What is the relevance of biodiversity?
Biodiversity is critically important in helping us to grow enough food to support the planet. The way we farm now is just not sustainable. I’m not just talking about meat when I say this; it includes vegetables, dairy, cotton, fish and pretty much anything you can think of that we produce on a large scale. Farmers need to start looking back at the way we used to farm: 150 years ago, a farmer would produce what he needed to live off. He would have cows, pigs, goats, chickens and ducks and would grow various different crops, all of which helped to create a very complex ecosystem. Sadly, we have gotten away from this and have created a mono-crop system where plants and animals are so much weaker and reliant on things like chemical fertilisers or antibiotics, hormones and steroids.
Everything, no matter what you are farming, starts with soil health, and in the case of animals, it’s about having healthy, nutritious grass. Looking after pasture is a bit like getting a haircut; you trim it so that it grows back stronger. So, first, the cows graze and they take the grass down so far, then you bring sheep in to take the grass down even further, then you bring chickens in to peck out all the insects; all of these animals help to turn up the soil and fertilise the fields. Then you give the fields a break and allow them to grow back stronger and healthier. This will return nutrients back to the soil, thus making the animals that graze there healthier.
The other way people can do this is by supporting pure heritage breeds and raising them in their natural environments. A great example of this is Herdwick sheep from the Lake District, which are just left up the Lancashire moors to graze and live freely amongst the heather. Sadly, it’s the mass market that is causing most of the damage to our planet – it’s all about producing as large a volume as possible, as cheaply as possible, as quickly as possible, and this where the use of chemicals and things like grain feed come in.
How can consumers support biodiverse farming with their own purchasing power?
This is a really hard question. I guess it starts with buying from reputable sources, shunning the supermarkets and supporting things like farmers’ markets. I’m a huge believer in buying seasonally; it’s our demand for having certain crops all year-round that helps to drive poor farming practices. We have to help to create new markets for the farmers so that they will be encouraged to grow different crops. Everything is consumer driven.
What is the meat of the future?
I think sheep and goats will be the meat of the future; they are fairly straightforward animals to rear and they do well in all sorts of terrains. That’s why you will always see sheep being raised in rougher environments like hillsides and mountains. They provide great meat and very good dairy. The fact that it is very easy to use a whole sheep (as they are not crazy big) makes it a great choice, plus lamb offal is delicious to eat when cooked properly. The one thing you have to look out for with lamb is that there are commercial breeds that rely heavily on antibiotics. Although I prefer heritage breeds, there are guys like Te Mana in New Zealand who are using cross-breeding to get rid of the genetic problems that cause the need for antibiotics.
Can farm-to-table work in a city like Hong Kong?
Honestly, in a city where land is so expensive and where there are a lot of farming restrictions, especially on the rearing of pigs and chickens, I’m not sure. Then we have to look at soil quality and the environment, acid rain, a polluted atmosphere and contaminated water sources; all of this can get into the food chain via the soil. I want it to work – I know there are passionate growers and farmers here, and I truly believe agriculture will become one of the most in-demand skills of the future.
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