Sunday, 9 January 2011

Real Farming – The Nation’s Primary Health Service Meeting


This meeting was the second half of the Oxford Real Farming Conference which I attended on Wednesday, 5th January 2011. The first part was called Real Science for Real Farming and was already fully booked when I registered.  It was encouraging to see the positive efforts being made to take a stand against the B'org and here is my report.

Sir Crispin Tickell, a career diplomat, chaired the meeting which started off with discussion of dairies. Iwan Jones continues a family farm with 100 cows in North Wales and seems to be making good headway with this size of organic, pasture-based system. Next Matt Dale told of how he started with 3 cows and developed up to about 60 Ayrshire cows in Oxfordshire and sells his milk directly to customers in the area. Finally, Nick Snelgar described how he is working on the concept of micro dairies, i.e., owning cows and renting land from farmers for grazing on a contractual basis. Nick is founder of Future Farms, a small scale food business in a small town of 240 people. All three speakers were convinced of the health benefits of milk from grass-fed cows and this was uplifting to hear.

The next speaker was Robert Plumb who operates a Norfolk-based Soil Fertility Service. His presentation was quite science based with various types of nutrients and ratios mentioned. Although he seemed confident that his methods have positive results for agriculture, I was reminded of my recent article on ‘supplementitis’ from my 2010 Retreat articles. In this article, I discussed the supplementation and fortification of food and the fact that whole foods with all nutrients in tact as nature provides are better than manmade ones.  However, he did claim good crop yields from his treatments and advice. He also discussed glyphosate and said that it was possible to use it within reason as well as producing good crops using the monoculture system. He gave a rather short term example as a success story. I would certainly prefer a more natural system that relies less on mathematical equations and scientific formulas to improve soil fertility, such as described by Masanobu Fukuoka in The One Straw Revolution.

We then had a break for tea, biscuits and a chat, which was over all too soon. One person I spoke to was a farmer in Sussex who claimed that he was not in opposition to the proposed Nocton Mega Dairy in Lincolnshire where up to 8,000 cows could be housed. I only hope that his was not the prevailing opinion of the other 100 or so people present because I recently wrote to my MP to stop it.

The next speaker was worth coming back to from the enjoyable tea break. Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride has written a new book called Put Your Heart In Your Mouth. She has taken the challenge to thwart some of today’s nutrition myths, and as I took notes, I would like to share some of these here.

First and foremost is the hypothesis that she says was formulated in 1953 which claimed that cholesterol was bad for health. This myth has not been allowed to die despite much scientific evidence to the contrary. In fact, cholesterol is produced by the liver and a vital substance for our health. Toxins can cause malnutrition because they inhibit the liver’s ability to produce cholesterol. This happens because toxins are stored in the fatty tissues. The challenge for farmers is to produce food from animals that does not have a lot of toxins. Certainly, the grass-fed cows and sheep are better than those fed genetically modified soya and corn. And it is my contention that animals need sunlight just as much as people do to keep healthy.

Dr Campbell-McBride described how low levels of cholesterol, not high, can actually lead to many diseases and disorders such as:

• violence, aggression and even suicide
• cancer
• heart disease and stroke
• Parkinson’s disease
• memory loss
• poor immunity
• early death

Furthermore, she said that forty to seventy percent of cells are made of membrane tissues and forty percent of membrane tissues are made of cholesterol. In addition, adrenal and sex hormones are primarily made of cholesterol. Also as an indication of its importance, cholesterol is carefully recycled by the body.

Next she discussed arteriosclerosis which is an inflammatory condition of the endothelium, the inner lining of the blood vessels. Inflammation and repair occurs when there is a balance in the system. When there is only inflammation, arteriosclerosis plaque develops into a never healing ulcer. Two types of fatty substances work in repair. Low density lipids (LDL), often called the ‘bad’ cholesterol, goes from the liver to the plaque and high density lipids (HDL), often called the ‘good’ cholesterol, moves from the plaque back to the liver where damage is repaired. She said that calling one type good and the other bad is like calling the ambulance that goes from the hospital to the scene of the accident bad and the one that brings the injured to the hospital good. They are actually both the same. So the claim that LDL is bad for health is a myth too. She explained it better, and if you are interested, please see the video of the presentation now available at ttp://vimeo.com/20802525) or read her book.

Importantly, she highlighted the metabolic syndrome in which consumption of processed carbohydrates leads to permanent glucose overload. Nature packages carbohydrates so that they digest slowly. But with many processed foods, huge amounts of glucose surge into the blood. The body then goes into shock and produces insulin. Too much insulin causes manic behaviour especially in children and too little results in moodiness, depression and sweatiness. The long-term result is diabetes and other illness.

Dr Campbell-McBride explained that the metabolic syndrome is the most important factor in many diseases, but secondary causes may help to tip the balance. For heart ailments, anything that injures endothelium is important such as:

• man-made chemicals
• processed foods
• microbes
• abnormal gut flora
• nutritional deficiencies
• lack of sun exposure
• other things such as radiation, electromagnetic pollution, stress, sedentary lifestyle

Preventative methods include cooking from scratch with whole foods and not polluting the body with foreign substances and chemicals. She mentioned that products used for self-hygiene often contain harmful chemicals and ingredients. On this note and about plaque of a different sort, I would like to share a homemade recipe for toothpaste that I recently discovered. The mixture I use is 1 cup of coconut oil, baking soda (2-3 tablespoons), sea salt and tea tree oil (10 drops) and the best toothpaste I’ve ever used. Even so-called natural toothpastes on the market contain glycerin which some claim forms a coating on the teeth. I have long avoided glycerin in other products because it sucks moisture out of the skin and actually leaves it drier. So I am glad to have found a great substitute to commercial toothpaste!

During the question and answer session it was clarified that olive oil should not be heated and so is not good for cooking despite chefs on TV telling us otherwise. Also, a good type of bread is sour dough fermented with yogurt or kefir which breaks down nutrients to make digestion easier.

The next speakers covered biological agriculture, the new farming, which was started by Charlotte Hollins.  She enthusiastically described how she and her brother, Ben, started England's first community-owned farm, Fordhall Community Land Initiative. The organic farm has a shop too! 

Tim Waygood then gave an impressive, albeit brief presentation about his Agrarian Renaissance at Church Farm, Ardeley where he produces low carbon food and encourages biodiversity and it is community oriented.

The last speaker was Graham Harvey, author of We Want Real Food. Unfortunately, the meeting was running late and I had to leave to catch the train back to Peterborough which was a four hour journey, but I’ve ordered his book from Amazon.

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