Partners | Accreditation | Impact: The Soil Association
Welcome to the second in a series of blogs and posts about Regather and our partners. Week by week, we’re going to walk you through who we work with, and outline what our shared role is in creating a better food system for everyone. That’s a mission that sits at the heart of everything we do. And we want you to be confident that when you buy food from Regather, it means you are contributing to local, independent and quality food, that doesn’t cost the earth.
So, without further ado, let’s talk about the Soil Association, a charity that digs deeper to transform the way we eat, farm and care for our natural world. Let’s begin, in their own words:
“We want to live in a world which is in balance with nature and a future with good health and a safe climate. In order to achieve that, it is our mission to help everyone understand and explore the vital relationship between the health of soil, plants, animals and people. Campaigning, educating and helping everyone to grow better together.”
The Soil Association is the UK’s largest certification body, playing a vital role certifying “organic” products, which must meet certain standards. This process allows customers to be confident that when they buy something labelled as Organic, it really is Organic.
What is organic?
The Soil Association’s standards are based on a set of internationally recognised principles. These principles seek to capture the contribution that organic farming and agriculture can make to the world.
The first principle is that of Health, which maintains that organic agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal and human as one and indivisible. Organic farming aims to manage the land in a way that works in harmony with nature, building healthy soils and reducing ecologically harmful practices such as pesticide, herbicide and chemical fertiliser use.
The second principle is The Principle of Ecology, the idea that organic agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them. In practice, organic agriculture involves fewer pesticides, no artificial fertilisers, no routine use of antibiotics, higher animal welfare standards and no artificial colours and preservatives. The agricultural systems rely on crop rotation, animal and plant manures, some hand weeding and biological pest control.
The third is The Principle of Fairness. This is the idea that organic agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities. The concept of fairness includes characteristics of equity, respect, justice and stewardship.
The fourth principle concerns Care, and states that organic agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and wellbeing of current and future generations, and the environment. Organic farmers and producers use methods that deliver benefits across our whole food system, from plant health and animal welfare, to people and the planet as a whole.
For foods to be labelled “organic”, at least 95% of the ingredients must come from organically produced plants or animals, meaning the standards of these farming practices must (at least) meet the four internationally recognised principles. This is where the Soil Association comes in. The current rules require an organic certification body to carry out inspections at least once a year to ensure that the produce meets the regulations.
Soil Association Campaigns
The Soil Association also organise and oversee a great number of important campaigns. In June 2020, the SA took part in The Climate Coalition’s campaign “The Time Is Now”, which was the first ever virtual mass lobby for climate, nature and health. As one of 140 organisations in the coalition, The Soil Association is an important voice in the largest group of people dedicated to addressing climate breakdown.
The Association is also pushing politicians to ensure that the UK puts a “green recovery” front and centre of its Brexit and Covid-19 recovery plans, in order to really, truly “build back better”. They’re committed to holding the government to their word when they say that leaving the EU presents a once in a generation chance to become an “environmental superpower”. They have commissioned a report which interrogates Green Brexit claims made by the government, whilst maintaining that the UK does have the potential to become a world-leader in environment farming.
Finally, as part of their Save Our Soil campaign, The Soil Association is seeking to draw attention to the little-known fact that our soils are degrading at an alarming rate. The Soil Association has an important role to play in the prevention of climate breakdown, as nearly 75% of land in the UK is farmed. This means we all have a huge opportunity to support biodiversity, protect soils, and reverse the damage already done.
At Regather, we seek to embrace the principles of Organic farming, and both our veg box scheme and the farm were certified by the Soil Association in 2018. Our application was a promise not only to the Soil Association but to our customers, that we would comply with the strict rules and regulations required by the scheme to make sure we are upholding the best standards for our Food, and embracing Organic.
For us, embracing these standards has meant a variety of things. For one it means not using artificial pesticides on our farm to grow food that supplies our box scheme. Instead we aim to manage the land in a way that supports a healthy ecosystem and embraces the natural balance found in the wild that keeps pests in check. That also means avoiding large monoculture farming, but instead growing a variety of crops that supports a more harmonious growing environment.
We have also established havens for wildlife to thrive, such as a new pond, large tracts of hedgerow and helped maintain a healthy woodland next to the farm.
At our box scheme, we keep a close eye on the food that goes into our box, working with local and trusted farms and suppliers who we get to know, visit and trust. This being the first step in a healthy supply chain. We also maintain our compliance through strict protocol in our packing room and record keeping. Just as well, as in the spring of 2019, our veg packers received a knock at the door which we were surprised to learn was a spot inspection! We were all very pleased that we passed the inspection with full compliance, no changes needed.
Both our veg box scheme and the Regather Farm are fully certified with the Soil Association.