Kate Cook interviews Tim Mead, early adopter of Organic farming and founder of Yeo Valley Farms, Somerset, famous for their organic milk and yogurts. Kate and Tim explore the importance of sourcing great food, free from chemicals so that not only is it good for the planet, but contributes to your own vibrant health too. How we can support our farmers, supporting the journey from field to fork, and why it matters to us in our shiny offices so far from the countryside.
For those who prefer to read rather than listen, check out the full podcast transcription below.
Tim Mead – Podcast transcription
Good evening, everybody and welcome to the Corporate Wellness Show. It’s me Kate Cook, here today with a very special guest. It is none other than Tim Meade, the founder of the Yeo Valley Group. And perhaps you’d like to introduce yourself more fully than I can Tim, but basically he has been in farming for, how long?
Well, my parents moved to the farm here in 1961. So it’s our 60-year celebration this year. And I joined the family business when I was 25. And that was quite a long time ago. My dad was always going to be a farmer and he left school when he was about 14 and his parents were farmers. We go back to 500 years of farming within 10 miles of where we live. So dad was always going to be a farmer and he married my mum who was actually in training as a nurse up at St Barts. And I think they got married when they were like 20 and 21. Then basically the farm came up for sale locally and they bought it. In those days you could go to the National Farmers Union and negotiate a mortgage. And so they bought the first farm and set about trying to make a living and a family out of what they did.
Yeo Valley has been a really successful, I mean, obviously for somebody like myself who is passionate about organic, and we’ll talk about why in a minute, and we’ll talk about also the impact that may have on health.
And that’s what we talk, obviously on the Corporate Wellness Show, we’re talking really about people’s health at the end of the day, but I’m interested, lots of farmers failed. So what makes your farm successful? What made Yeo Valley successful?
I think there are about 8,000 dairy farmers in the UK and 60 years ago there was 150,000. So obviously you can do the maths and you can work out that about 5% of the farms are remaining. So 95% of the farmers that were dairy farmers 60 years ago, are no longer dairy farmers. And it became very apparent to my father that if you wanted to be one of the 5%, then you had to try and add value to the milk and basically make products and sell it directly to consumers or, via retailers. And in those days, all the retailers were really, really small. So we started out selling yogurt from a Morris Minor van around the valley and then expanded out from there and started selling yogurt in Bristol.
Everybody looks at our business and go, wow, ‘Yeo Valley’s really big’. I mean, it’s been very, very and steady, 25 years of, well more than 25 years, but it’s probably about 27 years since we fully committed to the Yeo Valley as an organic brand.
What was that sort of move into organic and what was the thinking in organic particularly?
So I think when my parents moved to the original farm, there was, 30 cows, 30 acres of corn, and some orchards, some beef and some sheep. And it was a mixed, integrated rotational farm in the very early 1960s. And most farms were like that. And then over a number of years, everybody had to get bigger, to stay more competitive or to make some money. And therefore the mixed farming basically got separated. The east of the country became arable and vegetables and the west of the country, where all the grass is from Cumbria, down through Wales and the Midlands and the south west, we basically concentrated on the beef and the dairy, and therefore we lost the ability of animals to build fertility, to grow the cereals. And therefore what’s happened is all the cereals and all those crops are basically grown with pesticides and artificial fertiliser and the bulk of the farmers on the west of the country, basically because we’re farming grass, we’re still able to build that fertility, but, but there’s no balance. So I guess about nearly 30 years ago, we recognised that, just going down this route of intensification and more artificial inputs and things that was never going to be the way we wanted to go.
Because presumably your costs are going up, apart from anything else, as you’re getting into a cycle, aren’t you, I don’t know want bigger is better, and then we need more pesticide to get more profit and then actually you’re spending more money to generate the profit. Is that how it goes?
So about 30 years ago, I trained as an accountant, which I guess gives me a bit more of an insight into the numbers than maybe the average farmer has. And therefore, when we looked at it, we just thought, well, actually, let’s go back to becoming what the farm originally wanted when my parents moved here.
So basically, today we’ve got a flock of 600 sheep. We’re rearing 150 to 200 beef animals a year. We’ve got two dairy herds. We grow about four or 500 acres of cereals. We’re growing oats to feed the cows, barley to feed the cows, peas to feed the cows. So the objective of what we’re trying to do is we want to finish every animal that’s born on the farm, and we want to feed every animal on the farm by producing the crops on the farm. And we want to be able to do that in a way that contributes and weaponises soil to start addressing climate change.
So a little fact that people don’t realise is that soil actually holds three times more carbon than all the trees and plants and trites(???) on the surface of the world and industrial agriculture has lost 188 billion tons of that carbon, through ploughing and using artificial fertilisers, et cetera, et cetera.
So we were talking offline to say, in effect the story is, it’s kind of like me, Kate, Kate Cook not recycling the yogurt pot in the right bin, but really agriculture has got a huge part to play in reversing climate change if only the appetite was there and the big players.
And I think it is, and I think all the big players, they are all waking up to the fact that actually, so the whole, so I mean, being a nutritionist you’ll know what C6H1206 is, which is basically you take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, take the energy of the sun, take some water and you end up with that basic sugar. That sugar is made by every grass plant on the planet. And if those grass plants are managed and farmed in the right way, sugar flows down from the sky, from the CO2 in the atmosphere, combines with the water and basically it’s released by the roots into the soil, that sugar feeds all the microbes in the soil. Okay. So that is the basic principle that farmers have got to get their head around. And if we can harness and weaponise grass, and soil to exaggerate that process, accelerate that process, then effectively we can be part of the solution.
