Browning’s conference message: Keep calm and carry on

The organic faithful who gathered at last week’s Soil Association Conference wanted a rallying address to kick off proceedings. The charity’s director, Helen Browning, duly delivered.

Here are the highlights.

Everyone welcome
“This is one of those rare opportunities where we can welcome everyone from food and farming to the same event — farmers, food producers, retailers community groups and citizens. Getting everybody from all walks of life together to talk about facing the future — the theme of our conference.

United, despite differences
“We might not always agree, and people in this room come with very different perspectives. But I think we are all united in believing that food and farming have to change.

Keep the radical fire burning …
“We came together as a band of radicals determined to form an alternative vision for food and farming — I hope that movement still thrives within this room.”

… but face the new challenges
“Our responsibilities are changing and time is running out. So we need to amplify our messages way beyond the organic movement. We, in the organic movement, have practical solutions in a world where there are few.”

Organic. It’s our best hope
“Bind faith in sticking plasters is not only looking increasingly foolish, it’s just not what people want or need. And it’s just not delivering. Organic certification and standards are currently the best defined, most comprehensive and coherent system of sustainable production out there.”

It’s not all over
The Organic Market Report shows that UK sales fell by 3.7% — but the global context is crucial, with overall growth of 8.8% and double digit growth in the US and many European countries. Brazil grew organic sales 40%, Asia is predicted to grow 20%. So, let’s not ever give in to the hype that organic is over.

What’s going wrong here?
“Many retailers are denying consumer choice by failing to offer organic options. I want to work really closely with retailers over the coming year to try to rebuild that confidence and investment in organic, to demonstrate that the economics of organic food will stack up. To prove that there is another way to retail too, other than pile it high, sell it cheap.

Needed: A bit of pride
“Government support isn’t just about money. Often it’s just words. If you want to make the biggest difference in terms of biodiversity, sustainability and animal welfare choose organic — that’s what many European governments are proud to say.”

Let’s show what better looks like
“We need to reclaim innovation from the technocrats who imagine a simple equation where new equals better and science equals technology equals progress. The issue is not whether we are for or against innovation — it’s how we innovate. And who benefits from it. Innovation must include questions about what better looks like.”

From sceptic to advocate
“The work we’ve achieved together in schools with our Food For Life Partnership proves something quite extraordinary. Which is that the people who start of being the most sceptical about organic often become its strongest advocates.”

100 million and counting
“Lets celebrate that we are not just working in a handful of schools who want to do the right thing, but in 20% of the schools in England. Let’s celebrate that the Food For Life Catering Mark is accrediting just shy of 100 million meals a year.”

Organic for the people
“For me, our message is simple. Everyone deserves organic food. I understand the barriers, and I think some of them we can work on. For example, lets not remain addicted to organic premiums if we can ensure fair return to producers without them. But let’s celebrate the added value when it is needed and justified.”

Keep calm and carry on
“Many people are looking for a deeper connection to the production values behind their food, as support for farm shops, markets and independent retailers suggests. The famous wartime poster exhorts us to ‘Keep calm and carry on’. As our new report, launched here today shows, the organic market is doing just that.”