We were double winners at the Soil Association Best of Organic Market awards this month; best and most innovative organic farmer. The urge to innovate stems from our restless dissatisfaction with the way things are, a determination to find a better way and constant pushing of the boundaries. It got man out of the cave, brought us the Industrial Revolution, the Green Revolution and the internet but arguably also the Enclosures Act, climate change, deforestation, gun powder and industrialised farming. Clearly it can be a force for both good and bad; as yet we are incapable of distinguishing the useful from the destructive before lunging forward into the chaos that ensues when we let the marketplace decide. The innovations that are scaled up are invariably the profitable ones (usually to a small minority), not necessarily balanced, beneficial to all or thought through in their consequences for humankind and the planet.
I am an irrepressible innovator and sometimes loathe the restless dissatisfaction that comes with it. I know it makes life hard for my staff and those around me and have determined to take time to celebrate achievements before dashing on. On this occasion, celebration involved a lot of organic vodka, imbibed on a warm London night with some self-satisfaction.
To be a good, maybe even the best, organic farmer requires much more balance, and some wisdom. Innovation has its place but, unless preceded by a lot of observation, patience and bit of humility we would be charging around creating clever solutions to the wrong problems. Last week we were clearing up the yard and I noticed a number of my early inventions disappearing into the skip (I couldn’t help retrieving the long-abandoned, barely used, lie-down weeder; a genius idea which my staff hated). Mercifully, over most of my 30 years of organic growing my impetuous nature has been balanced by our more considered farm team, particularly John, our cautious farms manager of 25 years. I appreciate his patience and consideration but will never emulate it; I will be an innovator to the grave. To succeed and persist another 30 years we need both approaches, and the wisdom to recognise when each is appropriate; when to risk my revolutionary leaps and when to progress in John’s cautious steps.