Happy as a pig in mud (Jul07)

The bacon tasted really good. The superior rashers accompanied seared scallops – a first course served by the Royal Oak pub in Bishopstone.

I was having dinner with fellow members of the Food Ethics Council after a trip to see Helen Browning’s happy organic pigs. It was their cousins I was eating for dinner.

It wasn’t only the bacon that was good – it was followed by marinated lamb, lemon posset, local cheeses and much tasting of other people’s puddings (for example rice pudding with apricots and Eton mess). Nothing on the menu boards mentioned organic but all the meat came from Eastbrook Farm or one of the other six or seven organic suppliers for that brand.

Helen was our hostess – she chairs the Food Ethics Council, owns the Royal Oak pub and runs Eastbrook Farm. It will be no surprise to hear that the farm visit was conducted in the rain – although luckily the farm had escaped the floods. Despite some variety of wet-weather garb (see photo) we were all smitten by the pigs who were happily rooting around in the mud – and in the case of the piglets, skipping in and out of their shelters.

We were told, by Helen, that the most important part of the farm’s philosophy is rotation. The pigs, the feed crops, the nitrogen fixing clover, as well as other livestock are all shifted on a regular basis. This is apparently key to disease prevention in organic systems. Here, the corrugated metal pig homes are lifted by JCBs and plonked down in another grassy location, whilst the rich muddy quagmire they leave behind is planted with wheat.

As we stood knee deep in Eastbrook Farm’s red clover, Helen explained why she thought some modern farming practices were completely balmy – nitrogen fertilisers for example. Commonly used by most farmers, every tonne spread on the land contributes between 4 and 5 tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere – it’s extremely energy intensive. Furthermore, the same crop is then grown on the land year after year, sucking out the nutrients and allowing pests and other diseases to spread. So yet more chemicals are needed.

These are the sort of issues we discuss at the Food Ethics Council – and more. Before learning to play cribbage over dinner, I had some pretty intensive debates about the perils of cheap food, the conflict between biofuels and food crops, as well as whether too much importance was attached to food miles rather than the impacts of food production. Whatever our ruminations, I think most of us left the table feeling extremely well-fed – and just as happy as pigs in mud (and rain).

Posted originally on Telegraph Blogs by Julia Hailes

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