Agriculture & Food, Collaboration, Sustainability

I love the Soil Association, I really do – you will rarely meet a finer bunch of sensible, noble, inspired, and passionate people than at a Soil Association conference.

But boy-oh-boy has the organisation been holding them back! The Soil Association’s position and principles have been well intentioned, but the way they’ve gone about their job has been – with a few notable and excellent exceptions – from the dark ages. (Well, OK, maybe the 1970s? But with sprinklings of C17th Puritanism.)

But with their new corporate strategy, The Road to 2020, I am delighted to report that change is coming.

It’s driven by this vital sentence: There is no room for complacency*.

This is the crux which allows the pivot from “We are The Guardians of The Church of Organic Excellence and will only work with Believers” to “Let’s just try to help make food better for people and planet, shall we?”

Skipping over ironies that come from such a change of direction, and turning a blind eye (for now) to the “What took so bloody long?” problem of institutional change, let’s look at the highlights:

  • More evidence based: they’re using facts, not ideologies.
  • Going to where the people are: “it’s about mainstreaming our values, encouraging people to connect with, and care for, each other and the natural world through their relationship with food.”
  • It’s about improving standards: The word ‘agro-ecological’ is used 3 times. Whilst it’s not much against the 44 instances of ‘organic’ it’s a major shift to acknowledging and promoting sustainable yet not-100%-organic farming methods.
  • Partnerships: “Our future will be built on partnerships with other organisations and individuals who share our vision for the future of food, farming and land use. […] investigate and promote business and social enterprise models that encourage ethical practice.”

This last point about partnerships is one I welcome enormously and agree with whole-heartedly. There is no room for complacency, and we must move fast and move together to undo the tragedies which have taken place since WWII.

I have had some experience of trying to work with the Soil Association on a project which helps with their stated aims of “providing solutions that help people to live, eat, farm and grow with the resources that are available” and “ensuring that we are giving the best possible service and support to our licensees”. I know three companies who have tried to work with the Soil Association on related projects which champion the work of organic producers, and each has met with a particularly abrupt and hostile response.

I shall be following up with Helen Browning to make sure that the journey along The Road to 2020 starts today, and will keep you posted.

(Meantime, you might like to sign up to be a part of a networked solution which is 100% behind the Soil Association’s new direction!)

PS. apologies for the blatant self-promotion, but it’s a heck of a mission, and we need all the help we can get!

Ed Dowding

Ed Dowding

Founder, strategist, writer, gadfly, TED talker, world-record holder, and (foolishly) reality-TV farmer. DOES: Innovation, Product, Advocacy THINKS: Regenerative Systems, Institution design, 300 year horizons

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