, in a creamy solution on the morning after. A three week course begins with a twice daily glass of white clay and then a transition to green clay mixed with liquorice powder, with separate doses of charcoal.

CARBON GOLD

And what about charcoal? I must confess a commercial interest here as the founder of Carbon Gold, an enterprise that seeks to restore the soil’s carbon content by the expedient of turning biomass into charcoal and ploughing it in.   Charcoal encourages high populations of soil biota which are extremely stable, very water retentive and antagonistic to pathogenic fungi and bacteria, helping to prevent soil-borne plant diseases. Charcoal stays in the soil for hundreds of years so it effectively is the only way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and keep it out.   It also reduces the acidity in soil that causes methane, turning this toxic greenhouse gas into the 60 times less toxic carbon dioxide.

CHARCOAL BISCUITS

Charcoal biscuits and charcoal tablets are a common treatment for wind and other digestive upsets. They adsorb gases like methane and create a healthy environment for the gut biota to thrive, providing niches and structure in which a shattered gut population can rebuild itself. Just as it suffocates toxic bacteria in the soil, in the gut it cracks down on aerobic bacteria such as salmonella and shigella.

Charcoal in soil encourages microbiological density, reduced activity but higher population.

In the soil charcoal maintains an ideal slightly acid pH but even adding wood vinegar to a char- enriched soil doesn’t make it more acid, the bacteria maintain stability at an optimum pH level that is unfriendly to pathogens

What about Fallowing?

Let’s compare organic farming’s fallow periods with our own dietary resting times.

One of my least popular sayings is: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day - to skip.” I always try to skip breakfast and also to fast at least one day a month. Why?   If your digestive transit time is somewhere between 12 and 18 hours then skipping breakfast means that for a few hours each day your gut is empty.   This allows the gut flora to rebalance their population. Every time you excrete, one third of the weight of the faecal matter is gut flora who get flushed away, the remainder need time to recover from the loss of their gutmates. There are of course, also other factors – the blood glucose and the liver’s stored glycogen are used up by the time you wake up in the morning and so the body has to turn to its fat reserves for carbohydrates. It’s like the Atkins Diet, but without all the meat and fat. But it’s a good idea to let the gut flora have a rest in between bouts of food digestion.

Organic and traditional farmers have fallow periods, the farming equivalent of fasting, where nothing is added to the soil, it is just left alone. The soil flora need a period when nothing is happening so that they can sort themselves out, deal with imbalances, before the next crop is planted. Fallow is not just about rebuilding fertility, it’s about recreating a healthy balance of food gathering biota. Eating food is like ploughing manure into a field. There is nutrient being introduced but there is also disturbance as a new set of nutrients is introduced, along with the oxidising effect of air on stored carbon, along with the disruption of the mycelial networks.

I’ve just been in Belize. The farmers there don’t even plough the soil. The grow on quite steep hillsides with no erosion problems. Every year they let an area of ground become overgrown, sometimes for several years, then they cut the resulting vegetation and let it rot or, in some cases burn it off. They plant their corn direct into the ground, where the crop takes off, surrounded by beans and squash as ground cover, so that other plants are crowded out. The soil has no fertilisers, not even compost or manure, added to it and it generates healthy crops of corn with plants 12 feet high.   The farmers abhor the idea of tearing up the soil and have resolutely avoided offers of rotovators and other mechanical ploughing aids.

NEZ PERCE CHIEF JOSEPH

"The earth is our mother. She should not be disturbed by hoe or plough. We want only to subsist on what she freely gives us." --Chief Joseph, Nez Perce

We can’t go back to that level of respect for the soil in today’s crowded world, but it is worth noting that in the long term agriculture has to address its problems of unsustainability and treat the soil as a living organism, not as a hydroponic system with dirt added.

I was there in Belize because they supply cacao to Green & Black’s. They provide us with fully fermented cacao beans in which all the simple cyanins have been oxidised and have lost their astringent taste. The reason our chocolate tastes so good is because the farmers are so good at fermenting the beans.

Every few months Mars publish more research saying that chocolate is good for the heart and have even launched a chocolate range in the US called Cocoa Via based on research that shows that anthyocyanins from unfermented cacao lowers blood pressure. So I took at look at the research to see why they’d launch a chocolate with a mildly unpleasant taste as a nutraceutical. What I came across was the European Polybind Project. They were looking at polyphenolic substances and trying to assess how they could help prevent cancer. They studied onions, apples, broccoli and chocolate. What did they find?

