Watch the video of Patrick Holden’s talk at TEDxExeter 2013.
Scroll down the page for biographical information and news.
Video and Live blogging
Our final session is about looking to the future, and feeding the future is a key issue.
Patrick wants to discuss food, so as has already been said, we’re all in. Farming has become more and more intensive, industrial and unsustainable… and unfit for purpose. His credentials for speaking draws on his decision, with 5 other possibly naive young people 40 years ago, to go back to the land in west Wales. And they put their organic principles into action.
Although the commune didn’t last, the farm did. They have had a herd of Ayrshire cows, and grew carrots for Cranks Restaurant and latterly for supermarkets and wheat milled on the farm. Now his son is turning the Ayrshire milk into cheese on the farm. So Patrick has been able to watch the land over a long period of time.
He has come up with a set of unifying principles which can be applied across scale, continents and climate: soil, health, diversity, resilience, culture and economics.
- Over time it is possible not only to maintain but to build soil fertility.
- Re health: pests, parasites and diseases reveal to us our management deficiencies. Instead of treating the symptoms of disease, we should be investigating the causes of health.
- Diversity: if we farm with the grain of nature, it should be possible for biodiversity to work in harmony with respectable yields. The modern conservation movement mistakenly tries to protect nature against agriculture, and will always lose because big agriculture is the stronger force.
- Resilience is about being able to weather sudden shocks. One way is to minimise exposure to fossil fuels.
- The social, spiritual and cultural dimension is really important, otherwise we won’t be able to persuade young people back to farming.
- The rest of the talk is about economics…
Forty years ago, the Common Agricultural Policy subsidised all sorts of unsustainable practices. So Patrick got involved in writing up organic and sustainable principles. Very valuable, but organic still only makes up 5% of the total market, not enough to break through into the mainstream. Why? Because the polluter isn’t paying, and the right practice isn’t getting rewarded.
True cost accounting is what’s needed. He talked with his mum a few weeks ago about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s failure to persuade people to buy better-reared but more expensive chickens. If all the hidden costs were factored into the equation, the cheap bird wouldn’t be cheap at all. His mum asked Patrick what was the real price of the cheap chicken… He didn’t know, but he is on the case, and is meeting soon with a group of experts to understand what all the externalities are, put a price on them, and work towards policy making the polluter pay.
What are we going to do in the meantime to tackle big agriculture not in the public interest? We should change our buying criteria for staple foods. Go into your supermarket (not too often!) and only buy your staple foods which are local, regional or at least national, and whose story of production is known and certified sustainable. It will be difficult, but don’t give up. Go to the customer services desk, and ask them to change their offering. And if they don’t, take your custom elsewhere. If everyone here changes their actions, then they will encourage others, become scaled up, and we will have taken a final step in creating a much more sustainable food system. Thank you.
The Prince of Wales’ International Sustainability Unit
Foresight report into “The Future of Food and Farming”
Patrick’s Do Lecture on “Why local is the answer”
Patrick Holden is a pioneer of the modern sustainable food movement and the Founding Director of the Sustainable Food Trust. Between 1995 and 2010 he was the Director of the Soil Association and became a much sought after speaker and campaigner for organic food and farming. He spearheaded a number of prominent food campaigns around BSE, pesticide residues and GM food. More recently, he was a member of the UK Government’s working group on the Foresight report into Future of Food and Farming and is Advisor to the Prince of Wales International Sustainability Unit.
Patrick grew up in London but was deeply influenced by a year he spent in California at the beginning of the seventies. He returned to the UK to study biodynamic agriculture and started a community dairy farm in West Wales in 1973. It is now the longest established organic dairy farm in Wales, with a herd of 75 Ayrshire cows – the milk from which is made into raw milk cheese by his son, Sam.
He was awarded the CBE for services to organic farming in 2005.
News about Patrick Holden
TEDxExeter’s Twitter account is the place to go for the latest news about our previous and upcoming speakers and performers. And here are a few bonus snippets.
Tomorrow, Karima Bennoune is giving the Edward Said memorial lecture at Warwick University. Her first report as UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights was recently released; click on “LATEST REPORT”.
Jenny Sealey’s theatre company Graeae and the Central Illustration Agency (CIA!) recently collaborated on a wide-ranging exhibition at The Guardian. “Reframing the Myth” celebrated 35 years of placing Deaf and disabled artists centre stage.
Deeyah Khan and Manwar Ali (Abu Muntasir) both featured in this BBC interview about the lure of ISIS. Deeyah Khan wrote in the HuffPost last June about how “We Must Tackle Extremism Without Compromising Freedom of Speech”.
Carmel McConnell was awarded her MBE on 19 February for services to school food. A slide from her TEDxExeter talk was featured at the TED conference in Vancouver, as Jay Herratti celebrated ideas coming through TEDx events around the world with a particular focus on food.
Patrick Holden was featured in a Guardian article about urban farming and equality.
And finally… Last week, Mike Dickson released a new book! “Our Generous Gene” is “A call to action illustrated with stories from ordinary people who are, to their surprise, already changing the world and seeing small actions ripple outwards for good… For a future of happiness and meaning we just need to develop the naturing, caring instincts we are born with and focus on creating a world, not acquiring it.”