Armchair Farming

Have a look at this article featuring our member Jim Dufosee!

Marianne Landzettel – 26 March 2014
Jim DufoseeJim Dufosee on his farm

… is not a synonym for a journalist writing about agriculture. An organic farmer I recently met coined the phrase. Jim Dufosee raises sheep and beef cattle in Wiltshire and grows feed. When he switched to organic it wasn’t necessarily because he was one of the converted. Back then there were financial incentives to do so.

“Today I just know I’m doing the right thing”, he says, and he wouldn’t go back to conventional farming even if they paid him. When I asked him where his way of working had changed the most Jim hesitated a moment and then said: “I need to do a lot more armchair farming these days”.

“If you are a conventional farmer, no matter what your problem, there will be a chemical solution for it. Or at least that’s what the advisors will tell you”, says Jim.

“As an organic farmer I have to sit down and work out a solution for myself”. What Jim needs to figure out is what works on his farm, his land and for his animals. And sometimes the solution is: Jim has his cattle and sheep graze the same pastures in alternate years and that has brought the parasite numbers right down.

In a recent interview Doug Gurian-Sherman, a US scientist in the Food & Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) talked about GMO crops. A new generation, resistant to 2,4 D and Dicamba (better known as the active ingredients in ‘Agent Orange’, the de-leafing chemical used during the Vietnam war), are expected to be deregulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the near future.

“Growing food in a biologically and ecologically sound way is not what the (big agro-chemical) companies want”, Doug said. “It’s not a product intensive approach, it’s a knowledge intensive approach”. (Interview by Melinda Hemmelgarn, Food Sleuth podcast 17.02.2014) Farmers who know their stuff will manage pests through crop rotation and improve the soil quality with cover crops – measures that in conventional agriculture will reduce the use of fertilisers and pesticides. Organic farmers have to figure out other ways of working in any case.

Hence more armchair farming is needed. In organic and conventional farming. And more independent research, done at universities and independent research institutes, not in the laboratories of Monsanto, Syngenta & Co – the solution is not another poison and a GMO crop that can take it.

Marianne is a journalist and broadcaster. Agriculture, food, farming and their interconnections are her passion. She’s co-written a book on urban agriculture, covering the US, the UK and South Asia. She has worked for the BBC World Service, and has been UK and Ireland correspondent for German public radio (where she started out as a reporter for the farming programme in the 1980s). Marianne is a Riverford veg box addict and doesn’t function without coffee

BBC Radio 4 on the Rise and Rise of the Microbakery

This was a great segment on the BBC Radio 4 Food Programme.   Have a listen!

Have Microbakery will Bake!


Children’s Diets Too Salty

Another great reason to bake your own bread and control salt and sugar levels!

Check out this article from

At the end of the month of Bread…

I can hardly believe Breaduary is over.  I have had a lot of fun trying different flours and baking all sorts of increasingly delicious breads.  Practice really does help improve those skills.   And it was actually much easier to do than one might think, given the amount of time you need to knead, prove and bake a loaf.  But really, making bread only needs about 15 minutes of your attention, and the rest of the time it is doing its own thing.  And to make life even easier, you can not only freeze bread (not my favorite, I think it dries out) but you can freeze your dough that is shaped into loaves or buns before the second rise.  This way all you have to do is pull it out of the freezer, pop it in a loaf tin, let it thaw and rise, then bake.  It takes less time than running to the store, and tastes 1000% better.

So now there is no going back….fresh baked forever!!

PS Keep your eye on our consumer page, all the recipes we use will soon be on there!

Bierox 2teacake 3seeded rolls 1Shipton malted loafWhole wheat doughBread and Baps

For Consumers – How to help avoid Pesticide on a Plate


PAN UK recently completed a study ‘Pesticides on a Plate’ to research the presence of pesticide residues in food in the UK. While their finding were unappetizing to say the least, what was even more disturbing was the lack of information that UK citizens have about the food they are consuming – 96% of consumers are unaware of the maximum levels of pesticide residues found in food.

Key PAN UK report findings:

•               The food with the highest residues is soft citrus. 100% of samples contained residues and over 96% contained residues from more than one pesticide

•               Soft citrus, oranges, pineapple and grapes all had pesticide residues exceeding the Government’s MRL (Maximum Residue Levels)

•               Flour is third on the list with over 96% containing pesticide residues, and 73% of bread samples tested contained residues

•               19% of samples contained more than one residue

The Organic Trade Board commented that “the evidence of pesticide use and its increasing presence in foods is worrying and needs to be addressed; however consumers can take action themselves. They can and should ask questions of the products they are buying as the data shows not all are the same.  Our Organic Naturally Different Campaign aims to inform consumers about their choices. We know one way to minimise your exposure to pesticide residues is to eat more organic food.”

