Organic farming is not a new "fad", but means a return to pre-chemical forms of farming – no pesticides or herbicides which kill soil organisms, insects and weeds hence there are more food sources for animals, birds (listen for them singing!) and insects. This also minimises health problems in our food and pollution of our environment - note our clear and healthy stream.
What does Organic Farming mean at West Town Farm?
The land has had no chemicals applied to it since 1990. When chemicals were used on the land they came in many forms. Here at the farm the main one was artificial fertiliser. This was manufactured in large chemical plants using vast amounts of energy to convert nitrogen from the atmosphere into nitrates to increase crop growth. Herbicides were then used to control the weeds, fungicides to control the diseases on the plants and pesticides to kill the pests.
Now the only input onto the land is compost made from the animals dung and straw from their bedding in the winter.
On this organic farm as with most others, clover is grown. It is an essential ingredient to most organic farms today. It has a unique property of being able to "fix" nitrogen from the atmosphere. This helps to build up the fertility of the soil. We then use a rotation of crops. By growing grass/clover leys for a number of years, perhaps 4 years, the fertility of the soil is built up and that fertility is then used to grow cereals, such as wheat, oats or vegetable crops.
Antibiotics, or any chemical treatments on animals, are not used routinely on organic farms. We only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary if an animal is sick.
The land and animals have been treated like this since 1990. We achieved full organic status in 1992. The farm is certified as organic by the Soil Association. We have an annual inspection which usually takes a whole day where all the farm records, the accounts and land are checked by the inspector.
The land is almost back to how it was before chemicals were applied. Its fertility and its vitality are improving all the time
Ongoing wildlife surveys are showing steadily increasing levels of biodiversity. This is also due to the Environmental Stewardship schemes that the farm is involved in.
The world that we live in is changing rapidly. The levels of damage to the environment and to biodiversity have been dramatic through "chemical farming" and are still going on. We hope that what is happening at West Town and the actions that we take here can be part of "the solution" rather than part of "the problem".
Some people see organic food as an elitist product for wealthy people. But if we look at the bigger picture and think about sustainability, some important questions are raised. The intensive chemical farming of the past sixty years has temporarily produced cheap food – but it has been heavily dependant on cheap oil, which will not be available to us for much longer. It has also been responsible for very high carbon emissions, mainly through the production of artificial fertilizers – something else we will be unable to indulge in the future. The cheap food produced by these methods is not sustainable, but its availability has led to an expectation that food should be cheap
We at West Town Farm believe that organic farming can produce affordable food, especially if bought unprocessed and locally. It also cuts out the hidden costs of “cheap” food – the costs to animal welfare, our health and the environment.