So do you think when you said that the tide is turning, do you think because obviously you have some big, big players still. I mean, you, you’ve got people like Monsanto and Bayer and all of those big guys who see the solution through technology in short. Is the sort of balance tipping back towards people understanding the relationship with the soil and, and out of chemical agriculture, or is it still that people think that the solution lies in technology?
I think that there are some people who are backing the technology thing. So personally, yeah, it might, yeah, you’re a nutritionist you might, you might say, and I know that it is possible where people got really extreme medical conditions. It is possible to generate the nutrients that they require and to feed them in a liquid form. Okay. So that is an extreme, but if that becomes the norm, so do I want to live in a world where you cannot sit down with all your friends, you cannot consume great dairy products, meat products, vegetables, fruit, and whatever in that communal sense, ineffectively, I live to eat. Okay. It is more than possible. Okay to eat to live. Okay. But if that compromise for me is that we all end up taking seven pills every day, and that is not part of my life. And quite frankly, that’s not a life that I want to be part of. Okay. So I’m just, the social, the community aspect of sitting down, sharing food, the societal part of that, and the community part of that for me is so much more important than the potential of taking a pill every day.
Absolutely, we were talking offline, we had a sort of massive gossip by the way, everybody, but offline, we have to sort of go by, we’ll have to get on with it eventually because we were having such a good gossip, but exactly that, which, as a nutritionist actually. And I was just talking to Tim about the fact that I’m doing anthropology. So it’s really about the cultural aspects of food, and I think from a health point of view, this, eating, eating, eating together and eating, is such a visceral and ancient thing. And actually even bio-chemically, if people are stressed, when they’re eating, they don’t absorb the nutrients as well. So there isn’t really a, it’s sort of like a nutritional outcome to just eating in a stressed way or eating alone. It’s just not what we do really, because we’re very, we’re tribal animals. We don’t, we just don’t do that. So I find it really interesting the way that, especially in towns, people are veering away to sort of Uber eats and Uber that and Uber ding dong on the bell, and then you get your food. But, but, but, gosh, the whole sort of spiritual aspect of food is lost. But it’s such a huge thing about that sort of life-giving aspect of food and where it is you, you were saying that, it’s coming from the sun and turning into sugar, it’s just magic. So, if we lose that, that’s a huge thing to lose.
And that goes back to the technology thing? So whether you want sort of, fake meat grown in laboratories or, or you want cultured, concoctions of protein or things like that. Yeah. The problem is, and I went back and watched that Peter Melchett lecture on ultra processed food that was given in his honour last year. And it’s not, it’s not a hair shirt approach to everything. Basically the message is, is we can consume now up to 20% ultra processed food and our bodies will get away with it. We can go to the pub, drink beer, have donuts, have KFC and all that sort of stuff, but it’s a limitation. And if that limitation gets to a tipping point when suddenly the health of the nation starts to deteriorate hugely, okay, then that is a serious thing. And we are at that point, I think we’re at 55% ultra processed food as a nation. Okay. And France, however much, British farmers look at French farmers and there’s a little bit of, France is at 15% ultra food consumption and therefore they’re not seeing, and a lot of emerging nations, the Middle East and whatever are having massive problems with health because of a diet of rubbish ice-cream, fizzy drinks, and, processed meat and burgers and chicken.
Well, I did a gig at what I call a gig in Hong Kong and I, and I was sort of thinking blimey, what can I teach? I had this sort of view of, they must be all eating really sort of healthy kind of, I don’t know, match sticks of carrots and blah, blah, blah and actually their diet, it was appalling really well in Hong Kong at that time, and we are talking 10 years ago, at least and it’s just this assumption sometimes that you think in other countries, they must be doing so much better, but, but to your point with the French and, and I just observed this rather than know, so you’ll have to correct me, but they are at still have a lot of farmers. Is that correct? So how many, so their population is about the same as ours, isn’t it – actual population, but their land mass is massive. Isn’t it?
Well, the food, they’ve also got different tax laws and they don’t have sort of prime agenesis, which is the sort of the traditional inheritance of the eldest son or whatever. So in France, I think farms get split up so small. And so that’s a smaller farm system.
Yeah. I mean, there’s a time when, of course farms get splits up so small, it probably doesn’t make it worth it.
They’re also, they’re also less Northern European Anglo-Saxon than…. So the French, the Italians, the Spanish they’re there, the value that they put on food and family and time and things like that, we’re sort of tied up in the sort of slightly sort of more capitalist Anglo-Saxon sort of mentality where it’s not good enough just to have a pizza restaurant in your local town, you suddenly got to have a chain of 500 pizza restaurants. So suddenly you don’t have the local people and the local families, running the smaller businesses because the whole…
I think that’s interesting because I think you’re right. I think, cause I know much more about it you than I do about France and in Italy, I think it’s really changing. I lived in Milan. I mean, my parents live in Italy, so, and my mum’s been married to an Italian blah, blah, blah. And I lived in Milan and in those days, again, this we’re talking a lot, quite a long time now, but people used to have a siesta and even in Milan and even then it was like, oh, okay. The rest, the city is so stressful, we cannot cope. And like, you’re me knocking off for a 2-hour kip, you don’t know what stress is, man, but anyway, yeah. I mean, it’s interesting because of course that they have a passion for food, but also you get all and again, maybe things are changing in Italy, but you get a lot more farmers and a lot more kind of produce being produced. So therefore you have a sort of connection much more with your local farmer or your local food production. So, but, but here, I think part of the problem is that we begun industrialising in the 1790s. So there was a, there was a, an immediate disconnect between, people were moving to the cities, even then in the 1790s, much to Wordsworth’s or somebody, what do you call it? Sort of like he was all sort of flouncing around sort of loving because, in a ditch somewhere with his sister, I mean, whatever lamenting the fact that obviously that the country was becoming industrialised, but do you think that’s part of the problem, which is Britain became industrialised very early and we lost connection with our food split, which brings us to the modern man, which is, turning up at Waitrose kind of like and not really understanding how important it is to support our farmers and, and also to look at how that food is produced.