Chocolate contains procyanidins and other simple phenolic compounds. When it is fermented these become oxidised polymers and lose their astringent taste. They also don’t have a noticeable effect on blood pressure, unlike unfermented chocolate where the phenols trigger a measurable pressure drop soon after ingestion.   Hence Mars’ excitement about using unfermented chocolate in their products.   But the Polybind Project found something else: the complex phenolic compounds stayed in the gut wall. When the host was stressed the gut flora would snip them up with enzymes and pass them into the host in the exact amount needed to modify blood pressure.   Instead of outwitting and bypassing the gut flora, it makes more sense to work with them.   The same arguments apply to inulin-rich foods such as chicory and Jerusalem artichokes.

A ‘gut feeling’ is more than a feeling, it’s knowledge, indeed wisdom.

The gut flora control intelligence. They can memorise and learn and encode much faster than multicelled organisms such as us.   They don’t forget as their memories go straight to their DNA, which is constantly in flux.

By maintaining a healthy balance and large population of gut flora the nutritional therapist also offers psychotherapy in a genuine way - this may be described as a ‘placebo effect’ by some, particularly doctors whose summation of nutrition is ‘eat your greens.’   By eating organic food we are mirroring the natural process by which healthy food is grown and we are avoiding the chemical residues that are just as toxic to the health of our gut biota as they are to the health of soil biota.

To me the importance of nutrition has been a guiding light. I have not had to see a doctor since 1965.   Nutritional therapy is ultimately about treating the originators of plant and animal life on this planet with the respect they deserve. More than that, with the respect they demand. They can get quite angry if they are ignored, as sufferers from IBS and colitis, to name a few examples, can attest.

To go even further, if the gut biota are really the All-Knowing, All-Seeing masters of our universe, our original and true Creator, with a capital C, then the nutritional therapists are the high priests of human society and are our true link with the infinite and unknowable!

Thanks

Cacao Story

On Monday (May 7th) of this week I was in Hastings at a celebration called 'Jack in the Green'. A large leaf-covered man paraded through the streets, accompanied by hundreds of dancers and drummers dressed in leafy green garb, or as giants, foxes, deer and badgers. Our house, which was on the procession route, was decked in ivy and other leaves, as were most of the houses on the street. Everything was garlanded with ribbons, mostly yellow, green and white, echoing the colours of early leaf and blossom. On Sunday the local 14th C Church, much to the disgust of some of its more sanctimonious members, had even allowed the dancers into its sacred precinct, where they played and sang and danced. This ancient celebration is rooted in the old pagan festival of Beltane and acknowledges the idea that there is a 'green spirit' which was long ago anthropomorphised into the "Green Man." There is a stone carving of the Green Man's leaf-clad face carved into the stonework of the Church, reflecting a time when the Church was more accomodating of what are still seen by purists as heretical views. Jack in the Green has survived tenaciously and now the celebration grows in numbers every year and seems doomed to become a tourist attraction.

When we look at cacao, we see a tree that embodies the spirit of the forest and acts as a link between the canopy, the middle storey and the ground level. Cacao plays an important role in the rain forest where it grows, a role which extends into its products, which are pivotal to human trade and society and which have led to its propagation around the world wherever growing conditions are suitable. As an unreconstructed Lamarckian, even a Lysenkoite, I intuitively believe that an organism can consciously evolve and that the discoveries of Crick and Watson and the Human Genome Project actually confirm the Lamarckian idea that acquired characteristics can be transmitted to future generations. This contradicts the Darwinian thesis that evolution is just a series of mass extinctions punctuated by lucky genetic accidents.

I am intrigued by the conspiracy theory that humans are not the masters of the planet, but merely the mandarins or administrative class who run things for the cows, who reward us with their highly addictive milk and meat. In exchange for their products, we manage the surface of the planet to accommodate their needs, clearing forests and creating artificial pastureland in areas where forest would otherwise prevail. While cattle exist in smaller numbers than humans, their combined weight exceeds that of all humanity and the land area they occupy is greater than for any other land life form. Certainly the close cohabitation with cattle that prevailed until recently in the southern Jutland peninsula, home of the Holstein and Friesian breeds, as well as the myth of Europa, reflects an earlier belief in the mystic power of these life-giving and life-saving, beasts. If there is a candidate for a vegetable counterpart to the cow, I submit that it must be cacao. Its character, its cultivation and its natural history suggest that it is worthy of the deification that it received from the Maya and other Central American civilisations.