You are helping to save the colour in our countryside

Louise Payton – 21 February 2014

Fragrant orchidsFragrant Orchids in bloom on Helen Browning’s organic farm in Wiltshire. Photo taken by wildlife photographer Elliott Neep.

Our countryside has changed colour in the past century. Now mostly green or perhaps yellow with rapeseed (and more recently brown with flood water), it used to be a profusion of reds, blues, whites, yellows and purples when wildflowers bloomed in all their splendour. Agricultural intensification has been the reason for this change in palette – 97% of our wildflower meadows have been converted, weed-killers have obliterated the huge variety of wild plants (weeds) that insects and farmland birds depend on, and mixed cropping (used to control insect pests and break-up disease cycles), have been replaced with inorganic fertilisers and repetitive monocultures.

The loss of all these flowers has had a devastating impact on our wildlife. A wildflower meadow was described in the early century as being chock-full with butterflies, thickly filling the skies above and stretching into the distance as far as the eye could see – a sight now which is hard to imagine.

But there is hope. By supporting our work on organic farming, you are helping to bring some colour back.

Organic farmers must maintain their flower rich meadows, and mixed cropping with clovers, peas and beans are still used as part of the farming system. Furthermore, organic farms use no weed-killers. The result? More wildflower habitats and more flowers within crops – and often around them too as there is no risk of dangerous chemical sprays drifting onto field margins from organic farms. Overall, research has shown that organic farms have on average around 75% more species of plants and a significantly greater coverage of wildflowers. What’s more, organic farms go some way to help species conservation as they have an increased diversity of rare species, such as the beautiful but endangered red hemp nettle and corn buttercup, and the rare but once common cornflower.

So this is to say a great big thank you for those supporting our work on organic farming and helping to bring more flowers, as well as butterflies and bees back into our countryside.

U.K. Organic Food Returns to Growth After Four-Year Fall

By Emma Hall. Published on .

After four years of tumbling sales, organic food is back in favor with U.K. shoppers. Big spenders and younger, environmentally-conscious consumers pushed sales – which fell 12% in 2010 – back to 1.2% growth, according to Nielsen.

At the U.K.’s largest supermarket, Tesco, organic banana sales were up 60%, organic feta cheese up 95%, and organic whole milk up 40%, while at rival Sainsbury’s, organic sales rose a full 7% last year.

Organic food supplier Abel & Cole, which came close to collapse in 2009, reported a 24% increase in sales to $63 million for 2013. Even with the recession still biting and wage increases negligible, Brits somehow found $2.1 billion to pay premium prices for organic food.

Last year’s horsemeat scandal provided the biggest wake-up call for shoppers, leaving them in no doubt that the constant scramble for lower prices had impacted supermarkets’ standards. Anxious new parents in particular have flocked to organic, which makes up 54% of all baby-food purchases, according to the Soil Association.

On top of this, the Organic Trade Board ran a well-timed advertising campaign in 2013, sending out a message to consumers at a time they were prepared to listen.

The Organic Trade Board’s print campaign explained the benefits of organic food in an accessible, light-hearted tone, using talking carrots, chickens, and plums, and ending with the line, “Organic. Naturally different.” In one, a factory-farmed chicken says, “OMG! The place was packed. Everyone who was anyone was there. Where were you?” The other chicken replies, “Outdoors. Nothing personal hun. I’m organic.”

The ads do not shy away from the fact that organic food is more expensive, saying, “You get what you pay for, so buy something organic today.” Catherine Fookes, campaign manager at the Organic Trade Board, said, “We used the campaign to explain the benefits in a simple way. The key benefits are the lack of pesticide residue and the animal welfare message.”

The campaign, by agency Haygarth, targeted London and the South East of England, where 70% of organic food and drink is sold. Nationally, the ads were seen on the websites of some of the biggest supermarkets – Sainsbury, Tesco and Ocado – where they produced a sales uplift of between 25% and 80%.

Brands and retailers funded 50% of the campaign last year, and will do the same in 2014. It’s worth their while to attract organic shoppers who, according to Ms. Fookes, spend twice as much on groceries as non-organic shoppers. The European Union contributes the other 50% of the budget, which will total about $1 million a year in a six-year commitment that started with the 2013 campaign.

Ms. Fookes believes that, as well as the horsemeat scandal, the small upturn in the economy last year helped to bring customers back to organic food. She said, “Our core committed shoppers never stopped buying organic. It was the dabblers who didn’t dabble so much. But now they understand the benefits more, and they care a little bit more – it’s on their minds about what they should eat.

The biggest growth area, Ms. Fookes said, was with the under-35s. “They understand the environment and the health benefits and they aren’t prepared to compromise. They would rather eat organic meat twice a week than non-organic meat every day.”

