Understanding the bigger picture

9th February 2021

Last week, Celia Bradley wrote about some of the things she has discovered since starting work in the area of local, sustainable food. This week you can read more about how Lee Greens fits into the bigger global picture.

Did you know that for every pound you spend on food, on average only 9p is paid to the farmer?

One of the things that is crucial to us at Lee Greens is that we pay our farmers a fair price. We never push them for a discount but pay them what they ask us for their produce. We know that our farmers receive at least 50% of the food price. Why is this important?

Until recently my answer would have been that we want to pay them fairly so that they earn a good livelihood and that by paying them what they ask we ensure mutual trust. They will offer us vegetables at a lower price when they have a bumper crop but they will need to charge us more when things aren’t going so well. We are confident that they are not trying to rip us off and they know that we will be reliable customers who support them regularly from season to season.

While all of this is hugely important, there is something else which is relevant in terms of the wider food system.

Many other farmers are stuck in a low-price / overproduction cycle. Because they are forced by market pressures to accept a lower price for their crops, they try to compensate by producing even more in order to stay solvent. As production increases, the price drops further. Taxpayers then pick up the bill because subsidies are used to keep the system ticking over.

When farming using conventional “industrial” methods, this desire to produce more and more from a piece of land leads to increased use of chemicals and rapidly diminishing soil quality. Overproduction is thus a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural pollution and food waste.

At Lee Greens, because we know our farmers are using sustainable methods, and are receiving a fair price for their produce, we are confident that such negative environmental impacts do not arise.

Red spring greens in a polytunnel

But surely we need to increase production in order to feed everyone in the world, don’t we?

This brings me to the myth of scarcity. Did you know that worldwide, food production equals 2900 calories per day for every person on the planet, considerably more than our bodies need: this is 20% higher than it was in 1970. (And that’s without taking into account the huge number of calories of grain being fed to livestock.)

There are powerful corporations controlling most agriculture globally. By spreading the idea that we need to produce more, they encourage farmers to buy into industrial methods to increase production. The story is that without this technology, we won’t be able to feed our planet.

In reality, agro-ecology (agriculture using sustainable production methods) is proven to ensure higher yields per hectare than industrial style monoculture.* The produce is of a higher quality and is more nutritious; the farmers frequently have more autonomy and are true stewards of the land; the ecology of the land benefits through biodiversity and better soil health. Thus we are able to protect both people and planet at the same time.

The good news is that there are numerous people and organisations in local communities around the world who are using and promoting these sustainable practices. Jules Pretty and his team at the University of Essex have identified 8 million new collaborative groups that have emerged in just 20 years (2000-2020), all creating sustainable agriculture and forestry. Wow!

By buying your fruit and veg each week from Lee Greens your contribution benefits your local community and local farmers, but you are also part of a much bigger global effort to restore the connection between people and produce, between farmers and nature, between agriculture and ecology.

Celia's next article is about imagining a different future.

Cows in a meadow credit

* “Though difficult to quantify, a growing body of anecdotal evidence and small-scale studies highlights the environmental and social benefits that these practices can bring. For example, a review of 40 initiatives employing different agroecological practices showed an average crop yield increase of 113%, in addition to environmental benefits such as carbon sequestration, reduction in pesticide use and soil restoration.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264245203


If you’d like to read more about this, here are some suggestions:

Food First, a US ‘people’s think-tank’ discussing why we need to pay farmers fairly

The Ecologist magazine article about the myth of food scarcity

An inspirational key note speech from the Oxford Real Farming Conference entitled ‘Food and Democracy’

An ORFC workshop hosted by Sustain (a UK organisation campaigning for a fairer food system)

An introduction to Agro-ecology


Cows grazing - Photo by Anton Maksimov juvnsky on Unsplash

Hands - Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash