We Feed the World explored the extraordinary stories of 50 communities around the world, featuring small-scale farmers and fishers from across the globe who are using regenerative techniques to nurture biocultural diversity. Launched in 2018, We Feed the World brought the efforts of these individuals and communities to light in the context of current challenges – from land-grabbing to deforestation – calling for global support of small-scale, agroecological farming. We are often told by corporations, governments and the media that without a high-tech, chemically intensive industrial food system, we would soon starve. We Feed The World cut through this misinformation to creatively tell the stories of the farmers and fishers who really feed the world.
Recognising that this is an ongoing journey, and with the imminent launch of We Feed The UK, we recently revisited some of the individuals and communities featured in the original campaign to find out where they are now, and bring you updates on their stories…
HOW IT STARTED:
Since 1974, Tamara and Iain Tolhurst have farmed 17 acres of vegetables stock-free at Tolhurst Organics in Oxfordshire. Their desire to work within a closed-loop system and their vegetarian ethics led them to avoid the use of animal fertilisers and farm without animal manure or imported compost. Vegetable farming is, however, very intensive and requires a lot of nutrients from the soil. Over the decades, the couple have developed many ways to successfully grow more than one hundred types of vegetables, and today produce around 120-140 tonnes per year.
The Tolhursts’ employ various complex crop rotations involving green manures – diverse mixtures of plants which are grown to improve soil organic matter and structure. They also utilise woodchip compost from their own trees grown on site in an agroforestry system. All the vegetables they produce are sold within a 10-mile radius of the farm. By serving their local community, they are also cutting transport costs allowing them to make their vegetables more affordable for local people.
Iain sees farming and food production from a holistic angle. “Biodiversity isn’t just an extra that you bolt on, it’s central to that whole system”, he says. “As I see it, I manage the biodiversity, and the vegetables and fruit are actually just by-products of that.”
HOW IT’S GOING:
Since we last met with Iain and Tamara, the Hardwick Estate on which Tolhurst Organics is based, is soon to become the first community owned estate in England. The current owners, Miriam and Lawrence Rose, believe this community stewardship scheme is the best way of continuing the family’s ethos of organic farming and sustainability. It’s a pioneering strategy, exploring how land as reparations to communities can contribute to wider healing and transformation.
As well as continuing their successful business on the Hardwick Estate, more recently the Tolhursts have been extending their reach further afield. Tamara is Moldovan and nurtures close connections back home, despite having lived in Oxfordshire for many years. Recently, she has helped set up a new organic market and organic certification scheme in Moldova, called Ecolocal-Cert. Despite most of the food being produced by small scale farmers in Moldova, small scale farming is technically illegal, a hangover from Soviet days. The government turns a blind eye, but the situation still threatens many people’s existence. Tamara and the budding organic farmers’ movement in Moldova are trying to raise awareness of organic small-scale farming, and are lobbying for the regulations to change.
In September 2023, the Moldovan farmers hosted a national conference, called We Feed the World, celebrating small-scale farmers and the diversity they bring. Hosted in the capital, Chișinău, and featuring an exhibition of photos from The Gaia Foundation’s We Feed the World campaign, the conference called attention to the vital role that small-scale farmers play in feeding the population of Moldovia and beyond. Tamara is now looking to bring several of the Moldovan farmers over to visit Tolhurst Organics and other UK farms, to learn and share farming knowledge. They are currently looking for funds to hire a bus for this farmer to farmer exchange.