Alice Holden is the Head Grower at the Growing Communities Dagenham Farm. She spoke to OI! about why it's so important to support organic farms.
Q: How did you get into farming?
A: After university I worked on my dad's farm as well as on a farm down the road. During that period I realised that farming organically was a job that can combine nurturing people and environment. Rather than seeing it as a stop gap I realised it was what I wanted to do.Q: What are some of the differences between conventional farming and the kind of farming you practice at Dagenham Farm?
A: Organic farming, unlike conventional farming, tries to minimise environmental pollution. On our farm the only pollution comes from the 16 miles I drive once a week to sell the veg. In terms of growing we don't spray crops with pesticides and we feed plants with compost rather than energy hungry man made fertiliser. Thus we avoid polluting our watercourses and wider environment. Another difference is that organic farming involves more people and more labour. This increase in labour adds to a farms diversity. Organic farms tend to have more people, wildlife and varieties of crops making them richly diverse habitats for all.Q: What kind of impact has the farm had on Dagenham?
A: The farm has had a massive impact. It has provided a place where people can volunteer and get a sense of purpose. The farm gets a lot of support from the community. It gives people access to learning about growing healthy food. Local school children visit the farm. It provides the opportunity for people to learn about food, nature and cycling organic waste on their doorstep. This opportunity would otherwise not be available as there is nothing like it nearby. Our proximity to where people live allows access to these things.Q: What has surprised you the most since you've been working at the farm?
A: Definitely the amount of time people want to spend at the farm. People really want to access organic food and they want it to be affordable. I assumed it would be hard to sell organic in this borough but the demand is high. Unfortunately right now there aren't enough outlets. Sometimes people pay a premium for organic at a shop but the closer our outlets are to the farm, the more affordable we can make the produce as we do not have to add the costs of packaging and transportation. I want the food produced in the borough to be affordable to the local populace.Q: Why is it important to support organic farms?
A: Buying local, organic food supports a system of agricultural which has a positive affect on the environment instead of polluting it. The more people that support organic farming the bigger the impact it can have in creating sustainable models of agriculture that can be replicated. We need sustainable models of food production if we are to continue to feed our population.Q: You mentioned that organic is better for the environment. What kind of impact does a farm like Dagenham farm have on labour?
A: Dagenham farm is part of Growing Communities, an organisation working to create trade models that are fair to producers, such as local box schemes. Re-localising supply chains is part of the way they create transparency in terms of treatment of environment and workers. There was recent media about how much of our salad crops are grown by unfairly treated workers in Southern Spain. When the supply chain is long it is harder to know how people have been treated. Shortening and simplifying the supply chains allows for more transparency regarding how food is grown and how workers are treated. Increasingly large food retailers disconnect us from the treatment of workers and the environment. Places like Dagenham Farm allow consumers to reconnect.Interested in visiting the farm (map here) and meeting Alice? There is an open day the second Wednesday of May (13th). Starting in June, open days will be the first Wednesday of every month.