The Soil Association – Membership Benefits

Of course you can (use my article) – I’m very keen on the various organic groups talking to each other and sharing ideas, articles and experiences – Peter Robinson, Membership Secretary, Norfolk Organic Group.

Following-on from the recent page on Garden Organic; the spotlight now falls on The Soil Association.

Brief History

Believe it or not, The Soil Association’s website is not very detailed in the origins of the Association but Peter has pierced together the following from other references:

Although the first meeting of what became The Soil Association took place in June 1945, the underlying interests which brought 60 prominent persons together for this first meeting dated back to the 1926 publication of Sir Robert McCarrison’s works on his research into the relationship between food and health.  Lady Eve Balfour took an interest in this work in the immediate pre-war years and, with her friend Alice Debenham, set about forming a trust in which land at their respective farms would be used for research into the part soil has to play in the nutrition of plants and animals.  During the war years Eve Balfour published her initial thoughts under the title ‘The Living Soil’ and the summary results of the research work carried out on the research farmlands was later published as ‘The Haughley Experiment’ (as both farms were located in Haughley Green, Suffolk).  ‘The Living Soil’ is available from Audrey in our library and our own copy of this book includes the (rather dry but important) The Haughley Experiment.

(References are in the Living Soil – Eve Balfour – p162-72 approx. The scientific comparative experiment was started before the war preparing the 200+ site into 2 areas to compare organic with chemical growing.  Circumstances intervened to stop this true science-based analysis which was probably undertaken later by Elm Farm research – Ron)

Sir Robert McCarrison’s work led to parallel research into ‘whole community health’ in what became known as The Peckham Experiment (1926-1950).  If you are interested in this, go to www.thephf.org – fascinating reading, especially as Kate McGeevor, a Trustee, is visiting us on 16 January!

Throughout its life The Soil Association suffered from a lack of money and there was an almost continual change in land ownership and Trust arrangements at Haughley, culminating in a move to a new head office premises in Bristol in 1985 when the last of a line of benefactors, a Mr. Pye, died. The land at Haughley lost its new organic status under the new owner and in 1987 the research farmlands were sold off.

Although that was the end of ‘The Experiment’, the Soil Association had, by that time, encouraged an interest in the links between ‘the soil, food and the health of the people and the plant’ such that offshoot organisations had been set up in various counties in Britain and in many countries all over the World.  It had drawn up the first Organic Standards in 1967 and today it advises and supports organic growing and farming throughout Britain and acts as a pressure group for the acceptance of organic food.  It currently provides certification for 80% of the organic food produced in the UK through their sister company, Soil Association Certification Limited.  Who amongst us cannot instantly recognise their unmistakable ‘underpants’ symbol?

Current Aims

The Soil Association are about ‘planet friendly food and farming’ and their stated objective is ‘to lobby for the UK to be 100% organic by 2050’.  And we are sure that all members of SEEOG support that objective.

Current campaigning centres on:

1.  Promoting the benefits of organic food and farming – enough said!

2.  Food security – by lobbying for a rapid transition from our current oil and chemical-based food and farming methods to more resilient, local and organic production.

3.  Food for Life – working with other organisations (including Garden Organic) to promote children’s interest in food and the provision of healthy school meals.

4.  GM, antibiotics and pesticides – SA lobbies against the use of GMs and the misuse of antibiotics.

The Soil Association organises an annual Organic Fortnight with events arranged to promote organic appreciation.  They hold a register of organic farms throughout the UK, which run farm visits, open days and other activities.  They organise training events for farmers and growers and support new entrants to organic farming through their Organic Apprenticeship Scheme.

The above represents just a few of the ways in which the Soil Association promotes organic food appreciation and production. Interested souls can wile away an afternoon or evening quite happily reading all about the organisation on their website at www.soilassociation.org

Their strategy

The Soil Association launched their new strategy last year: ‘The Road to 2020 – Towards healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use’. Building on their past successes, and putting a strong emphasis on innovation and on reaching out to a wider audience, the strategy is based around two major themes: ‘facing the future’ and ‘good food for all’, underpinned by an ongoing commitment to ‘enabling change’.  You can read it here (PDF) if you’ve not already had a look.

Member Benefits

The Soil Association is not really an organisation which gives out benefits to its members.  It is more about its members supporting the aims of the Association – this is how the organisation started and this is how it proceeds today.  They do not run any gardens or farms themselves so there is nothing to gain free entry to, but they do publish a quarterly magazine, ‘Living Earth’, which reports on current matters of concern, bursts a few incorrect media statements (like organic food is no better for you than conventional food – remember that one) and advertises ‘Green’ events and products.  Copies of ‘Living Earth’ are available for consultation at SEEOG meetings (ask Audrey or Brian).

There is no Members’ Area on their website although there is ‘Grow organic’, downloadable by all, on ‘What to do this month in the vegetable garden’ which is quite useful http://www.soilassociation.org/groworganic

SEEOG Involvement

We have been a ‘local group’ of the Soil Association for a few years now and had the great pleasure of visiting Lord Melchett’s farm in July 2006.  Since 2008, SEEOG has always encouraged all Essex schools to register with the Food for Life Partnership after meeting Karen Brenchley and Diane Fisher at Fairways Primary School.  Ron attended the Bronze Award Ceremony last month in Purfleet.  In January, we will start to gather sign-ups to their free Supporter E-news.  On average, they send 2-3 emails per month and they are a great way to stay informed about their events, campaigns and important issues.