Every plant, as it follows and reveals the universal principles that animate all living systems, can tell us much about ourselves.

Nicholas Culpeper, the pioneering 17th Century English herbalist, wrote in his introduction to The Complete Herbal: "God has stamped his image on every creature, and therefore the abuse of the creature is a great sin; but how much more do the wisdom and excellency of God appear, if we consider the harmony of the Creation in the virtue and operation of every Herb? "

So, what is it about cacao that makes it such a special food? Theobroma Cacao grows wild in Central America in the Maya Mountains of southern Belize. Cacao is a unique tree with a unique way of capturing nutrients, protecting itself and reproducing in a harsh environment and rearing its offspring in a caring and nurturing way. In the process it produces substances that have a profound attraction to humans.

In the wild the cacao tree grows to a height of 10-20 metres, which for other trees in the rain forest would mean an inability to survive. Typically, the mahogany tree, which occupies the canopy of the forest, drops its crop of seeds to earth where they will germinate and grow to a few centimetres fed by the nutrients in the seed and then enter a sort of stasis. It takes an event such as a hurricane or logging or the collapse of an aged or diseased tree to allow in enough sunlight for the mahogany to seize its chance and make a bid for the top.

To flourish in the middle storey of the rain forest requires a very different strategy. The cacao tree still needs some sunlight, it just gets by with a lot less than most plants need to survive, by exhibiting a frugality and intelligence of function that enables it to live and reproduce in extremely deprived conditions. It tends to do best on hillsides, where glancing light increases the otherwise sparse availability of sunshine. Hence its success in the Maya Mountains, where south-facing mountain slopes allow light to cut through the canopy at an angle. In the wild it is often found in stands, where it has managed to colonise an area. The cacao tree flowers on its main trunk and leading branches. The flowers are pollinated by midges which breed on the rotting debris of the forest floor. The pollinated flower forms a pod which grows on a callus-like pad directly off the trunk or branch. The pod is as hard as wood. Each pod contains 30 or so seeds surrounded by a sweet juicy milky pulp. As the pod ripens the seeds begin to germinate, still in the pod. When the shoots and roots are a few millimetres long the pod falls to earth and rolls away from the parent tree. The pod still forms a helmet-like protective barrier over the seedlings. The clustered seeds all send down roots and send up shoots together, closely packed on the jungle floor. Eventually the shoots raise the pod up and it falls over and off, but by then the seedlings are off to a good start. If they are all successful then they gradually merge into one tree. In this respect the cacao tree has evolved in a way that is rare in nature: 1. Like a marsupial, the offspring is retained by the parent and not released into the world to fend for itself until it has developed beyond a certain point. The mother tree feeds its children until they have developed sufficiently to survive in the wild 2. Even with developed shoots and roots, the plantlets still stick closely together and sacrifice their individuality in the interests of common survival in a hostile environment.

In domesticating cacao the Maya made few changes to the wild tree. As the matriarchal horticulturalists who created many of the world's most commercially important and sensual plants including maize, amaranth, pumpkins, kidney beans, papaya, guava, chilli peppers, vanilla, tobacco and dahlias, it is perhaps not surprising that they could effect precise changes in developing the 'criollo' cacao tree. ('criollo' means 'native' in Spanish). The criollo tree differs from the wild cacao in three main ways: 1 The pod is softer and easier to open with a stone or a knife 2 The tree grows to a limited height, reduced from 10-20 metres to 3-5 metres, making pruning and harvesting easier. 3 The seeds, which are creamy coloured in wild cacao, are purple in colour in the criollo variety. This reflects a greatly increased content of alkaloids and other compounds.

It was women who domesticated cacao and created maize. With sacraments including morning glory seeds, they developed a deep rapport and understanding with plants, persuading them to evolve in ways that are beyond the ability of modern plant breeders and molecular biologists to comprehend.

The Maya cultivated cacao in forest gardens in which every tree had a function. As a result, the trees that provided shade for the cacao also provided thatching and building material, fodder, oilseeds, wood, medicines, fruit and allspice. Careful management of the shade ensures that the cultivated cacao doesn't grow too quickly and thrives in a healthy and controlled environment that closely replicates the natural wild environment of the cacao tree.

