Soil Association – Scotland

Ideas we may find original have often already been thought of. This is the case of Soil Association in Scotland. Looking at the name you may assume this is the “usual” group consisting of soil scientists or researchers, it is actually a group which lobbies for healthy food coming from sustainable use of soil and agriculture. Born in 1946, it is made to counter the changes taking place in the rural and agricultural world, currently under pressure from intensive agricultural and food production.

The Soil Association entirely patrols its trading subsidiary, the Soil Association Certification Limited, the largest organic certification body in the UK. This is managed in the manner of a non-profit organization, which aside from partly supporting the Soil Association strategy, generates funds which are then re-used within the Association’s wider scope. Within the framework is also the Soil Association Land Trust, a charity established especially to acquire and maintain farmland sustainably and to connect the public with land stewardship.

It sounds like a game of Chinese boxes, or Russian dolls. In actual fact it is simply a transparent way of confronting various issues related to soil and agriculture respectful of people and the environment. Among the main strategic aims are the following : a) Facing the future : working with farmers, growers and researchers, finding and championing practical solutions to farming’s modern day challenges ; b) Good food for all : working in nurseries, schools, universities, hospitals, care homes, work places and on the main streets ; c) Enabling change (with Soil Association Certification): by working with over 6,000 businesses, they farm without chemicals, to make and serve healthier food, and at the same time educate their customers.

It was founded in 1946 by a group of people who were concerned about the health implications of increasingly intensive farming systems following the Second World War. In 1967 the first association for organic production standards was created : these standards require creating and sustaining a ‘living’ soil with organic matter. This led to the official launch of a certification scheme in 1973, thanks to the high quality of organic food. The association currently issues certifications for 70% of all organic food in the United Kingdom.

However, certifications which do not involve farmers are like bicycles with one wheel. For this reason, the association made efforts to support farmers deciding to produce organic food and following the Organic Aid Scheme certification rules. Almost 4% of all land today is cultivated with organic practices, and they are backed up financially for the environmental benefits they offer. Besides there is an educational element to this: healthier menus, linking people to food, places where to eat healthy, awareness raising for good food, …

In this framework, the relationship between producers and consumers is strengthened. Thanks to a Soil Association project, a new association was created: the Community Supported agriculture (CSA). This association deals with raising risks and awards of agricultural produce among a partnership of farmers and consumers.

Soil Association in Scotland is a point of reference for the SIP Forum, and it is of high importance to establish close cooperation to foster a network of European associations which aim to preserve soil and its sustainable use.