Volume 12 Number 3
View From An Organic Farm
01 June 1999
Alan Brockman's hope for the 21st century is no less than a revolution in world farming, which will see organic farming coming into its own.
Alan Brockman is a man with a vision. His hope for the 21st century is no less than a revolution in world farming, which will see organic farming coming into its own.
Alan and Ulrike Brockman and their two sons run beef, cereals and vegetables on their farm, which has been completely organic since 1976. Set in beautiful rolling countryside just outside Canterbury in England, the farm works as an 'enclosed system'--the stock produce manure to treat the plants which feed the stock. No artificial fertilizers, hormones or chemicals are used and seed is saved from the harvest to plant the following year--so little is needed from outside. 'One person asked why the whole farm seems to vibrate like a Van Gogh painting,' says Brockman. 'That's because it's biodynamic. People can sense it.'
He began farming, by conventional methods, with his father in the 1950s. He was appalled to see his orchards full of dead earthworms as a result of the agrochemicals of the time. His own health suffered too and he began searching for alternatives.
He found them in the 'biodynamic' principles of the philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner. Steiner's methods involve working in harmony with nature's rhythms and cycles. For instance crops should be harvested in the morning when the sap is rising and sowing should take place at the end of the day when the sap is drawing back in. Herbal preparations are used to enhance compost and manure. Cow manure and silica quartz are buried in cows' horns for several months and then diluted and used in minute quantities to increase the health and fertility of soil and plants. Brockman maintains that thousands of acres of Australian desert have been made fertile by this method.
Many of today's problems in farming are caused by the fact that we have lost 'our reverence and wonder for nature', Brockman says. 'People used to feel they were part of the landscape. Now the whole concept that we belong to nature has been forgotten.'
Steiner warned as early as the 1920s that feeding meat to ruminants would cause problems. Brockman does not know of any organic beef herd in the UK that has ever had a case of BSE. He also maintains that the use of artificial fertilizers weakens plants' resistance to insect and fungal attack. Problems should be minimal, he says, if the top soil--'where heaven meets earth'--is managed correctly.
Much of Britain's organic produce is imported. Compared with conventional farming, little research or government support is given to organic farmers. The attitude of supermarkets can also be unhelpful. Brockman quotes an instance of a crop of organic leeks being rejected because they had a curve in them.
He admits that organic farming is often more labour-intensive than conventional farming, particularly for fruit and vegetables. But recent advances in such fields as mechanical weed control are beginning to swing the balance.
For the consumer, the advantages of organic foods are largely invisible. Apart from sometimes a better taste and higher price tag there seems little to separate them from conventionally produced food. Are they just for the rich and the cranky? Brockman believes not: the benefits of an organic diet, he claims, are more important than many appreciate.
Early in his career he supplied fruit and vegetables to a home for mentally handicapped children and saw first-hand how the change to an organic diet improved their behaviour. He also quotes scientific research which attributes such problems as the decrease in attention spans and in human fertility to our modern diet.
As public concern grows about pesticide residues, genetic modification, BSE and food addititives, Britain's organic food industry is booming. Many baby food manufacturers now use organic ingredients, restaurants are seeking out organic suppliers and supermarkets are test-marketing organic produce.
Brockman campaigns tirelessly for his cause: giving talks, writing articles and sitting on committees. He says that there are growing signs that 'all these years of crying in the wilderness' are finally over.