Well, I think, I mean, I think from an educator, yeah. So first of all, let’s debunk the whole farmer subsidy thing. So farm subsidies were always encouraged as a re-distribution of wealth so that the poorest part of society spends the greater percentage of their income on food. Okay. And therefore, by having a cheap food policy, what that does is it allows people to be able to fall, to feed themselves in a much better way than if food was a lot more expensive. It also frees up the ability for them to have a greater disposable income to spend on, other consumable goods, which other companies / corporations will be generating and the government and the state will be making money out of the taxes and the employment and that sort of stuff. So the cheap food policy for the, for, for Britain, because there’s less than 1% of people involved in agriculture. Whereas you talk about France and Italy, there’s a much greater connection back to agriculture. So really from a UK government’s point of view, over many, many generations, putting aside the fact that we’ve also had a common agricultural policy is it’s just not important to treat agriculture as an important part of our economy because the city of London, the insurance industry, they are much, much, much so they’ve made the choice that actually cheaper food. It doesn’t really care where it comes from. And now we’re suffering because we’ve got high, higher consumption of processed food a worsening health situation. And therefore they’ve just got it wrong. And what they’ve got, what they’ve got to do is, the 25 year agriculture policy bill, et cetera, what they’ve been like, what’s, what’s replacing the common agricultural policy was the greatest opportunity for the brand, it’s farming and it’s food as well. And we seem to be dropping the ball faster than the slip cordon at the Oval or something.
Well, so do you see that there’s hope there, or do you think the old, obviously we’ve been through, these are, we’re talking in the COVID era just out of hopefully just out of it, but, but, but do you see that that was just a massive distraction? Or do you see there’s something more kind of sinister at play, but is there something more, is it just like complete inefficiency and or is it kind of like something else?
No, I think, I think there’s quite a lot of childish debate going on and obviously commentators can commentate on so much more because there are so many audiences. So, we were chatting before about the vegan and the vegetarian debate, and then it’s like people declaring that they’re flexitarians, I’m a, flexitarian, I, I love vegetables. I love fruit. I love fish. I love, and I love meat, but I’m not eating ultra processed stuff. So it’s not about, there are certain, you take as a dairy farm, you sort of think everybody’s having a pop at us about, methane, which is now apparently four times overstated, according to the latest government declaration, and therefore all the decisions that we’re making from all of these real facts that aren’t real facts, we’re making the wrong decisions. Whereas from a Yeo Valley perspective, it is really, really simple. You produce natural, healthy food from the right farming system without the artificial fertilizers. And you basically prepare those foods at home. Okay. In a way that allows you to enjoy with your family, the healthy food. You do one and a half aisles in a supermarket and you’ve gone past the fruit, the veg, the meat, the dairy, the whatever, whatever. And if you spend a whole month stopping after one and a half aisles and yourself prepare all that food, it’s delicious. It’s fantastic. It’s new.
Absolutely. I mean, back to the methane thing, discussion, which is I gather because we were talking about, oh, she’s called Vandana Shiva. I’ll send you the reference to her. She’s really interesting. She’s very fiery, the cows, the produce methane thing. If you feed them on the right diet, they produce methane. If you feed them on grass and blow their stomachs out, which of course is what they do in industrial farming methods. Which of course they’re producing just like any animal that you’re giving them, including humans, by the way, as we know to our cost, giving them the wrong food, I’m afraid they produce gas. So is it true? That’s from what, from what she says, is it true that obviously if you feed cows on the right food, they’re not producing the smelly methane that everybody’s accusing them of.
So I think methane is what, CH4, we’ve already talked about sugar being C6H12, so you got the carbon and you’ve got the hydrogens. Okay. The cow can’t just admit those. They must’ve come from somewhere. Okay. So where they’ve come from is the food that they’re eating and where has that come from the food that they’re eating? Well, it’s been taken out of the sky. So it’s completely virtual circle. Methane breaks down over a 10-year period. CO2 is probably going to be in the atmosphere for a thousand years. So, if there is a, if the, if the, and I guess it does depend on diets on for different things in different countries, but in the UK as an example. And this is where, if I was more of an age where I was prey to a middle-age rant, the BBC have, do the CO2 emissions. Okay. And it puts milk about three kilos of CO2. And they say, well, that’s the sort of world average. It’s pretty much well known that the UK is producing milk at about one kilo of CO2 per litre of milk i.e., a third of what the BBC is advocating and the same is for their beef regulation. So what we’re doing is we’re telling people completely the wrong facts onto which they’re making their judgment. And we’re encouraging people to buy products from other parts of the world when actually the best thing to be doing. So how can you have a diverse food web throughout the world, if we’re all going to eat the same food? So if you live in Alaska and you’re an Eskimo, you have a certain diet. If you live in the Kalahari, you have another diet. We don’t want everybody in the world to have the same diet, because then we lose the biodiversity of the human species. We get really het up about, the loss of biodiversity. And for the record, organic has got 50% more by diversity on an organic farm versus a non-organic farm, but actually is really important for the human species. Otherwise, one day something will come along and if we’re all the same and we’ve all got the same diet, we’ve all got the same, issues then effectively, it’s going to be curtains. So we should celebrate regional food. We should celebrate the fact that they can eat certain things in the Kalahari and that the Eskimos are eating certain fish and all that sort of stuff, or the Sami from the Arctic Circle, are eating reindeers. And yeah, this is all great stuff. And we should just mix up our diets to be the same.
