Faces and Visions of the Food Movement: Patrick Holden | Civil Eats

Faces and Visions of the Food Movement: Patrick Holden

Patrick Holden is a true visionary in the sustainable food movement. Based in the United Kingdom, he works internationally and locally. Patrick was director of the Soil Association from 1995-2010 and is a long-time advocate for organic farming, having spearheaded numerous campaigns in support of sustainable food. His farm, Bwlchwernen Fawr, is the longest established organic dairy farm in Wales. Patrick is now the founding director of the Sustainable Food Trust.


What issues have you been focused on?

The Sustainable Food Trust is focusing on two issues currently: True cost accounting and the individual systems to bring about change in the food system as a whole.

In the current food system, food producers, particularly intensive producers, are not held accountable for downstream external costs, including, but not limited to: Depletion of natural capital, emissions, pollution, biodiversity damage, public health costs, and social and cultural costs arising from the present food system.

True cost accounting is a three-part program. [We will] first, identify and categorize externalities; second, put a price on negative effects on the system and a value on positive effects; third, reward the good guys and chastise the bad.

It is a better business case to produce food intensively, sending affordable, yet less sustainable, food to customers. This sends strange economic signals to both consumers and producers. For sustainable farming and food systems to become mainstream, these distortions must be broken.

The second issue involves the power in individual systems to bring about significant change. The ability to exercise individual power as consumers and citizens to buy food that tells a story is key to this systemic change occurring. The purchase of food close to where we live, of food that we identify with. As citizens rise up and begin to use this power, then the world will change and food systems will be transformed.

What inspires you to do this work?

My inspiration comes from a lifelong relationship with nature and the land, stemming from an urban childhood marked by frequent farming holidays. This relationship has brought me a deep sense of stewardship and custodianship. We are custodians of the planet; we must do everything possible to look after the land and bring it fertility. Every time I go back to the farm, I am inspired by the land—by a farm in balance with nature.

What’s your overall vision?

The Sustainable Food Trust plays a catalytic role in accelerating the change to a sustainable food system, empowering individuals and organizations to work together, and influencing the food and farming policy climate. Our vision also involves helping better inform the public, in providing people with the necessary information to act upon their food buying choices.

What books and/or blogs are you reading right now?

I recently read Willam Blacker’s Along the Enchanted Way. It’s about a man who went to Romania, Transylvania, 10 years ago, and fell in love with a landscape and a culture which was still completely untouched by 21st Century industrialization. His description of that culture and farming moved me deeply.

Who’s in your community?

There are five or six people in the sphere of the Sustainable Food Trust community, some dedicated volunteers. Our small team is based in Bristol, though we often work from home. While we are based in the UK, we are working internationally. We share close links in the food system all around the world.

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My farm community includes my wife, our four young boys ages 5-12, and my elder son and his wife. We celebrated 40 years of occupancy of the farm on the 20th of July.

What are your commitments?

The combination of the Sustainable Food Trust, my farming commitments, and my family take up most of my energy. My commitment as a steward to the land that my farm resides on is very important to me.

At the farm, we strive to create a system of food production as resilient and self-sustaining as possible, in relation to the key inputs of energy, nutrients, animal feed and bedding. We hope to create a system as cyclical as possible–whether by generating energy, recycling nutrients, or producing animal feed on the farm. We are treating the farm as an organism–not just for the sake of self-sufficiency, more to ensure the positive outcomes in the future.

To explain with an analogy: The farm is a cell.  The cell is part of an organism, the food system. If the cell is healthy and happy in its own right, the food system as a whole will be healthy. The achievement of this healthy cell comes from farmers gathering further knowledge about growing food in a sustainable manner, food security, and climate change.

Man does not live by bread alone.  We must also pay attention to the social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of quality of life. The vital relationship between our spirituality and our sacred role as stewards, being mindful of the subtle energies present and the higher purpose of life.

What are your goals?

[I have] a goal of service. And continuing to be an organization that supports others looking for change in our current food system. As a small organization we aim to create an atmosphere where the collective endeavor and organization become more than the sum of their parts.

What does change look like to you?

It will have a number of different dimensions, the key being the restructuring of our food systems.

If the sustainable food movement is successful, it will manifest in the way that we grow, produce, process, distribute and eat our food. The story of our food becomes more local, less processed, and more apparent. Our diets will change and align with the productive capacity of the food system. This change will lead to the enhancement of our physical and spiritual life due to the many benefits that re-localized food systems deliver to society as a whole.

Regarding the practicalities of enacting change, what planning is involved? What kind of outreach?

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Planning and outreach will come through traveling to and meeting with individuals around the food systems, attending conferences with the media, and building positive relationships. The move towards building partnerships is necessary, supporting other organizations and vice versa.

The Sustainable Food Trust will be hosting a public conference in London on the theme of true cost accounting.  The conference is confirmed for December 6, 2013 at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

Where do you see the state of agriculture/food policy in the next 5-10 years? Is real policy change a possibility?

I’m optimistic that conditions for change are much closer than we think. People’s awareness is increasing and it is creating an atmosphere and environment that is conducive to the healthy environment we are striving for. Systemic changes don’t actually occur without a sudden shock. A partial breakdown of the industrial food system is needed to initiate a wider overall change.

What does the food movement need to do, be or have to be more effective?

We must abandon our old attitudes. There is an unhelpful division between the sustainable food movement and the rest of agriculture. This has to change.  The movement must be much more inclusive than it has been over the last 35 years.

The members of the food movement must be brave enough to not hang on to our own humilities. Some us have been around for a long time and we must realize that we may not have all the answers. We must work together in a new spirit if we are going to enable a new transition that will initiate change to the whole of agriculture, rather than just 5-10 percent.

What would you want to be your last meal on earth?

With family, of course. It would consist of food produced on the farm, simple food and delicious vegetables. If we had meat, it would be from farm animals that lived a happy life. We’d also have blackberries and cream made with milk and cheese produced on the farm.

Tom Boyden is a dude cycling around the world, filming and writing about sustainable food producers along the way. Before he cycled through nine countries in the summer of 2013, he worked in all facets of the food system, from farm-to-table restaurants to a biodynamic farm. He's currently studying horticulture at University of Wisconsin-Madison and recently finished a study abroad in the Netherlands focusing on organic agriculture. His videos can be found on his website OrganicandUrban. Read more >

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  1. I really admire your cause. Would like to know how to work with forces in US.

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