(An example of how successfully the Maya domesticated the cacao without depriving it of its intrinsic ability to live sustainably in the wild happened two years ago. One of the members of the cooperative of Maya Indians who supply us with cacao led an archaeological expedition to ruins in a remote region of Belize that has not been inhabited since the collapse of the Maya civilisation in the 9th Century. In the surrounding forest he found a stand of several hundred domesticated cacao trees that have reproduced without human support on that spot for over a millennium).

Nowadays cacao plantations are laid out on three basic patterns. 1. The oldest are in Belize and were planted on the 'whole pod' basis The farmer would simply prepare a space in the forest and then plant a germinating mature pod. Once the tree had emerged he would allow all the branches to grow and then, as some revealed themselves as more productive than others, would prune selectively to maximise yield. Yields are about 400 Kgs per hectare, combined with other forest products. 2. The typical plantation-based mode of most of the last century was to plant the cacao in rows that were 5 metres apart, growing the trees from seed. This leaves sufficient space between the trees to allow for tall shade trees, which are then managed to provide the appropriate level of light. Yields are about 500 Kgs per hectare, but considerable other economic benefits accrue, particularly to those farmers who also plant mahogany and red cedar as shade trees. Over a 25 year period the income from wood can greatly exceed that from cacao and increase with each further year. Unfortunately, because of forest protection laws and land tenure uncertainties in many areas, smallholders often do not plant high value trees in case they are confiscated by the national government. 3. The most modern and intensive method represents the system imposed by American, British, Dutch, German and Swiss 'aid' organisations in the 1980s. This massive aid programme successfully created global overcapacity in cacao and was in response to the upswing in cacao prices caused by the President of the Ivory Coast's decision to hold back supplies from the market in 1982. The trees are closely planted at 2.5 metres apart. The only shade comes from small and economically valueless shrubs and also from the top part of the cacao tree itself. Fertility comes from regular applications of nitrogen fertiliser. Yields are around 800Kgs per hectare, double the least intensive system. But, there is no other income from the land used. Disease is rampant and requires constant control. The fungal diseases Witches' broom and black pod, are common and devastating and becoming more virulent. This method represents a step too far in intensification. There are large areas of Brazil where cocoa production has collapsed completely due to ineradicable disease that has wiped out the entire base of cacao trees. A conference was held in Costa Rica1998 at which the leading chocolate companies met to seek solutions to the crash in cacao production. The conference concluded that a return to less intensive practices was the key to sustainable production. However, the legacy of the 1980s aid programme will haunt the industry for decades.

In the first two systems, fertility is almost entirely 'passive' and this has attracted criticism from organic certification organisations which are wedded to the idea that good organic agriculture requires the production and use of animal manure and vegetable composts to encourage growth. However, excessive growth, due to fertiliser and sunshine, leads inexorably to fungal disease in the cacao tree.

In a well managed plantation following the first two systems the fertility sources are manifold, but fertility is delivered over a longer time frame. The shade trees draw mineral nutrients from deep below the forest floor and transform them into leaves. When the leaves fall these nutrients are made available to the cacao tree, which has a shorter taproot combined with a mat-like network of surface-feeding roots. If you scrape back the leaf litter on the forest floor you immediately come upon the cacao roots, some of which are pointed upward, clinging to and eating into the decomposing leaves without waiting for them to break down into humus. Canopy-dwelling birds and mammals regularly deposit small amounts of guano and manure which splashes on the leaves of the cacao trees and then is washed down to the soil by rain. Because it is drip-fed to the cacao tree in continuous small quantities it does not encourage the soft sappy growth that is prone to fungal and insect attack.

Perhaps because it is slow-growing and accessible, the cacao tree exudes caffeic acid from its leaves. It is common among the Maya to snap off a leaf of cacao and chew it to a pulp, extracting a mildly stimulating dose of caffeine. In the beans in the pod, caffeic acid becomes the alkaloids theobromine (food of the gods)and theophylline (leaf of the gods), both methylxanthines in the same group of alkaloids as caffeine, which is a breakdown product of their consumption. The levels of theobromine in cacao are highly toxic and are targeted at birds and mammals. For a squirrel or a monkey one or two cacao beans are enough to bring on heart palpitations and a speedy retreat to the treetops, reinforcing the memory that this is a food not to be toyed with. Other predators on cacao don't eat the cacao, but use it to farm other food products.