And if I’m allowed to rant for one more, the concept of being able to pick up the phone and get a delivery via the one or two or three apps that deliver food from takeaways. The one thing that we’re trying to stop is people eating ultra processed food, which invariably is what you’re getting when you get to take away. Okay. And if we’re encouraging people, we’re already at 55% of ultra processed food, if the advent of sitting at home and getting your burger or your chicken nuggets, or your ice cream, or your whatever delivered without actually having to get off your sofa then we have got no hope. So they’re very convenient, but if they were delivering, the healthy, natural food that allows you then to prepare it brilliant, but I think they’re being used not to have.
Well, I mean, I think that’s the thing. And I think it is, I think it is there’s this, we were talking before about this disconnect, isn’t it? Which is, and again, it’s easy, cause I’m a, I’m a pretty much an old fart as you probably have gathered, but it’s kind of like, it’s interesting. Cause I’ve got a 16 year old daughter and of course she’s on the old phone. Not that I’m any better by the way, but, but she’s on the old phone all the time and it’s sort of like, they’re not even in a real place, so actually sort of ordering up something, but as if by magic where you don’t really have to put much effort in is kind of some kind of, again, disconnect it. It’s interesting because what you’re saying is really going back to cooking, which is what I talk about in my seminars, the three Cs of critical self-care, which is a bit of a long way of doing it. But, but one of the huge ones is cooking obviously. So it’s really about, there is no such thing as healthy convenience food, you have to cook stuff and the joy of cooking, cooking stuff basically, but people find that a chore. So I don’t know what my, that was a bit of a rant. I don’t know where I was going with that really. But just to say, is it, do we see any sort of tide turning or are we still on the retreating where we’re like, and also kind of can people do, we’re ordinary working folk, what can they do? So I hope there’s not too much in that question to unpack.
No, I mean, I think the, obviously, is the consumer king, or are the consumers cons, are we being sold everything, that we don’t think we want, or we don’t need. And, it’s, I think we have got to take, obviously consumers have got the ultimate power because if we don’t buy stuff, then it won’t be sold. Okay. What, nowadays yeah. The decisions, the big decisions in life, or an electric car, or who am I going to buy my electricity from? Am I going to sign up with Octopus Energy, or am I going to go and buy a certain type of car? They’re big decisions. And I think everybody is conscious of making those decisions, because they’re aware of what’s happening around the world, floods, buyers, everything that’s going on in terms of extreme weather conditions, people thinking, this is real, CO2 in the atmosphere in the last 60 years is accelerated 500 times quicker than in the previous 10 days and years. So we are putting a lot of CO2 up there, and there are things that we as individuals can do that will help when we’re making those big decisions, like an electric car. So, we have an electric car in our, in our family, and we’re just about to get rid of the diesel car and get another electric car. We’re making those decisions because it’s, we’re being told. And we think, what we’re being told is correct. And luckily we’ve got solar panels, so we can charge our car, with the solar panels, we’re making that decision because as citizens and consumers, we’re thinking our money can make a difference.
And it’s interesting, actually, you are charging it through the solar panels because obviously with electric car, it’s not the panacea that will, one is led to believe because obviously you would have to get rid of lithium batteries and you having to charge them up with, from the coal pallets or whatever. Where’s the electricity coming from? I mean, obviously if you’ve got your own electricity generated, then of course, you’ve almost getting it for free from the, from the, from the sun, which is magic.
So free from the sun is where we get our food as organic farmers. There’s a little expression that ‘Well, it it’s soil, not oil’. So we gave up using oil to produce the artificial fertilizer, to produce the nutrients, to feed our crops. And we get that from the sun, but people don’t get that decision. People don’t associate when they go shopping, oh, ‘I’m going to buy the organic milk and the organic bread and the organic eggs and the whatever’, because they, that they’ve not used the, the sun’s energy and that sort of stuff. So all know they have used the sun’s and I’m not, I’m not going to buy the, the Almond milk that has been flown in from California or wherever they get those almonds from and using up all the water. And so when the decisions are smaller, I think we think we can get away with it a bit more when the decisions are bigger, we, some of us are consciously making decisions that are right for the planet and what we’ve got to do as, as a brand that buys milk from over a hundred organic dairy farms. And we’d like to buy milk from 200 dairy farms. Okay. Is we got to explain to people that the decision of putting, products produced from the right farming system in their basket is going to make a difference.
