Organic herbs, seeds and soil health—new insights
- Conference Overview
Sessions & Workshops
The over-riding theme of these three sessions was improvement to organic horticultural systems, whether through diversification into herb production, taking control of organic seed production or using the rotation to improve soil health.
Encouraging organic herb production in the UK
Session run by Helen Kearney (Organic Herb Growers’ Alliance)
Helen Kearney from Elder Farm led a session about the potential for increasing the amount of UK grown medicinal herbs. Currently many common plants (that a lot of farmers would consider weeds) are imported from the EU and beyond. Plants such as nettle, dandelion leaf, elderflowers and berries grow well in the UK and when they are dried or processed in certain ways have the potential to provide extra income to growers. The quality of UK grown herbs is also a consideration as different farming practices (fewer large scale processes) can improve the quality of the herbs and make them more marketable. The organic herb growers UK co-op has just been formed (since the conference) and anyone who is interested in finding out how to become a member can email:info@organicherbgrowersuk
Seedy business: Meet the seed producers
Chaired by Jason Horner (Leen Organics, Gaia seed sovereignty programme steering group) , with David Price (Seed Co-operative), Ellen Rignell (Trill Farm Garden) and Kate McEvoy of Real Seeds
Ellen Rignell presented the activities undertaken at Trill Farm Garden, highlighting the main challenges (workload and required technical expertise) for their small business of saving and producing seed for commercial purposes. She recommended that growing a diversity of produce while specialising in high value crops is crucial for small businesses like theirs, and concluded her presentation by stressing their political commitment to seed saving.
The characteristics and some key figures of Real Seeds and Vital Seeds were illustrated, as well as the mission of the Gaia Foundation, aimed at encouraging home seed saving by offering open pollinated seed and technical advice to growers.
The talk by David Price followed which emphasised how a small community-owned seed company like the Seed Co-operative can take shape as a viable business, since seed sales have been providing a sustainable income stream. Key elements to the success of the Seed-Cooperative have been: increase in profit on seed sales, and the identification of production costs; sharing technical skills, as well as the values of seed sovereignty within the growers network and beyond (with volunteers and visitors).
- The examples of Trill Farm Garden, Real Seeds, Vital Seeds and the Seed Co-operative suggest that selling seed of open pollinated varieties can represent a viable activity for motivated small companies, provided that sustainable business models are developed, which allow in particular the sharing of technical skills needed to produce seed
- These companies are often politically motivated
Niels Corfield & Adam Keeves jointly facilitated this session. See presentation here. Adam presented on his experiences as a grower and from his study tour of field horticulture operations in the Netherlands and Belgium. The latter particularly focused on minimum tillage tools and innovations. Niels delivered the soil health principles as a thinking and decision-making tool and the theory behind them, as well as evidence of their application, gleaned from visual inspections of soil under different management regimes. Once the presentation was over attendees were invited to participate in an exercise where they ranked six different green manuring options using a matrix based around the soil health principles. This same practice then was carried over to a critique of a standard horticulture rotation, identifying points of intervention. Again, using the soil health principles as a lens to through which to improve or eliminate management practices.
- Min-till tools exist and are effective though are not widely available in the UK and can be expensive
- The soil health principles are a tool for decision making, use them when rotation planning in day-to-day
- The route to soil health can be a cumulation of easy-wins, as much as wholesale conversion to min-till