“I think, therefore I farm organically” – and wholistically

WHAg Window – giving a view from our perspective…..

You don’t have to be an organic farmer to farm for health but organic farming and biodynamic farming are the only farming systems which are built on a concept of health – in principle and in practice. “Regenerative” isn’t, nor is agroecology, or “agricology”, nor “pasture fed, or “holistic grazing” and nor are the various versions of “nature-friendly farming”.

All of these approaches have things to commend them – some more than others – and the farmers following these methods should be given credit for breaking out of the conventional mould. These approaches are all concerned with some aspect/s of health on which they focus, which is why organic farmers are often – if not always – involved in them.

But they are not systemically built on an underpinning and overarching concept of health which determines how the whole farm is managed from soil, to plant and to livestock and then how the product of that farm is harvested, stored, processed, packaged and sold. All with the aim of securing and enhancing the process of positive health in all of those phases – and in the surrounding ecosystems.

The organic farming vision – ambitious, preposterous and real

This aim is so ambitious that it is almost guaranteed to fail, and in truth there are some poor examples of organic farms in all parts of the world. But there are far more good ones than there are poor ones.

Some might say that this ambitious aim became a preposterous one when organic ideas began to spread and sought to take root in a wide range of ecosystems and social conditions around the world. But organic farming is found thriving in far more countries, in all parts of the world, than not – and in most of them it has been grown from the grassroots by an alliance of farmers and citizen consumers.

Others have argued that this ambitious and preposterous aim became well-nigh impossible when the organic movement began to evolve into an organic sector and became involved in a regulated global market.

And in part they may be right because there are examples of dire regulation which shame the organic vision and concept but there are also good examples, in many parts of the world, where regulated organic production provides consumers with healthy food they can trust, gives farmers a consistent and reliable market and the confidence to seek to farm for health.

Whatever its problems, downsides and challenges no other farming system – conventional or alternative – provides systemic positive health in soils, in plants, in animals, in the food produced, and in the environment and ecosystems in which it is based in a consistent, wide-ranging way across the globe. It is no accident that whenever “sustainability” of farming, or the quality of food, or the value of farming methods for health of soil and livestock are assessed, it is organic farming which is always referenced.

Celebrating organic farming

So, whilst we at Whole Health Agriculture recognise the challenges facing the organic sector and are aware of the benefits of other farming systems and are conscious of the skills of many non-organic farmers, we strongly believe that we should celebrate organic farming during this “Organic September” – and every other month of the year.

Here’s why:

  • Organic farming is built on the concept that the health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible. This is the truly wholistic concept of the process of positive health management which we believe is the basis of whole health agriculture. This concept is at the heart of the organic principles (health, ecology, care, fairness) from which day-to-day practices flow.

  • In practice, organic farms have for decades been delivering demonstrable benefits all around the world to the farmed environment, wildlife and biodiversity, livestock, food quality and health. Faced with the problems of climate change and finite resources, biodiversity loss and pesticide and diet related ill-health it is clear that organic farming can make a massive contribution to tackling these problems.

Although research evidence is hard to gather in complex living systems the evidence for the benefits of organic farming is now mounting to the point where it is hard for even the most critical commentator to dismiss it. One of the heartening things about this Organic September is the positive tone with which the media has generally responded.

Thinking about the farm as more than a collection of enterprises

Of course, there is still a good deal of misinformation around, from both pro and anti-organic commentators – and especially over questions of soil, food quality and health. We will pick up on some of these things in the future.

Over the years I have known many organic farmers and organic farms. I have watched closely and supported conventional farmers in their conversion to organic systems and in their journey of discovery about the intricacies of organic farming and whole farm health. Almost all of them have found this journey satisfying and would never return to farming conventionally.

One of them, the late Ed Goff – a conventional dairy farmer who started his conversion to organic farming in the mid-1980s – was adamant that he would never return to conventional farming. When asked why not, he paraphrased the philosopher Descartes in reply, “I think, therefore I farm organically”.

That is not to suggest that conventional farmers don’t think. What Ed meant, was that when you begin to see how the process of health is enhanced in whole farm systems, you begin to think through how to manage that farm as a whole and not as a collection of enterprises. You start to think wholistically (not that he would ever use the term) and organically.

Lawrence Woodward

Lawrence Woodward OBE

About the Author:  I’m the chairman of WHAg, founder and director of the Organic Research Centre (ORC), and regularly advise & speak about the principles and methods of organic agriculture. 

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Farm homeopathy: an inconvenient truth

WHAg Window – giving a view from our perspective…..

The use of farm homeopathy is not a prerequisite of Whole Health Agriculture but many farmers who farm for health, use or have used homeopathy.

What Whole Health Agriculture shares with homeopathy is a belief in the critical importance of the body’s self-healing capacity, and the concept that health is a process of maintaining homeostasis (a stable internal environment) or balance.

The late Dr Peter Fisher (formerly Director of Research and Consultant Physician at the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine) described homeopathic treatment as aiming “to stimulate and direct the body’s self-healing capacity by triggering a reaction. The body reacts to stimuli, which have physiological effects (drugs or toxins) by attempting to maintain homeostasis (a stable internal environment). Homeopathy makes therapeutic use of this effect.”

