60 Harvests Left

Guest blog, by Annabel Britton, from All Good Market in Stamford

There are more organisms in a handful of soil than there are people on Earth.

It’s the foundation of all terrestrial life and civilisation.

And it’s a finite resource: its loss and degradation cannot be recovered within a human lifespan.

The soil crisis

Photo by Dylan de Jonge

Globally, we’re destroying topsoil at a rate of 1-3cm each year. It would take an entire millennium to recreate that inch or so of soil (source).

In the UK we’ve lost 84% of our fertile topsoil since 1850, and its a particular problem for our part of the world.

‘The most fertile topsoils in the east of England – where 25% of our potatoes and 30% of our vegetables are grown – could be lost within a generation’

 Lord Krebs, chair of the Committee on Climate Change’s adaptation sub-committee.

Importing food isn’t going to get us out of this mess – globally, the UN estimated in 2014 that we only have 60 harvests left.

Humans have farmed for 12,000 years and we only have half a century left. That is terrifying.

So what on Earth (excuse the pun) are we going to do about this?

COP26 this year is focussed on soil and agriculture but national governments don’t exactly have a great track record of getting shit done (*angry Greta stare into camera*). Let’s look at some things we can accomplish ourselves.

1. Buy organic food and avoid using pesticides in our own gardens

Whilst all sprays are subject to government regulation and careful oversight to ensure farmers are using them properly, they are not without downsides.

Putting aside the nefarious effects on bees, earthworms and waterways, they also hinder the fixation of nitrogen, an essential nutrient for plants. Therefore, their use makes it harder to grow a decent yield next year – necessitating the use of more fertilisers. It’s a vicious circle for farmers, but it applies to your garden too.

Put away the sprays!

2. Follow the ‘no-till’ principle and avoid disturbing soils

This releases the carbon held within them into the atmosphere. You can imagine what it does to the earthworm’s home, too. However, there is usually a trade-off between ploughing and spraying. Choose one.

3. Eat (UK-grown) pulses

Peas and beans fix nitrogen in soils and offer a fantastic source of protein. 

Hodmedod’s are pioneering this movement in the UK.

The more you buy them, the more farmers can justify growing these wonder crops.

4. If you eat meat, eggs and dairy, buy it from farmers who use regenerative practices

Much is made of meat and climate change, but livestock can have a role to play in regenerating our soils, too.

For example, Yeo Valley’s cows have sequestered more carbon in the soil than they have emitted in the past five years. All Good Market’s egg supplier lets their chicken out to pasture (when possible) and so does Bassingthorpe Milk. For pork, beef, lamb and mutton you can buy direct from 3 Daughters, while Liv and Matt at Gwash Valley sell 100% pasture-fed beef.

5. Compost!

Organic matter thrown in landfill releases methane.

When you compost it instead, it returns nutrients to your garden’s soil and improves its structure.

I hope that soil soon has its ‘ocean plastics’ moment. A picture of a worm is never going to provoke the same visceral reaction as a photo of a bird with its stomach filled with plastic.

But we ignore this situation at our peril.

Thank you to Annabel Britton from our Food Partners, All Good Market in Stamford, for writing this blog. Please check out her website and sign up for her newsletter, for more good things!

More from our blog

Market gardeners

Fringe Farming

For fruit and vegetable crops – I’m talking the 7-a-day stuff that most of us need way more of in our diets – it’s a completely different story. 

Just a few acres, with polytunnels or glasshouses require constant tending, and can employ numerous people doing skilled, interesting, rewarding, socially useful jobs. 

Fruit and vegetables don’t necessarily need much processing before they reach our plates. We want to eat them fresh – the fresher the better! 

It would make sense, then, that the most labour intensive, perishable, unprocessed foods are grown in close proximity to urban areas.

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