James Odgers’s letter to the Financial Times addresses the assumption that all economic growth must be good. He opens:
“Unbridled corporate power is at the heart of an ever-fiercer anger felt by many, and by millennials in particular, who view the growth and influence wielded by large corporations as malignant rather than benign. They place less emphasis on mere profit and more on the need to belong, to be part of a community”.
As a small-scale farmer in the south-west of England he is seeking to establish a sustainable model of farming post-Brexit that allies share farming with mutuality and stand in direct opposition to ever-larger farms selling to the multiple retailers.
He and others similarly placed have been amazed at the lack of political opposition to the proposed tie-up between Asda and Sainsbury’s as the competition authorities seem to be craven when faced with the power of these leviathans of commerce and ruefully reflects:
”The rural economy has been almost wholly destroyed by what is clearly an oligopoly and yet we are told that there is sufficient competition between these vast concerns to meet the needs of consumers”.
In another interview Odgers, from Stream Farm, Broomfield, points out that whilst prices in the supermarkets increased by 50% over a recent period of 7 years, the price at the farm gate rose only 12% and every new supermarket store that opens results in a net loss of 226 full, local livelihoods – mostly small-scale family businesses that have had to be closed – and the local communities have suffered accordingly.
His mission: to establish as many basic farming businesses as possible on the land and hand them on to those who want to farm, perhaps have tried and failed in the past, and to encourage them to earn a livelihood and by helping each other to produce the very best food. So far 8 businesses have been set up: beef, lamb, chicken, pork, rainbow trout, apple juice, honey and spring water, still and sparkling. He is keen to start on vines and perhaps crayfish. To read in more detail use this link.
Share farming is a microfinance model in which a farmer (often referred to as the owner) with land and fixed equipment enters into an agreement with another farmer (operator) who provides labour and machinery. The profit from the agreement is split between the two or an alternative compromise is reached. It gives each farmer the opportunity to run their own business and earn a livelihood from their share of gross income and the owner recovers, slowly, the costs of capital invested.
We could feed ourselves in this country and help the poor in other parts of the world if all farming were to be organic, if we took out the profiteering supermarkets, and farmers were paid a fair price for their produce.
- It need be no more expensive for the consumer – our Dexter beef box is at least £60 cheaper than the equivalent cuts in Waitrose.
- If we stopped wasting as much as we waste and demanding out-of-season and perfect-looking produce, there would be more food than we need.
- If there were large numbers of small farmers helping each other as happens at Stream Farm, communities would be enhanced and the countryside would become vibrant and would require many more farmers.
- And if we stopped pouring onto our land and into our animals chemicals that have no place to be there, we might all be a sight healthier too!
It is expertise that we should export from this tiny island of ours, rather than feeling we have an obligation to feed the world by unsustainable farming practices that are causing an ever-greater environmental deficit.