With the deadline for Brexit coming closer, the future of food and farming might seem doom and gloom, but is that really the case? Farmer, scientist and chef, Abi Aspen Glencross talks to Britain’s farmers to see what they have to say. This time, she catches up with Hodmedod’s; the purveyors of unusual British-grown pulses and grains, including the UK’s first ever quinoa harvest.
William Hudson (left), co-founder of Hodmedod’s holding bread made from the UK’s first quinoa harvest
Talking to farmers on their thoughts and predictions for a post-Brexit Britain has been, surprisingly, heart-warming and a beacon of hope in a seemingly gloomy landscape. Recently, I spoke to William Hudson, co-founder at Hodmedod’s. Hodmedod’s work with British farmers to produce and source a range of unusual and often underloved pulses and grains. They recently grew the UK’s first crop of quinoa, and brought back the nutritious fava bean that has fallen out of favour among the British public. They are supplied by about 10 UK farmers, who grow a mix of conventional and organic crops.
In 2017, Hodmedod’s won Best Food Producer at the prestigious BBC Food & Farming Awards, and have won seven Great Taste Awards. Needless to say, they’re getting some well deserved recognition.
Here’s what Andrew has to say about the future of British food and farming, and how our buying habits can really shape a healthier food system.
Hodmedod’s founders support local farmers to make a living from heritage beans and pulses.
How’s it going at Hodmedod’s?
Really well. We are growing at a phenomenal speed. 75% up on last year. It’s actually supply, not demand which is the problem. We have short supply chains and minimal processing which helps.
Why are you focussing on grains and pulses?
There are two answers to this. One being that beans, grains and pulses are highly nutritious. They’re high in protein and fibre for starters. The second, is their amazing qualities in farming. They fix nitrogen, they’re an important element in growing crops and can be used in rotation with other crops, like wheat.
Why aren’t more farmers growing them?
Farmers are generally paid a pittance for them. Many can be tricky to grow, particularly the interesting varieties, and are worth bugger all. We pay our farmers more than the general market price, because we can recover the costs by adding value and processing them ourselves.
Why do you think Hodmedods are so in demand at the moment? Have you seen a shift in buying habits?
Yes, the influence of other cultures is really changing cuisines, and people are becoming more environmentally conscious about what they eat. People are realising the impact of eating too much meat and are looking to supplement it with more veg and fibre. Pulses are a good option for those looking to eat more plants. Plus, there’s more distrust in our food system, and this extends into animals and welfare.
I didn’t want to start with the B-word, but what’s happening in the current system?
On the whole, the system isn’t producing food for people, it is producing food for profit. Trading in commodity crops, such as large-scale wheat, barley and oats, just isn’t working anymore. Farmers plant them and sell them at harvest but it’s the market that sets the price. Your business is always going to be vulnerable if you don’t set the price of your product. After all, only the farmer knows the real cost behind the food they produce.
When the price of commodity crops drops below the cost to produce them, it’s currently propped up by the agricultural policies in place. We tend to think that the larger the area we farm the cheaper it costs to produce that crop (known as an economy of scale), but actually we just spend more on machinery or contractors for that crop. Large-scale monocultures aren’t as economical as they seem. The market and policy needs to support a diverse and nutritious food supply.
As consumers, how do we help to support this?
Producers and farmers need more routes to market than going via mainstream supermarkets, whose criteria is very specific and hard to meet. We also need to promote and create more of a demand for organic produce and encourage less factory farming, which is something we can all do. This can be done by more companies paying farmers well for their crops and consumers paying the true price of food. We need to start producing for a resilient food system, which hasn’t really been addressed in the revision of the new Farm Bill.
Quinoa crops grown in East Anglia for Hodmedod’s
How do we approach a disruptive change in policy?
The UK isn’t self-sufficient in food production, so we could look at encouraging farming that could get a boost from Brexit. For example, horticulture. If we can’t import from Europe for the same price, we will need to produce more in-house, so horticulture could thrive. We could also really benefit from government-supported research.
Is there anything that gives you hope?
Well you can see changes happening in the US. Companies selling chemicals are closing because they can see the rise in organic farming. There is positive change happening.
Is the future bright for our food landscape?
Yes. I see a lot more questions being asked about factory farming, and a lot more people looking into alternatives. You can see the change coming, I went into my local garage this week which always sells chocolate bars and now they are selling dried peas, nuts and healthy snacks. If it’s on the shelves at the counter, it’s selling.
“Pulses are a good option for those looking to eat more plants”
How are you moving towards this at Hodmedods?
We are growing crops that are good for the land, plus we are expanding. We want to produce more gluten products, like wheat flour, for example. We are continually researching and trying new varieties. Luckily our customers are lovely and want to buy what we produce!
Of course, Hodmedods needs to earn enough money to continue, but we really aren’t profit-driven. We need to consider the social and environmental cost of what we do. Hopefully, we are part of the solution not the problem.
Get your British quinoa and other unusual beans and pulses from Hodmedod’s here at farmdrop.com.
Hear more from British farmers on what they think about the future of food and farming.
What are ancient grains and why should we eat them? Read on here.