We interview him about gardening, organics, and how taking things one step at a time can still be a step in the right direction.
All part of the process
“It’s a difficult time for organic producers, there’s no question about it. Because of our attitude towards organics in Britain, they took a knock from the recession and haven’t really recovered. There is an association with organics somehow being an indulgence, of being a lifestyle choice. Nothing could be further from the truth. Organics is about connecting and relating to the whole series of environmental issues that affect everybody at every level. What we eat affects not just our own health and wellbeing, but that of the ecology and the landscape – and from that, issues such as climate change. You can’t ring-fence any aspect of that and disconnect it at will. It cannot be done.
“One of the key issues for the organic movement is getting across to the consuming public that they are as much part of the process as the person growing it in the field or in the barn. In a sense that’s a truism of all our food. Eating is a political act. Every time you choose what you eat you’re making a variety of environmental, ecological and political choices.
“Eating is a political act. Every time you choose what you eat you’re making a variety of environmental, ecological and political choices.”
Few things are as central to our being as food. Short of air and water, it’s absolutely key. Everybody, in every walk of life is engaging with it. There is no class, financial or geopolitical division in that. We all eat, so we all share that problem.
“With gardeners, I try and encourage people to give it a go – I’d much rather they grew inorganically than did nothing. The important thing is to get people involved and engaged in the process of growing food, however they choose to do it. My experience is that the more they do it, the more engaged they become, the more organic production feels like a practical, sustainable option at a garden level.
“I will help them, guide them and steer them. What I do on television and in my own garden is all organic – I will not do it any other way. You will not learn from me what cocktail of chemicals you might use in a certain situation. But we have to treat people as grown-ups – if they choose not to be organic then fine, that’s their choice. It’s a pity but we’re not going to exclude them on that basis. In the end you have to trust people to work it out for themselves if you give them the opportunity. People have got to want to do it. What we have to do is provide the circumstances and facilities that opportunities for people to participate in their own way.
“The Soil Association’s Food for Life scheme is doing incredible work and is really important. Again, people don’t have to sign-up to 100% organic on day one. It’s very interesting how that makes it more accessible. Say to people you only have to be 40% organic or local and they say ‘fine’. That’s not a turning point, that’s acceptable and achievable. We’re all learning from that. The important thing is that children and families are connecting – with their local suppliers, the soil, the seasons – they’re connecting what they eat to their health.”
Monty is a television presenter, a prolific journalist and best selling author. Perhaps best know as the lead presenter on the BBC’s Gardeners’ World, he returned in 2011 after a three-year break to present the programme from his own garden in Herefordshire. A long-time advocate of organic food and growing, Monty has been President of the Soil Association since September 2008. Monty has never received formal training as a gardener, gaining his experience and authority from a lifetime of and passion for gardening.
Food for life
The Soil Association’s Food for Life Catering Mark encourages restaurants, caterers, schools and hospitals to use more fresh, seasonal, local and organic ingredients, high welfare meat and fish from sustainable sources. Triodos has ringfenced £5 million for lending at a discounted rate to restaurants and caterers who have been awarded the gold Catering Mark, and silver award holders working towards gold. In doing so we hope to stimulate the market for decent food.
photography MARSHA ARNOLD interview WILL FERGUSON
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