The organic movement still growing at Stockley Farm, Northwich
PUBLISHED: 12:15 05 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:19 20 February 2013
The organic movement has slowed in recent years but one Cheshire farmer won't be climbing off the bandwagon
Since the economy went into freefall we have all been told we have to tighten our belts. That has had the inevitable effect of changing the way we shop, with supermarkets competing to drive prices down and to provide cheaper food. Thats good at the tills but the knock-on effect for farmers and producers can be catastrophic.
Organic food in particular has taken a hit, with the perception of organic as expensive, consumers have reversed the trend of recent years and reverted to conventionally farmed, mass-produced food.
This has in turn caused a slow-down in the number of farmers converting their farms to organic methods but John Walton is adamant that he wont be swayed from the organic path he started down 12 years ago.
Its now a decade since he completed the conversion of his farm on the Arley Estate near Northwich and he said: We have set our stall out and well carry on doing what we feel is the right thing to do.
We have seen a slight fall in the market and the recession has played a big part in that - people will budget to what they can afford but I think people realise there are real benefits to organic food.
We have seen a steadying in the growth of organic but it is starting to pick up again. People know there is value in it and the prices in the shops are not massively different now, although some things are more expensive.
The major supermarkets are businesses and they have to make a living just as we do but they can be very fickle in their attitude towards organic. We are following our ethos whereas a lot of the time they are just going where the market is.
John and his wife Jill began the process of converting his land and stock in 1999, moving from fertiliser and chemical sprays to a more sustainable model.
When we had children we became more aware of what we were consuming, he said.
Your mind-set alters and you think differently about things. We decided we wanted to feed them organically and we found that we couldnt get the food easily around here so started to convert the farm.
It is more labour intensive because you are moving away from the quick fix, we are always thinking 12 months ahead of ourselves, about building up fertility in the soil by rotating crops and ensuring that we put nutrients back into the soil. Its all about working more naturally.
There are moments when you wonder why youre doing this. The weed control is so much more difficult - it would be much easier to use weed killer, but then residues leach into the soil. We try to think of the bigger picture.
Its not all rosy - when we started, milk was 30p a litre, as opposed to 22p, and it was going to increase year-on-year but we have got to the point now where organic and non-organic milk are about the same.
John comes from a long line of Cheshire farmers and the advent of organic is not the only change he has overseen in his 25 years in charge.
His farm now has a partnership with veg box firm Riverford and about 70,000 visitors every year now pass through the farm gate.
They can see how the farm works, watch bird of prey displays and take part in nature trails, feeding the lambs and other seasonal activities.
You have to run a farm as a business, its a different lifestyle to what my grandparents would have known, John said.
Customer service is the key these days. It simply wouldnt have occurred to them that they might need to educate young people about farming, or that children might not know where their food has come from, but we now have an opportunity to do that.
Times have changed and while I just wanted to get home from school and work on the farm I will be encouraging my three children to get all their education before they make career decisions.