Soil Association Revives Wartime Dig For Victory Spirit

20 August 2008

Photo: Soil Association

Leading environmental organisation The Soil Association is about to launch a self-sufficiency movement to the general public, mimicking the wartime “Dig for Victory” programme where people grew their own food in gardens and allotments. Alarmed at the lack of skills relating to food production, and worried by the way the “just-in-time” supermarket delivery combines with imported food to make Britain very vulnerable to disruptions in food supply – as nearly happened in the Tanker Blockade in 2000 – when the UK was actually down to its last few days food, The Soil Association has brought in master TV gardener Monty Don to get more people involved in food production on a small scale.

Fewer than 1% of the population work in agriculture, one of the lowest percentages in the world. In 1900 this was 40%. 61% of our food is produced domestically, but imports make up a large percentage of food, for example 90% of fruit is imported, as opposed to 40% in France. If you look at apples in a supermarket – which used to be Britain's major fruit – we have hundreds of different domestic varieties which could be cultivated, during the height of the apple season, you will find they are only a few varieties and are mostly imported! This makes no sense whatsoever. It is only possible because cheap fossil fuels allow transportation from far-off countries. As oil becomes more expensive, this will become uneconomic.

Overall self-sufficiency has dropped by 21 percent since 1995. Many people have no idea how food is actually produced.

The Soil Association is launching a programme in the autumn to enable people to create their own food in imitation of the famous Second World War “Dig for Victory” project which encouraged people to use their gardens and allotments, and many other common spaces, to grow food. There is also an educational strand which will teach younger people about organic food by taking them to visit organic farms.

Photo: Soil Association

Robin Maynard, Campaigns Director at the Soil Association says, “The two torpedoes up the tube are Climate Change and Peak Oil – and they will sink our future more certainly than the U-Boats if we do not take action now.” He criticised the complacency of the UK government on food security. Our agriculture is primarily based on fossil fuels and that will be very dangerous for the future, so he advocates reskilling by attending Soil Association masterclasses, where people learn new – or often rather old – skills, such as keeping chickens, running a smallholding, or making jam; things our grandparents knew but we have forgotten.

Children are a big part of their programme, with their food for life partnership with Garden Organic, which enables schools to obtain good, unprocessed organic food locally, so children learn what is nourishing and in season, rather than be subjected to the notorious “Turkey Twizzler” type of meal. The Soil Association has a network of 150 organic demonstration farms that can be visited by schools. They are running at between ¾ and 1 million visits a year.

The association's new president is TV gardener Monty Don. His high profile will undoubtedly give this initiative more recognition. The final intention is to help produce “Active Citizens” who are involved in their locality, aware of the natural environment, and able to put pressure on the authorities, whether local regional or national, to help the UK through this transition to a lower carbon, organic economy.


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