We were talking earlier about things like, I mean, a great big, and you, as you say, you’re your farmer, so I’m good. Well, what I’ve, I’ve just done this from a book so you’re going to have to correct me, which is obviously looking at things like glyphosates, which is a, which is in a herbicide in effect and how that’s used as a desiccant as well, especially in British crops. Funnily enough, I’ve, I mean, you can tell me, because I’m just getting this from a book, whereas in Germany, they don’t use so much glyphosate as a desiccant to dry out the prop in effect, but it has a massive effect on me on the bowel because it’s blocking something called the ???? pathway, which is an effect, the, it kills off the bacteria in the gut, but it doesn’t kill off you. So in effect, it’s affecting the gut, which then affects things like allergy and the guts and things like, problems with, with intolerances in the gut in effect. So it’s kind of like a virtual circle in terms of health, which is when you’re using pesticides, it does have an effect. And it certainly does on gut health, for example.
And it also has an effect on soil health. So, we’ve got, so I don’t know. The latest thing is that the human body has got as many non-human cells in it as human cells. And that is the human biome, but it’s not just that it’s the soil biome and the animal biome, biome, and us, guess what? We’re all part of nature. We’re all interconnected. There are the same, they’re the same, so the glycobate(???) is killing the things in the soil and it is the things in the soil, but it’s converting the sugars into the carbon, it’s locking it up, the soil Is awesome.
We are the soil. We are totally interconnected. And if you, if you think pouring chemicals across the thing that is the most important thing in the world is the sensible thing to do, then you’ve got to be pretty nuts, really, but people have made a lot of money out of a bit and, it is it’s, you get into this whole debate about, well, if we didn’t do it, then more people would starve. And actually I don’t buy that. I think it is more than that. We farm 2000 acres and we got two herds of dairy cows and we are getting crop yields and comparable things that I’m very proud of as a farmer. So we are not messing around. We are setting out to produce natural, healthy food in the right way.
Absolutely. And I was talking really is the tide turning, I mean, is it, are you getting, are you finding more farmers coming back into the industry or are they still leaving or, I mean, obviously there’s, even in my time there’s been a sort of interest or interest in things like local, local producers and all of that coming. Do you see that happening or do you think we’re still battling the big boys?
So generally farmers don’t have big boys. Okay. There are one or two landowners in the country that are controlling a lot of land. The vast, vast, vast majority of farmers are family farming businesses. Okay. And that is, so it is not as if corporations are owning, like in America or Australia, that’s very different. But over here, we’ve got a network of farmers. What has happened is, systematically we have been moving away from integrated livestock and arable farming to the point where we have just arable farming. And we have just livestock farming to put that back together again, I think is the key fundamental so that the livestock farmers can build the fertility for the arable crops. And then we consume the right balance of dairy meat, oats, and barley, whatever the problem with that is that farms only change hands every 70 years. So basic being able to get hold of farms to be able to do that integrated farming is a long-term thing. And we’ve lost the ability to have animals really in the east of the country, but it is beginning to come back. People are, people are recognising that their soil without animals is losing all of its life and therefore the reintroduction of animals back into the Eastern side of the UK is something that is happening more and more. But the problem is, is it probably took 60 years or 70 or 80 years to get to the situation. So when everybody was an integrated livestock farm where everybody would have some animals and some corn and some vegetables, et cetera, et cetera, that’s probably taken 80 or a hundred years to get to where we are today.
It was after the war, wasn’t it really that this sort of everything massively rapidly changed. I mean, for lots of different reasons, but I believe it was, I mean, a lot of their early organic farmers, but because after the war and I forget his name was he called, he was a, basically a coal miner who w who was in the labour government after the war. And they was somebody like, he was a coal miner. He was called something like Tom King. I can’t quite remember his name. I’ll email it to you. But he basically said, the way forward is chemicals. And if you didn’t use chemicals, your farm was confiscated. They confiscated 400 farms after the war, they just took them basically because they wanted people to use the, the new technology of pesticides in effect.
The war was a tricky thing. We were starving as a nation, the convoys were getting, so pre that. So the reason for agriculture in the UK being one of the reasons being it’s slightly larger farm sizing than other countries in Europe, is that we had always competed with the Commonwealth – Australia, New Zealand, and places like that. The farmers that they had in those places were quite large. And therefore British farmers were always competing with the Commonwealth when we had to change our agricultural production to basically feed the nation, that there was a huge drive to plough up fields, to move over to different sorts of farming. And, much to the credit farmers stood up to the plate. And that is what happened. What happened after the war is that basically that policy got continued because, rationing was still there when rationing disappeared in 1950, 59, I think. Yeah. I think it was 59 or 50.
I did, I wouldn’t argue with the 56. It was around that time. Yeah.
So it is, it totally understandable. The, the, every method, so at the time when we were sending people, into battle, they were dying, in their tens of thousands. Okay. At that stage and that’s importance in our nation, we’re not going to sit there and go, Hmm. I’m not going to have that potato, unless it’s grown organically for Christ’s sake. I mean, every single method that they could possibly do. And then that got adopted and it sort of got into the psyche. And therefore that, that then continue.
And I think interestingly, like in the seventies and, in effect though, there wasn’t this ultra processed food available. I mean, really, I mean, it just was starting then, obviously with things like, what was it called? That delight stuff, that pink stuff, what was that called angel delight and all of what for Smash get, what was it, Cadbury smash. That was what it was called. So you’re beginning to get that.
It is just about balance? Yeah. Well, that’s what, I mean, you couldn’t, the balance was, you’d have a Cadbury smasher, if you did. My parents were totally against it. We’re sort of being, the amount of time that, you’ve mentioned that you’ve got a 16 year old daughter, I’ve got, I got four children, the youngest is 18 and the amount of time that they spend on their phones or gaming or whatever. And it’s liked, well, come on, let’s go and prepare the vegetables. It’s all, hang on a minute, I’ve got their mates on?