Woodpeckers will make a hole in the cacao pod. This is done in order to attract flying insects that lay their eggs in the sweet inner pulp surrounding the seeds. The woodpecker then returns at regular intervals to eat the larvae. Leafcutter ants march across the forest floor carrying small sail-shaped pieces cut from leaves of cacao. They do not eat them however, but take them below ground where they provide food for a fungal culture. It is the fungus that the ants then consume.

The Maya believed in a sort of coevolution with animals, plants, soil and water. Their belief was that the quest for perfection that characterises humankind cannot be achieved without the collaboration of perfected plants and animals. The frog and the jaguar, the morning glory and the cacao tree all played significant roles in this evolutionary process and were accorded a value not solely based on what they could give to humanity, but also, like household pets, loved for themselves and treated with the same care that one would give to a family member.

Cocoa beans were also used as money during this era, one of the few instances of money truly growing on trees. The Maya trading economy used cacao as capital, in much the same way as cattle were used in Europe.

In Mexico, hot chocolate is never served at funerals but everyone drinks it on the Day of the Dead, when the souls return from another world, temporarily reborn to this world. There are many present-day cultural associations of cacao with fertility and regeneration. Hot chocolate is a symbol of human blood, much like wine in Christianity. In the bad old days of human sacrifice, the Aztec priests would wash the blood off the sacrificial obsidian knives with hot chocolate and give the resulting drink to calm the nerves of those awaiting sacrifice. In the iconography of Maya archeological sites, cacao is associated with women and the Underworld, where sprouting and regeneration are portrayed in myths with echoes of Persephone and Demeter.

The cacao tree figures prominently in Maya creation myths, being considered one of the components out of which humanity were created. Dedicated deities embody the spirit of the cacao tree and it features in the Popol Vuh as well as in the 4 day long Deer Dance. I witnessed the cutting of a tree which was to be used in the Deer Dance during the Harmonic Convergence in August 1987. It took nearly an hour of explanation, persuasion and extracting of permission from the spirits of the forest and of the specific tree before any Maya would dare to presume to touch it with an axe.

The Maya's 4-day long Deer Dance evokes the entire history of the Maya, with male dancers dressed as black dwarves in black masks referring to the era when the Maya had no culture and lived in caves. Other male dancers in pink masks and women's dresses evoke the horticultural matriarchal era before 'the Grandmothers' created corn. The dance depicts the moment when the leader of the men gently but firmly tells the Grandmother: "Henceforth we men will grow the corn." This was the moment when the holistic and horticultural matriarchal world succumbed to the hierarchical and agricultural world of priests, warriors and princes that led to the extraordinary flowering of Maya culture, short-lived but incredibly diverse, and then to sudden collapse as maize cultivation stretched the ecosystem beyond its limits. The Maya had abused their historic partners in coevolution.

Nowadays, smallholder cacao is increasingly shade grown, bird friendly, sustainable and organic. By contrast, plantation-grown cacao depends on management as waged labour cannot be relied upon to show. The usual capitalist measure of productivity, return on capital employed, does not apply in cacao production, where land value bears little relation to net income, which depends heavily on chemical inputs and waged labour. It takes one foreman to oversee about 4 labourers and the reliability of foremen is hard to measure. If trees are planted at too great a spacing then management becomes correspondingly more difficult as control depends on lines of sight and voice commands. Planting trees more closely creates more problems than it solves. Low world prices and increasing input costs put downward pressure on labour costs. This leads to increasing dependence on slave labour. This occurs in the Ivory Coast of non-Ivorian Africans, in Malaysia of tribal people. Many of these are women, who are short enough to get under the trees with backpack sprayers and then fog the tree with fungicides. Smallholder grown cacao offers the following advantages: 1 Trees enjoy considerable longevity, exceeding 100 years 2 A forest canopy performs the functions of chemicals and low waged labour in providing nutrients and preventing disease, thereby increasing carbon sequestration and biodiversity 3 Slavery is avoided 4 Sustainability is achieved as diseased trees are rare and fossil fuel inputs are not required 5 Individual freedom and enterprise, the foundation of stable democratic societies, is encouraged among smallholder farmers.