Many farmers have used, and are successfully using homeopathy. Our colleagues at Homeopathy at Wellie Level have documented some of these and this is just a fraction of the success stories which farmers testify to. Our own survey of the use of farm homeopathy and other alternative methods is revealing significant levels of success in reducing anti-microbial drugs across all types of farms and livestock types – from smallholders to large scale, commercial productions. We shall be reporting these findings over the coming months.

Yet for sceptics – and those who pretend to be objective but aren’t really – the real-life evidence of farming practice isn’t enough. They dismiss it as fantastical wishful thinking, or conspiracy or arrested development or belief in fairies.

But is there anything more fanciful than the notion that hard-headed, commercial farmers would make-believe or lie about the evidence of their own, eyes, and the weight of their wallets and say that farm homeopathy works if it doesn’t?

For these sceptics, so called “scientific evidence” is the be all and end all. Yet they avoid the questions: Which science? Whose science? Which methodology? Which observations are fit for purpose? And which assessments are designed for failure.

They also fail to own up to the fact that its not so long ago that ecology and biological interactions struggled to find appropriate methodologies, scientific analysis and statistical treatments. Ecological research eventually found methods that are fit for purpose and it is highly likely that this will eventually happen with wholistic approaches and disciplines.

In the mean time we have the evidence of farmer experience, and, less well known, is that there is a body research evidence which indicates that homeopathy works – in people and in animals, plants, other organisms and cells. Before his death in 2018, Peter Fisher reviewed this evidence.

It is not definitive but it is substantial enough not to be dismissed. And at a time when we are facing new disease challenges, it should not be dismissed.

We recently reported about the hypothesis that “old friends” micro-organisms play a critical role in the development and regulation of human immune systems. If living organisms – whether in soil, plants, animals or man – have the ability to self – regulate or organise a resilient immune response by adapting to challenges (internal or externally generated), it is not unreasonable to explore the possibility that there can be a mechanism that triggers or stimulates that response in a way which Peter Fisher describes.

But setting this speculation aside, it is clear from farmer experience that whole farm approaches to health – whether in crop or livestock systems – build the capacity to be resilient to challenges (pests, disease, virus, draught, extreme weather events) by finding a way back to balance (homeostasis).

The experience of farmer indicates that homeopathy is one way of assisting in that approach.

To use Al Gore’s headline phrase, this is “an inconvenient truth”. Or you can choose your own headline. How about a paraphrase of Lord Alfred Douglas poem, it is a “truth that dare not speak its name”, or rather that people dare not speak of.

On the other hand, you could choose the headline “homeopathy works” – OK?

Lawrence Woodward

Lawrence Woodward OBE

About the author:  I’m the chairman of WHAg, founder and director of the Organic Research Centre (ORC), and regularly advise & speak about the principles and methods of organic agriculture. 

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Be very wary of misleading papers and articles about “trendy” pet food diets

Dog waiting for dinner

WHAg Window – giving a view from our perspective…..

A new study on the changing pattern of diets fed to cats and dogs in English speaking countries has just been published in the Veterinary Record.

Although the vast majority of diets are still conventional, processed, bought in foods, the study shows a significant increase in the use of “unconventional” – homemade (HM) and/or raw animal products (RAP) and vegetarian ingredients.

Many people would think this is a good thing but in their summary of conclusions, the authors – who all have links to pet food manufactures or ingredient suppliers – highlight that “an increased risk of nutrient insufficiency and associated conditions have been attributed to unconventional feeding practices”.

However, the literature they cite is far from convincing and fails to show any evidence that the health of animals is actually being adversely affected any more than is the case with feeding conventional diets. The discussion of whether “unconventional” diets improve health is, predictably, thin.

Needless to say, media coverage of the study has focussed on the potential risks and not potential benefits and delights in knocking copy. “Trendy raw and vegan diets may cause health problems for cats and dog” is the Daily Telegraph headline.

The actual study deserves better treatment than this and a more intelligent, impartial summary conclusion than its authors give it. For example, the paper points out that:

  • “Trends in animal nutrition shadow trends in human nutrition, with increasing consumer interest in ‘natural’ and ‘holistic’ foods demonstrated in both human and pet feeding practices.” 

  • People who feed HM diets “may perceive these diets to be more palatable, or they may consider them to be healthier than processed commercial diets.”

  • “Feeders of RAP have been reported to have significantly different perceptions of the pet food industry, as well as animal health and nutrition than feeders of conventional diets.” 

  • “In particular, people who feed RAP to their pets had lower confidence in the advice of veterinarians, especially with respect to companion animal nutrition. They also reported concerns regarding the safety, quality and nutritional value of conventional foods, and perceived RAP as being more natural and healthier than conventional diets.”

  • “Promoters of HM diets and RAP claim that these foods will improve health, increase energy and even reverse chronic diseases such as cancer; however, there is currently a lack of peer-reviewed research to support these claims.”

All of which is familiar to those of us concerned about Whole Health.

 

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