Yeah. I mean, so how do we, so, so, so in terms of solutions though, so for the ordinary, so, so what I want to emphasise, obviously this is about people who are ordinary work. We’re talking about called corporate wellbeing. So that is, is, is wellbeing and companies I’ve been involved with that, working with a corporate caterer who are marvellous, Barlett Mitchell. So we, they have fantastic foodies and they’re always, it’s about eating as a company. The company that eats together stays together. But, but beyond that, it’s really about sort of looking back to our basics farming systems, where the food actually comes from what difference we can make. So, so what are a few things we can do? So first of all, we can buy organic obviously, and we’re buying organic for the host of reasons we said, about the pesticides and effect being, being bad for us being bad for the soil, killing off the soil micro biome. How do we choose? Or if it’s a question of pricing, what are we choosing organic first?
Well, obviously Yeo Valley dairy then that will solve a few problems for me, but it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s not a binary debate. It’s more important that people eat vegetables, fruits, fresh dairy, fresh meat, and that sort of stuff. So for me, the number one enemy is ultra processed food. That’s basically half the food in the country.
Okay. Well, what do you mean by that? I mean, I know what you mean, but what do you mean if you were to describe it to somebody else?
I mean, there’s this sort of things now where they have more than six ingredients, things that you wouldn’t recognise in there, if your, if your grandmother doesn’t recognise it as food, so, and I know that, yeah. And this is not a dig at the plant milks and the dairy alternatives, because I’m a dairy farmer. I want to fight back again, but, you can take a kilo of oats and you can make many meals of porridge. It’s probably packaged in a brown bag. Okay. Minimal packaging, you take that, you take 10 grams of oats and you turn that into a hundred grams of something that you then have to put into packaging that’s coated in plastic, and then you have to chill it. Okay. So all of that unnecessary, and then you have to add in all the things that aren’t in milk, because the B12 and all that sort of stuff. So that is an ultra processed product. Okay.
And what are you doing by the way, with the rest of the oats? Like the, the, I don’t know what you call it, the hole or whatever you did because you squash them obviously then you’ve got the fibrous materials.
It goes into animals, doesn’t it, which slightly, slightly sort of, so I have no problem about not eating meat and not eating dairy at all. Okay. But what I really have a problem is with people who eat, who substitute vegetables, fruit, things like that for ultra processed food, because the more ultra processed food we have, the nation is going to have a heavier health bill. The more processed food, there is the less farms that will be growing the healthy, natural food. And then the biodiversity will go down the path,
Interestingly as well from, from, well, probably not, but hopefully interestingly from a nutritional point of view, lots of these milks, the substitute milks are high in omega six essential fatty acid, which is basically an inflammatory type of fat. You need a balance cause it’s called essential. But in a Western diet, there was too much of these omega six essential fatty acids. So in the body, you need a balance between inflammatory factors and anti-inflammatory factors, but of course, milk from, from grass fed animals or even meat from market grass fed animals is high in omega six essential fatty acids. And if they’re grain fed, they’re high in omega six of essential fatty acids. So it’s causing inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the root cause of disease. All degenerative disease is an inflammatory profile. So things like milks where especially like things like almond milks of course are, are being squashed and creating omega six essential fatty acids, very inflammatory basically. So again, they should be used a little bit with caution and go back to the product or, even if it’s just drink water, but don’t drink the ultra processed version of what you think is a substitute.
So it’s, it’s not a binary choice. So for me, I’d much prefer that people consume fruit and vegetables than ultra processed food. Organic ones are too expensive, then eat the conventional ones because that is far, far, far better. What, what do we have to do as a brand? And so every, every week there are 2 million Yeo Valley moments where somebody takes a product, puts it into their shopping basket or clicks on a thing and it gets delivered to them. We would love that to be 4 million Giovanni moments, so that we can go and buy milk from another hundred organic dairy farms, or it gives the opportunity to another a hundred farmers to go do, there is a demand for that sort of map and to do that, okay, we have to create emotion with our consumers. So the reason why people consume all of the fizzy drinks and the beer brands and is marketing and emotion building. Okay. So as farmers, I mean, I’m a farmer and not the magic ingredients for, for, for understanding how we create emotion in consumers. But what I do know is that we have to create an emotion so that people realise that they want to support the method and the type of farming and that they realise it’s going to be good for the, and that actually it’s, it’s, it’s really cool to spending five minutes chopping up all your vegetables for your dinner or preparing something like that, because it’s going to make a difference, not to you, but to other people around you and to the world, world, world at large.
Well, and you do have your lovely centre, which we were just saying, because of all these, restrictions over the last two years, haven’t got down to the farm, which I will do once I’m down your way in Somerset, but, but you have your kind of conference centre. What, what, how would you describe that? And what opportunities are there for businesses to come and learn about these things?