There is one cloud on the horizon for cacao. Genetic engineering of rape seed is being developed which will produce oils with the same characteristics as cocoa butter. If successful, this will lead to the reduction of the cacao tree population of the planet, with consequent loss of forest canopy and forest biodiversity that is inherent to successful cacao cultivation. A tonne of cacao costing $1000 yields approximately 1/2 tonne of cocoa powder worth $300 and 1/2 tonne of cocoa butter worth $2000. If cocoa butter is genetically engineered in rapeseed the overall value of cocoa beans will be greatly diminished. This will lead to a considerable reduction in land area devoted to cacao production, regrettably at a time when mainstream thinking is moving back to the forest-based and more extensive systems that preceded the ultra-intensification of the 1980s. More cacao and more cocoa butter, if grown on a sustainable smallholder basis, means sustainable agroforestry, with all the consequent gains in CO2 sequestration, soil protection, biodiversity and economic and political stability. More rapeseed means more soil erosion, more biodiversity loss, more concentration of power, more CO2 creation, more poverty, more subsidies and more asthma.

What is it about chocolate that makes it addictive? Is it good for you?.. What are the chemical constituents of cacao that make it so appealing? How come the cacao tree hits so many of our deepest needs right on the button? Here we come back to my cow analogy - are cacao's properties part of a pact with humans to ensure the plant's survival? A plant that is clever enough to survive in the middle storey can make itself indispensable to potential protectors. Cacao is rich in; 1. Polyphenols - these are the antioxidants found in red wine green tea, grapeseed and bilberry, are also present in chocolate. A single 20g bar of dark chocolate contains 400mg of polyphenols, the minimum daily requirement. 2. Anandamine - this substance locks onto the cannabinoid receptors, creating mild euphoria. 3. Phenethylamine - this is the substance that is found in elevated levels in the brains of people who are 'in love.' The association of chocolate with Valentine's Day and romance has sound chemical foundations. 4. Methylxanthines - Cacao's theobromine and theophylline are kinder stimulants than caffeine. They provide less coercive stimulation than coffee as they take time to break down into caffeine. 5. Magnesium - As you might expect from a plant that was developed by women, cacao is the plant world's most concentrated source of dietary magnesium. Falling magnesium levels create the symptoms of premenstrual tension, hence the premenstrual craving many women feel for chocolate. 6. Copper - an important co-factor in preventing anaemia and in ensuring that iron makes effective haemoglobin. The Maya view of hot chocolate as blood is more than a metaphor. 7. Cocoa butter - Cocoa butter is the perfect emollient for the skin, far better than the petroleum jelly substituted for it in cheap bodycare products. It melts at precisely the human body temperature. That's why people love the mouthfeel of chocolate. As the cocoa butter melts, it acts as a heat exchanger on the palate, cooling the tongue as it goes from a solid to a liquid state. Unlike hydrogenated fats, which are often substituted for it in cheap confectionery, cocoa butter stays liquid at normal body temperature, thereby avoiding the occlusion of arteries and distortion of lipid metabolising functions that hydrogenated fat consumption entails.

You show me a cow that can deliver such a comprehensive package of addictive, stress-reducing and health-enhancing ingredients.

Maya Gold In 1987 I visited a cacao grove for the first time, in Belize. I was transfixed. I was with a film crew making a film about the Deer Dance and the Crystal Skull, a Maya artefact, but something told me that cacao would be part of my future. It was one of those moments when something undefinable happened, when the hair on the back of your neck stands on end. My diary of the time includes drawings of chocolate bars called 'Maya Maya'. In 1991 a series of coincidences led me to add a chocolate business to my trading portfolio, hitherto a wholefood range that proudly proclaimed that we had never sold anything containing sugar in 24 years. Our Green & Black's organic chocolate was successful and in 1993 I contacted the Maya cacao growers in Southern Belize. This soon led to the production of Maya Gold, the first ever controlled named origin chocolate. The marketing of Maya Gold emphasised the biodiversity contribution and the social and economic benefits of smallholder cacao. To date, just a few of these benefits have been 1. Secondary school attendance has risen from under 10% to over 90% 2 A logging permit granted to a Malaysian logging company was successfully challenged by a coalition led by the cacao growers' association and 100,000 hectares of rain forest were spared the axe 3 The Kekchi and Mopan Maya, who communicate in English because their Maya languages diverged such a long time ago, have overcome mutual suspicion and work together in harmony in the democratically constituted growers association 4 Women's rights and health have benefited. Although the men do the planting, pruning and harvesting, the women control the post-harvest fermentation and drying and therefore control the end product and income from it. They are less likely to spend it on beer than men, thereby ensuring it is invested in education, clothing and health.