Bumblebees infected with Honeybee Diseases

Bumblebees infected with honeybee diseases

Rebecca MorelleBy Rebecca MorelleScience reporter, BBC World Service

BumblebeeBumblebees are in steep decline around the world but now they face an additional threat

The beleaguered bumblebee faces a new threat, scientists say.

Researchers have found that two diseases harboured by honeybees are spilling over into wild bumblebees.

Insects infected with deformed wing virus and a fungal parasite calledNosema ceranae were found across England, Scotland and Wales.

Writing in the journal Nature, the team says that beekeepers should keep their honeybees as free from disease as possible to stop the spread.

“These pathogens are capable of infecting adult bumblebees and they seem to have quite significant impacts,” said Professor Mark Brown from Royal Holloway, University of London.

Around the world, bumblebees are doing badly.

In the last few decades, many species have suffered steep declines, and some, such Cullem’s bumblebee (Bombus cullumanus) in the UK, have gone extinct.

Scientists believe that the destruction of their habitats – particularly wildflower meadows – has driven much of this loss, but the latest research suggests that disease too could play a role.

Researchers believe that honeybees are spreading diseases to bumblebees

The researchers looked at two pathogens commonly found in honeybees and found they can also infect adult bumblebees.

In honeybees, deformed wing virus (DWV) causes significant problems. Its severity seems to be exacerbated by the presence of another widespread parasite, the varroa mite, causing entire colonies to collapse.

Bumblebees do not carry the varroa mite, but the scientists found that those infected with DWV had a dramatically shortened lifespan. The fungal parasite has also been shown to have an impact on bumblebee longevity.

The most likely explanation is that the honeybees are acting as the source of the virus for the bumblebees”

Prof Mark BrownRoyal Holloway, University of London

Prof Brown said: “A significantly shorter lifespan in the field would impact on their ability to go out and collect food and look after other bees.”

The researchers found the diseases were already prevalent among wild populations.

Looking at 26 sites across Great Britain and the Isle of Man, the researchers found that about 11% of bumblebees were infected with DWV and 7% were infected with the fungus. By comparison, about 35% of honeybees carried DWV and 9% had the fungus.

“A geographical patterning provides us with the information that transmission is occurring among these animals – they are sharing parasite strains,” said Prof Brown.

“We cannot say it definitively, but because of the epidemiology, the most likely explanation is that the honeybees are acting as the source of the virus for the bumblebees.”

The team suspects that the same pattern will also be found around the world – and says that controlling disease in honeybee hives is vital to stopping the spread.

“We have to, at national and international levels, support management policies that enable our beekeepers to keep their bees as free of diseases as possible,” Prof Brown said.

“The benefits are not just to the honeybees, they are to the wild bees as well.”

Dr David Aston, president of the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA), said: “By employing good husbandry practices, beekeepers can take steps to reduce the impact of pests and diseases on honeybee colonies using biotechnical controls and practices such as apiary hygiene, regular brood comb changes, ensuring the colonies are strong and well-nourished and the use of authorised treatments.”

But he added: “Beekeepers need new effective medications and other biotechnical controls to help in the management of bee pests and diseases and these should be a high-priority action.”

Honeybee and bumblebee
The team thinks the diseases are transmitted when the insects visit the same flowers

The researchers also want to investigate whether neonicotinoid pesticides are playing a role in problem.

A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal suggested that the chemicals are affecting the immune systems of honeybees, making them more susceptible to pathogens.

“If bumblebees were exposed to neonicotinoids and had the same effect, you would expect the bumblebee viral load to be going through the roof. This is something we are hoping to test later,” said Prof Brown.

In the European Union, neonicotinoids have been banned for two years because of fears that they may be harmful to bees. But the British government strongly opposed the plan, rejecting the science behind the moratorium. Both Syngenta and Bayer, which manufacture neonicotinoids, are now taking legal action against the European Commission in an effort to overturn the ban.

February Breaduary is half over

We had some lovely recipes we found for Valentine’s Day, and you can see them on our facebook page.

As we head into the second half of the month I have been asking myself, “Okay, now that I have made all these loaves and rolls, what the heck can I do with them?”  So this week I will be posting recipes for some scrummy sandwiches, tasty bier rox, enchiladas, and a few other treats.  Keep your eyes peeled!

How Dough I Love Thee?

With delicious tear and share cinnamon rolls. Check out our facebook page for the recipe!  Organic grain grown by Organic Arable members makes the best Organic flours for you and your loved ones.  Ok, that’s a lot of organic for one sentence,  but we do a lot of baking for families and ourselves so we feel we can say it with confidence.

But if you aren’t in the mood for something quite so sweet, check our facebook page for the Baked Oatmeal to Go recipe, sugarless and made with delicious White’s Organic Oats.  And you guessed it, our members supply those heart-healthy golden grains!