Highgrove farm to Petaluma
Highgrove farm to Petaluma: Discussions on sustainability and organic integrity during Albert Straus’ visit to the United Kingdom
Posted on November 11th 2013 by Straus Family Creamery
For Albert Straus, the beginning of fall started off with a trip to a conference in the United Kingdom in September. Patrick Holden, the Founding Director of the Sustainable Food Trust and former Director of the Soil Association of England, invited Straus and Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, to participate in a discussion on sustainability and the future of organic foods and agriculture.
Attendees gathered at Highgrove; a site particularly suited for such a meeting. Highgrove—the country home of Prince Charles—is renowned for its pioneering organic practices. Its gardens and farm, with their abundance of rare varieties of fruits and vegetables, grown without the use of chemicals, serve as a living homage to Prince Charles’ long-time advocacy for environmental sustainability.
There, Straus and Hauter joined with a diverse group of thought leaders within the UK’s organic food and agriculture movement. Also in the group was David Wilson, Farm Manager of the Duchy Home Farm.
Topics for discussion ranged from exploring the meaning of sustainability, examining the impacts of GMOs, and communicating true cost accounting to consumers. True cost accounting is also referred to by American media as the “true cost of food”. All of these topics were discussed with a sense of urgency, as all need to be addressed to create a sustainable food system.
One memorable discussion during this conference was on consumers’ perceptions of organic foods. As organic foods’ popularity has risen sharply on both sides of the pond, large agribusiness brands have started buying up small, independent organic producers or creating their own organic brands on a very large scale. Does this development create the potential for a negative impact on the consumers’ perceptions of the quality of organic products?
If so, how might organic family farmers and food producers in the US and Europe continue work to differentiate themselves and their products in a marketplace increasingly dominated by large corporations? In the minds of consumers, organic foods must continue to successfully provide the quality and integrity they expect.
The cross-cultural dialogue during the conference provided a terrific opportunity for participants to listen and learn from a broad array of past successes and missteps, with an eagle-eye focus on the future vitality of organic family farming.
A two-fold strategy was emphasized to maintain a positive consumer perception of organic foods: First, organic farmers and food companies need to maintain an unwavering commitment to organic integrity. Second, these values and practices need to be clearly, respectfully, and explicitly communicated to the consumer.
After the meeting at Highgrove concluded, the dialogue continued into the fields. Albert Straus went on to visit several organic and biodynamic farms, kitchens, cafes, and bakeries in the United Kingdom. Included was a tour of Patrick Holden’s farm, the Bwlchwernen Fawr, which is the longest established organic dairy farm in Wales. Holden offered insights on traditional land-management techniques.
In total, Albert Straus’ trip to the United Kingdom was a highly valuable experience and a great example of the benefits that can come from cross-cultural dialogue, idea sharing and community building. He came back home to California inspired and invigorated to continue to work toward his mission of supporting family farming, of building a sustainable, regional food system, and of maintaining the integrity and vitality of the organic agriculture movement.
1. Highgrove Estate, Duchy Farm Field, September 2013
2. Cows grazing on an organic farm, September 2013
3. Patrick Holden holds a handful of soil during Albert Straus’ visit, September 2013
4. Albert Straus crouches in field during a farm visit, September 2013