We have still not reopened our conference centre, but we have put up a yurt in the garden. So the valley garden. So we like to bring at least 50,000 people to the Yeo Valley every year, we do that through Valley Fest, which is a food and music festival, about three or four miles away. We were one of the first festivals to go ahead this year. And it got, we had a party at the end of July, beginning of August. It was the first weekend in August. We then have people coming and they do demo days, we’ve got lots of garden demonstration days, so people can go online. They can book in, they can come down, but if people want to come and have their own event, people want to bring, their staff. We’ve got a yurt that can take between 25 to 35 people. We put on demonstrations, we’ve got local people that will come and talk about cider making. They’ll talk about regenerative farming. They’ll talk about soil. So we, we put on lots and lots of events for people to come to the valley so we can share really what we’re doing. And I sort of think it keeps us honest. If we’re saying to everybody, come down our way and, have a look at what we do, if what we’re doing, doesn’t stack up, then people are going to tell us outlay. And so it’s sort of, a bit cheap way of doing market research. We have a feedback thing and we have suggestions. So we’re actually getting access to what 50,000 people think we should do as a brand. And who have you ever looked at doing this flavour? Can you do a drinking yogurt in a PT bottle? Because they’re the only ones available are the really sugary ones. And so that’s, so people can come and interact with the Yeo Valley in the flesh whenever they want.
Yeah. I mean, and also I have to say, I’m not just sucking up to you now, but when you do eat organic food, generally, it just tastes so much nicer. It really does so that, and, and the taste is there because of the nutrients there. So, the more nutrient density is obviously the better, but just before we leave, cause I’ve taken up a lot of your valuable time, not least because we had a massive gossip before, but can, can you just explain briefly what you mean by regenerative farming and how people can kind of learn more about that?
Right. Tricky topic. There, there is no accepted definition of what regenerative farming is. Okay. And that’s what everybody basically says. There are huge numbers of people all over the world, looking at regenerative farming and what regenerative farming is. So organic farmers are possibly 80% of what we’ve been doing for 25 years is regenerative. Okay. It’s integrating livestock into your system. It’s keeping a living root always at all times possible in the soil. It’s about minimal tillage. It’s about using multitude of different plants. And so the varieties of plants, you don’t just want to have one sort of grass. You want to have lots of sort of grasses. And if you do those five basic principles, the soil will be healthy. It will, it will blossom. And then what the soil does is the soil is then able to capture carbon is, is able to hold water and therefore, be more drought resistant. The soil is able to give better nutrients to the food that you’re producing. And you create a, an environment where rural livelihoods will thrive because there’s more labour involved in that system. So there are some basic principles that you apply to farming. And as I say, organic farmers are already doing sort of 80%, but there are some fine tuning leavers that we can pull, things like mob grazing and the way we can post all the detritus from the top of the soil and the dead, the Kmart(???) and all that sort thing.
So mob grazing is when you move them from field to field, you let them go where they want to go. Is that there’s that? And then you cut off bits of the meals.
Well, mob grazing is say the Plains of Africa and America were. So the fertility of the soil of the world was generated by the herbivores, in their billions, roaming, the planet chomping the, the, the grass that’s been made and then fertilising the ground with the Kmart. And so billions of years of animals roaming the planet, eating all the vegetation and that vegetation being incorporated into the soil. That is how it all happened. The fertility of the world, what mob grazing is, is in those days, you had huge packs of carnivores surrounding the herbivores. And therefore they used to move around as a mob because otherwise they get picked off easily and therefore the animals would move from one bit of grass to the next bit. And then they probably wouldn’t come back to it for other day 50 or 60 or 70 days. So the principle is that the grass grew really tall. You then had a whole mob of bison or elephant or antelope or whatever, moving on to that. They would eat the grass down to about, I don’t know about a foot from two foot or three foot. There would be lots of manuring, lots of hoofs moving it all around. And that process enabled carbon to be transferred from the atmosphere through, into the soil. And that’s what built up the world’s soil carbon. Obviously we don’t live in a world where there are loads of carnivores tromping up all the cows and the horses and the whatever. And therefore animals are allowed to spread out more, okay. In the spreading out and doing something. And then the invention of barbed wire allowed them to set stock. So quite often you’ll see 30 animals in a big field, and they’ll just be the same animals for six or nine months. The grass never gets higher than a couple of inches. And therefore the roots and never really transferring the sugars into the, whereas if you’ve got grass up here, you’ve got a massive surface area to make sugar and that sugar flows down into the soil. So by going back and replicating how mobs of elephants and bison and Wildebeest would have grazed that created the healthy soil. Therefore, the, the, the, the, the thing is that that actually will hopefully start to regenerate the soil stocks. So as farmers, regenerative farming has the potential. We have the potential to weaponise. The one thing that we own, which is the soil and the land in the fight against climate change. The question is how do we ensure that that carbon flow gets locked up in the soil to make a meaningful difference? And there are lots of people because regenerative farming hasn’t been defined yet. There’s lots of people go, no, you can’t do it. What a load of rubbish, my view is I’m going to try, I don’t care. If in 10 years time, we’ve, we’ve been successful, then waiting another 10 years or another 10 years is just too late.
So like we were talking About Gabe brown before, like there’s some of these Americans, and actually they just show that the yields are very good in regenerative, organic regenerative farming, because I think people have hijacked the term regenerative farming to mean something else. But, it’s very, very, actually very successful, not least for this, regeneration of the soil, which less than let’s not forget the World Health Organisation, told us that in 60 years would be the, basically the, there wouldn’t be any more harvests because of soil degradation, but in effect, because it takes a thousand years to grow top soil to whatever, how many inches, but actually it can be quick, more quickly done through regenerative farming and actually quickly or quickly, or at least reversed in a relatively short amount of time.
