The Importance of Being Earnest(ly Organic)
Its been just over 32 years since Cusgarne Farm went organic, and at the time it was largely regarded by both the farming and wider community as lunacy. We often get asked why Greg and Teresa chose to convert and sometimes the answer is long; chemical use, biodiversity, financial impossibility of being a small conventional vegetable farm, availability of healthy safe food for a young family and the community. And sometimes the answer is short; because it just seemed like the right thing to do.
The right thing to do has very often turned out not the most lucrative, the easiest or the fastest option, but nonetheless it has become a guiding principle at Cusgarne.
We were all affected by the recent Attenborough documentary about extinction. The decline of species is happening at a devasting rate, and the impact on nature’s, and the human world’s, balance is still unknown but also terrifying.
We were part of a bumblebee study a year or so ago led by Exeter University, and we dug out the results today. And those results were a little glimmer of hope for us and also some reassurance that in farming organically and regeneratively we are making a difference. So we thought we might share this with you.
Seven sample farms were surveyed in a bid to get a range of grasslands, field boundaries, agricultural practises and locations. And the results were startling. In one of our fields, the Stone Park, over 4 visits they recorded 145 individual bumblebees, which was the highest of any field in the study.
The survey was split in to grassland and field boundaries. Our boundary results were great, we had the highest diversity of bumblebees recorded and our numbers were comparable to a few other farms, the highest being 25, 24 and then us at 18. Tellingly the results at the bottom of the table were 3, 4 and 9. Which really goes to show how important field boundaries are (such as Cornwall’s fantastic Cornish hedges).
But our grassland survey really blew us away. The lowest average number of bumble bees on one farm’s grassland was a devastating 0.5, followed by 1, 7, 10, 13, 26… and then Cusgarne at a bloody fantastic 47, with the second highest number of flowering grassland plants.
We are a destination for many studies, and we really want to continue being one, every survey continues to back up our belief that farming organically and environmentally responsibly is essential for biodiversity and for carbon sequestration. Results like these really do show the impact that how land is used and managed has on nature. Chemicals devastate the balance on a farm and removing hedges, trees, field margins leaves the other inhabitants on the farm with nothing.
We farm to coexist with nature. We leave our field margins wide and full of flowers, we plant winter bird seed mixes and sections of wildflower meadows, we leave our hedgerows full of mature trees and bushes, we leave crops that have gone to flower in the fields, we plant trees, we look after our soils, we farm in rotation and top up soil nutrients and replace organic matter with our cattle and chicken manure and seaweed. The list goes on, however we aren’t perfect, there is always more we can do, which is a constant topic of conversation. In the next year we will continue our program of hedge mending and maintenance and plant trees in our field perimeters and in areas that we can’t farm. We are conducting a trial of a really interesting fodder tree crop and participating in soil carbon and biodiversity studies and drilling old pastures with a mixed flower pasture that is drought resistant and deep rooting to help with water distribution.
The balance as a farmer seems to be how to remain viable but not at the expense of the other inhabitants of the land and the ground that we ask so much of. Over 70% of the land in the UK is under agricultural management, there is an imperative that farmers realise that they can actually do what we do, or even more. Going organic was absolutely the best thing that we did at Cusgarne, the alternative was grim… and to be able to prove that other farmers can do the same is essential. This is thanks to all our incredible customers.
Thank you so much from all of us for choosing to support Cusgarne and proving to farmers, policy makers and the supermarkets that local, small and organic really works.
If you want to be involved with the farm, we will be looking for volunteers for our tree planting this winter, and if you are adept in bird or nature surveys, wildlife photography or indeed anything else relevant, then we always welcome help, as the biggest barrier to farmers doing more for the environment is time, resources and communications.