Digging a little deeper into Organic and Biodynamic methods

Digging a little deeper into Organic and Biodynamic methods

Sharing our vision

Stroudco is proud to be selling produce from farmers, growers and suppliers who share our vision of working for the planet. Two of these are Global Organic Markets and Hawkwood Garden, whose Organic certification, along with the added Biodynamic certification of Hawkwood garden, offer customers the chance to buy vegetables and fruit that they know have been produced to the highest environmental standards. Other organic suppliers, which we will profile in later blogs, include Stroud Brewery, the Microdairy at Oakbrook Farm, and Overton eggs.

Global Organic Markets is a family business based in Brimscombe which has been running since the early 80s. “We chose to sell organic vegetables and fruit from the start” says co-owner Alan Davis “as I always had an interest in sustainability and wanted to minimise our impact on the planet”.

When possible, ‘Global’ tries to source their produce locally, be it from other parts of the county or neighbouring Worcestershire and Herefordshire.

As well as supplying Stroudco and selling from the much-loved stall in the Shambles, there is also a thriving wholesale side enabling businesses such as cafes and restaurants to include organic produce on their menus. 

Are Organic and Biodynamic the same?

To become certified organic in the UK, a producer must meet strict sandards regulated by the Soil Association, as indicated by the Soil Association logo.
Certification for organic products from the European Union is denoted by the EU’s organic logo.

Biodynamic growing also requires the same organic standards but with some additional features which will be explained later in this article.

Use of pesticides

What is special about organic methods? Most people probably know that organic produce means, for example, apples or lettuces that have not been sprayed with potentially harmful chemicals. They may know that excessive use of crop spraying with insecticides, fungicides and herbicides can harm human health, damage biodiversity and reduce flowering plants, insects and other wildlife in or around the fields. 

Organic methods replace this with natural pest control – for example planting trees and other vegetation to encourage wildlife populations that feed on the pests, and use of crop rotation to reduce plant diseases. However this is just one strand of the organic story. 

Soil fertility and structure

An equally important but perhaps less know aspect of the organic story relates to the non-use of artificial fertilisers (the increasing shortage of which has been highlighted so recently in the Ukraine war). Not only do these chemicals, which are very expensive for farmers, increase emissions during their manufacture and transport, their continual use in intensive agriculture has often led to both massive soil degradation and in some cases to pollution of waterways which in turn kills off fish and other aquatic life. In addition, when spread on the land, these nitrogen -based fertilisers release nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas which is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. 

While the high plant yields from artificial fertilisers provides a way to grow food more productively, over time the land and nature takes its toll with huge cost to the planet as a whole. Organic methods recognise that producing food is about more than just yields per acre. 

In an organic system, fertility is consistently built up over time through use of manures and/or composts, and crop rotation with nitrogen fixing green manures – plants grown specifically in order to fertilise the soil. These methods used together help greatly to improve the soil structure, increase nutrient- recycling micro-organisms such as fungi, bacteria, protozoa and nematodes, while also enabling the soil to store more carbon and making the land more resilient to droughts and diseases. 

Hawkwood Garden, (which supplies Stroudco with small amounts of vegetables, flowers and fruit alongside its main purpose of supplying Hawkwood College) uses similar methods, but with the added certification which comes from being biodynamic.

Bernard Jarman who has run the garden for over 30 years, explains what being biodynamic means “We follow a holistic approach which sees the planet as a whole, interdependent system so that care of each part enables health for all”. The method was first developed by Rudolph Steiner in the 1930s and has a philosophical base where the farm is seen as a living organism in tune with the rhythms of nature. 

As with purely organic farming, soil fertility is central and the biodynamic methods make use of a number of specially prepared herb preparations for this purpose. Farm animals are also integral to this method , with animal manures prepared in special ways being applied to enhance soil biodiversity and help fix carbon. Some but not all biodynamic farmers and growers also follow the lunar calendar to help determine the best times for planting and harvesting for different crops.

As the world wakes up the potential devastation of climate change and biodiversity loss, in the UK the methods, which have been employed by organic and biodynamic farmers for a long time, are fast taking root in mainstream agriculture through the term “regenerative agriculture”. 

Debates continue to rage about whether fully organic methods could feed the world, but in the meantime many of the best organic practices are becoming integrated into government agricultural policy and food producers of all kinds are waking up to this.

Stroudco supports producers who share this way of thinking. We do not require all our suppliers to be organic, partly because we are very aware that for a small local producer, especially if just getting off the ground, the certification required to become fully organic is highly stringent. However we do believe there is still much that producers and food suppliers can do to work with nature and the planet.

You can discover more about our suppliers with our two short film clips profiling both Global Organic Markets and Hawkwood Garden. You can also watch more of our supplier videos on our Stroudco Youtube page at: www.youtube.com/channel/UCWXGUbod9PjQ1H-Zq52nhsw

Written By Liz Whiteside, April 2022