When people ask me about sustainability, I always say “well you see it all starts with the soil…”
Having studied general agriculture and pig farming in my youth and then marrying a dairy farmer, I have a basic understanding of the soil. I ploughed Stonehill field about 30 years ago when 6 or 7 months pregnant with Jemima, our second child and in front of an audience of old farmers (following the Beaufort Hunt) and I made a very mediocre job of it. When I complained about my efforts to old Mr Hibbard standing in the gateway as I packed up (whose grandson supplies your Christmas sprout stalks) he replied “well it doesn’t matter as long as you turn the soil over”.
Conventional farming relies on ploughing the soil which releases carbon dioxide and harms the soil over time. We don’t always need to do this, there are more sustainable ways of growing our food and two of our local vegetable suppliers have adopted a method whereby the vegetables are grown without turning the soil over.
Soils support plants that provide food, fibre, fuel and they retain and release excess water, emit carbon dioxide and absorb it from the atmosphere, healthy soils rich in biodiversity act as the primary food source for wildlife.
Wise use of land is critical to soil protection and restoration and we farmers decide how and for what the land should be used. We are influenced by market forces though and in recent decades we were encouraged to provide more food and cheaper food (which is what the British public wanted), but this relied on cheap polluting energy and depleting natural systems to increase yields.
This, together with climate change means that it is essential and urgent to change the way we eat, soil health and soil quality lie at the heart of this approach.
We changed our farming methods radically and sold our high yielding but fragile Holstein dairy cows in favour of a more durable traditional breed almost twenty years ago. Our Shorthorn cattle, (one of the oldest native breeds in England) are hardy enough to live out all year round and finish as beef cattle without the use of a cereal based diet. This means we can protect our soil by avoiding all the heavy machinery used for cultivations, manure spreading and cereal production.
We're also part of the Pasture for Life Association, and our Butchery works with other local farmers with native breeds that feed on local pasture which in turn protects the soil and maintains the biodiversity of our local landscape.
Your Gift to future generations is to look after our local environment by buying the very best locally and sustainably produced food you can for a sustainable future and so generations to come can continue to enjoy the patchwork of small family farms in the Cotswolds.
Rebecca Wilson, Founder & Managing Director October 2020