Iain Tolhurst has been in the forefront of organic horticulture for twenty five years and more. I first met him at the Organic Growers Association conference at Cirencester in January 1983 when he was already respected for the dynamism and innovation of his growing, at that time in almost impossibly inhospitable conditions among the Cornish clay hills. During our first conversation he told me that farm workers were overpaid. As I was then a farm worker, and a branch secretary of the now long defunct NUAAW to boot, this opinion did not go down well. Later we got to know each other better. Becoming a self-employed grower myself, and with the inevitably much reduced income which this move entailed, I was able to gain a little (but not much!) sympathy for his view. Probably he never meant it that seriously. In any case I soon came to understand that in anything to do with horticulture Tolly’s views are worth taking note of – this because they come from a keen intelligence combined with the practical skills of a craftsman.
The OGA set out to show a credible and commercially viable alternative to “conventional” agriculture, and was the catalyst for the gradual recognition of at least the validity of the organic approach to food production. It was organic vegetables that led the scarcely believable growth of the organic market. Inevitably, given the increased demand, the shape and nature of organic horticulture have changed. From being a fringe activity conducted on the margins (West Wales, the Westcountry) the greatest area of organic vegetable production is now to be found alongside that of non-organic production in recognised horticultural districts. It is of course all to the good that an ever-increasing area of vegetable ground is managed to organic standards, as it is that more and more organic food is available. On the other hand the bulk of the organic market is in the hands of large commercial organisations and depends on the same system of distribution and finance as its non-organic equivalent. This does not inspire confidence that simply producing food within the organic regulation is doing much to improve our relationship with the Earth.
In essence the philosophy which underlies organic production is radical – in a literal sense in that it looks to the roots of fertility within the soil. It is even revolutionary because, by recognising those roots, it turns its back on external inputs. In this way it can begin to free itself from an economic system which, seeing food as a commodity and ever-increasing consumption as the only good, is fundamentally at odds with that philosophy.
In this book you will see what organic horticulture can achieve, when it doesn’t merely aim to substitute acceptable inputs for prohibited ones. It looks far beyond this - to the production of food as a continuum, as a means of survival in balance with the ecosystem that sustains our lives.
It used to be that the refinements to the techniques which enable organic horticulture to be commercially practical could only come from within the community of organic growers. Apart from our relatively small, but somehow usually adequate number of customers, nobody else was interested. Now there is official recognition and a good deal of funded research, which is something to be thankful for. However the Organic Growers Association is no more and some of the sense of being part of a community has gone with it. The most valuable and directly useful knowledge of organic growing always comes from making a living out of what the soil produces. A community of common purpose allows the knowledge to be shared. Growing Green is an expression of that common purpose.
For this book is not written by Tolly alone, nor derived solely from his own experience.The wealth of knowledge and information within it is drawn not just from what has been achieved at Hardwick but from many other sources. These are also intimately connected with the real nature of organic growing. I have chosen to emphasise Tolly’s role because his trajectory epitomises what the OGA at least partly set out to do, and that was to change the world. Anybody with an intelligent interest in how food is produced can see that this is necessary and that the present wasteful systems cannot long be continued. If you want to make a real difference producing decent food on your own small but significant portion of the world - the following pages will tell you most of what you need to know.