Absolutely. So the jury is out, yeah. There’s scientists over here saying one thing, they’re scientists over here saying another thing. The interesting thing is there’s a very interesting clip from Alan Savoury, basically saying that if, if we only ever rely on something that’s been peer reviewed, then therefore you’re never going to get new science because people are only saying what they already believe. And so it’s hugely encouraging regenerative farming our own definition in our business. Okay. Because people are saying in our business, well, what is it? What’s the definition? And my definition is we will classify ourselves and our supplying farmers as truly regenerative when we start regenerating the soil carbon stocks. Okay. So we have 150 years worth of carbon stocks in relation to our annual footprint in the ground that we have. If in 20 years time, we have got 208 years worth of carbon stocks. We’ve grown it by 30% and personally, do I think, should anybody be able to get be 30% better? I think so. So if, if in 20 years time we’ve managed to get ourselves to be 208 years worth of carbon footprint as compared to our annual footprint, then I will consider ourselves to be regenerative because we will have regenerated the soil carbon stocks. And that is that we’ve actually measured a thousand samples two years ago of, of our carbon stocks at 10 centimetres, 30 centimetres and 50 centimetres to generate that a hundred or 375,000 tons, which is our soil carbon stocks on the farms that we actually farm ourselves. And if that 375,000 tons becomes 425,000 tons, then we will be regenerative.
Well, I think it sounds, I mean, I know, I know from other sort of reading other literature, I mean, I’ve, I found I’m just somebody who reads books. I’m not somebody who actually does all the hard work that you do obviously, but, it is, it seems like it’s a really encouraging kind of, I think really encouraging way to look at farming and not,
not least, we were talking, in context of people’s health, which is if we have a healthy planet, we have a healthy us. So we have, we have also the biodiversity we’re talking about and we have everything that kind of works and it’s perfect. A perfect circle of a perfect harmony. And, we were talking you, or you think you were saying sort of like, it’s not a binary discussion. So nowadays as well, you get this kind of like, yes, there’s battle. Yes. Oh, this is really good. But, often things are much more complex.
Nature. Nature is balanced. It’s, if nature is, is, is, is finding, working towards a balance, then we have got to have a balance. We can’t have extreme views. It’s not like take three pills and you’ll live forever or just eat, chicken nuggets and ice cream for the rest of your life, because then you won’t be living that long. We, we have to find the balance and nature will guide us towards that balance. And, as a business, it’s like, everybody’s, concerned about climate change. Everybody’s activating against, for climate change. And, we’ve been doing, we gave up oil farming 25 years ago. And what we’ve got to do is redouble our efforts. Okay. And take a chance and be brave. And, I don’t really know. I guess you get to an age where I didn’t really give a shit. If in 10 years time people say, oh, you waste, why did you bother doing that? You wasted your time because if in 10 years time, it turns out to be the right thing to do. We’ll be going. That’s why we did it. If it turns out to be completely the wrong thing to do, then that’s just tough luck and I’ll take it on the chin.
In the old days as well, that people set off on big adventures, they set off into all ships, they set off, to conquer the season and, in a very, very dangerous circumstances and they never thought they might come back. So, in a way we have to cut loose from, from what people are telling us sometimes, and just set off on our own adventure with a good sense of, where we’re going and, and the fact that he’s going to pay off obviously, but, but this is, this is how we get progressed. Is she taking, taking a chance? And as I say, from what I, everything I’ve read, the Genesis of farming is, is amazing. He’s amazingly intelligent.
We’re setting up the Yeo Valley soil carbon project, which is to put carbon in the soil from the atmosphere. So we are taking logs and turning those into carbon by a jar. And then we’re using that at the moment in our garden. Cause a piece of carbon can absorb and retain lots of water we’re doing.
So you’re putting that on top, like a top, like a surface cover.
We’re incorporating it into the potting compost for potting and growing. So we’ve got an organic garden here, which is going to Chelsea in about three weeks time, or is at Chelsea being built at the moment. The reason why we’re getting into the Chelsea garden, the Royal Horticultural thing, is we want to show people how you can farm organically and also garden organically.
So therefore, things like the bio char as a substitute for putting compost or to be incorporated in the soil to retain more moisture, things like that are brilliant. But the project that we’re also looking at composting, there’s a, there’s a sort of there’s aerobic and anaerobic composting. So making per cache (???) where you’re using sort of essential nutrients to instead of heating and aerobically, composting, your came up when you’re and things like that, you do it anaerobically. So we got the composting trial, we got the bio char trial. We’ve got collars on our cattle for the mob grazing. So we, we, we move them around on an iPod. You move the fence on the iPad and they’d go, oh,
we’ll go onto, so that’s how you keep them really tight. So they got collars with transponders on and whatever. So it’s all really exciting. And I, I love being a yogurt maker, but I think being a farmer, if you can afford to be a farmer, it’s the greatest occupation that you could ever, ever, ever want to have.
Totally. And so, as we end, really, I’d just like to say, thank you so much for joining us today and that sort of positive action people can take, think about the difference eating organic makes and potentially, but just look at Yeo Valley. And if you are in HR or you’re planning your company events, think about going to Yeo Valley and learning from the Maestro of how to, how it all works, why you should care.
We have got a cafe in London, opposite Queensway ice rink. People can hire the whole cafe for the evening and, have talks, and get guests in and do all that sort of stuff.
Now you’re up to you’re into something because I might have to speak to you afterwards about that. So as we end, I’d like to say, thank you so much to Tim Mead from Yeo Valley and it’s www.yeovalley.co.uk.
So as we are now, thank you so much. This is the Corporate Wellbeing Show with me, Kate Cook. And I’m just very grateful to Tim Meade for his time today. Thank you so much.
Thank you very much, Kate.