Maya Gold is now a supermarket staple in the UK. Of course, it helps that it tastes delicious and echoes the Maya recipe for hot chocolate, which uses allspice, vanilla and choisya (Aztec Mock Orange) leaves as flavouring. In our recipe we substitute orange for choisya but think we have recaptured the essence of the Maya cacao experience.

The success of Maya Gold shows that consumers respond to a processor's declared commitment to acknowledge and support the integrity of the cacao plant, of its forest world and of the people who tend it. They understand their place in the web of life and the leveraging impact of their purchasing decisions on issues of global concern. We are privileged to have been able to make and illustrate this connection and to profit from it, along with the Maya growers and the cacao and the forests which cacao production generates.

Knowing Your Food

Most people have little idea where food comes from, but when they do, their expectations are shattered. Once they realise the huge contrast between organic farming and factory farming, they usually forget about price differences and become committed organic consumers, end of story. If that's what it takes to win people to the organic cause, how do we get the message across?

In the 1960s and 70s my brother and I had a natural foods store called Ceres Grain Shop on London's Portobello Road. Many of our customers turned up every Thursday morning for the delivery of freshly harvested vegetables brought down from Lincolnshire by John Butler. You could literally see the radiant aura of robust good health in his cabbages. He wrote for our magazine, Seed, The Journal of Organic Living, and his monthly column, Changing Seasons, enabled our 25,000 readership to get inside the head of the man who grew their vegetables. The combination of tasting the difference and understanding the underlying philosophy made them core organic consumers.

Next door in Ceres Bakery we baked bread made with flour that we milled from wheat grown by Stuart Pattison and we put up pictures of him and his horse-drawn plough working the land on which he grew the wheat for our bread. This was on the Portobello Road in the 1970s where we were in competition with 30 fruit and vegetable stallholders as well as cheap bakers, and when the yuppification of Notting Hill was just a glint in the property developers' eyes. Our customers vacuumed up the organic vegetables and queued into the street for organic wholemeal bread.

Those encounters gave me a profound faith in the wisdom of the buyer - once people are offered the link to the producer and are given the opportunity to make an informed choice, a goodly number will override considerations of price and convenience, and plug into the higher energy of being properly connected with their food source. When they do, they become a force to be reckoned with.

Last month the 2004 Soil Association National Conference's theme was Reconnecting the Public with Agriculture. The question was: how can we reawaken a passion for good food and good husbandry in the public? (ew: from programme). Saturday afternoon focused on the soil, the organic farmer's prize asset - and the very foundation of human health (programme). In the Soil, Compost and Health workshop, soil scientists produced evidence about the importance of a balanced soil using compost and other soil-building techniques. Their measure of success was improvements in plant health, significant reductions in vets' bills and increases in animal fertility. That translates, in human terms, into healthier food for people: lower NHS costs and less business for infertility clinics. Healthy soil also produces plants that heal quickly - slash a compost-grown cucumber along its sides and the gaps will close with minimal scars. Do the same to one grown with chemicals instead of compost and it goes rotten. How much proof do people need?

The Soil Association believes that seeing is believing. That is why they have a network of working organic farms that are open to the public. Last year 300,000, including legions of schoolchildren, visited. A trip to an organic farm is often all it takes to see that the soil is the foundation of all plant, animal and human health.

For some people what they see with their own eyes is not enough - they want scientific proof. One conference speaker was Paul Hepperly, research manager of Rodale Institute in America. He reported that their long-term comparison of 22 years between organic and chemical farming systems demonstrated the superiority of organic farming. Both nutritional content - and yields - were higher in the organic crops. It all came down to the soil. Hepperly berated the chemical farming system: "We've been mining soils rather than building them."

People frequently suggest that the Soil Association changes its name to 'The Organic Society' or something equally zippy. Our founders had great foresight - the answer lies in the soil and once people understand that, all the spurious questions about whether to choose organic or not go out the window.