Foodie wisdom at Whitmuir
It was when discussing liver flukes that I realised how much of a balancing act organic farming can be. Pete Ritchie, the Whitmuir Organic Farm founder and director, explained how difficult it is to keep his upper field drained, to keep the rushes and parasite host-snails down. According to Novartis, previously less affected areas like SE Scotland can "no longer be regarded as safe" as warm wet weather becomes more commonplace. Of course the farm also has severe restrictions on using Novartis' "Fasinex 240" or "Combinex Cattle" flukicide.
We walked up to the knoll, the highest point at the farm. Within the panoramic 360º view unfolded the dystopian narrative of our modern land practices and food system. Abutting the east of the farm is the vast wasteland left after a recent Sitka spruce clearfell, destined for paper pulp, chipboard and burning for energy. The land is so barren it's difficult to imagine it will be green again, but it will, with a similar blanket of conifers, and the cycle will be repeated. It is owned by a company based hundreds of miles away, with no interest in local matters. On the western horizon, the deforestation, sheep and creeping soil of the Pentland hills. At their foot, the glen stretching south, with its patchwork of fields, effectively holding pens for sheep and cattle on their way to market. On the northern horizon, Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh’s hill, and the gravitational food pull of a half million appetites in its orbit. In the foreground, the ecological disaster of 200 hectares of peat extraction.
Enclosed by this derangement, the 54 hectares of Whitmuir farm are producing vegetables and fruit, beef, pork, chicken, eggs, turkeys, bread…not to mention an experimental hub for different crop rotations, biochar, kids’ citizen science growing programmes and a great restaurant and art gallery. Like many biodiverse ecosystems, only with a knowledgeable tour guide does this interconnected weave of productivity become clear.
Pete and his partner, Heather, direct and manage the farm together. They are adamant they don't want just a pat-a-lamb commercial farm, nor a shallow retail experience, but to demonstrate a truly sustainable food system, and use this to stimulate similar farms near other Scottish cities. They also believe a democratically run food system is best, and are part way towards a community buyout for the farm. For all our sakes, we should all get behind their plan and the better future it promises.
Posted by Charlie