Six Steps Back to the Land

Simon Hursthouse | Friday, 20th January 2017
"Enlightened Agriculture is a return to small mixed farms of maximum diversity, employing many skilled workers, and Tudge spells out the multiple benefits of this."
Author: Colin Tudge
Publisher: Green Books
Publication year: 2016
RRP: £17.99

The latest book from science writer and ‘Real Farming’ advocate, Colin Tudge, is a positive call to arms to anyone interested in working land in ways that seek not to harm it. The focus is on agriculture, specifically agroecology, an approach that takes a whole-system view of the farm, smallholding or garden as an ecosystem to collaborate with for the benefit of all. It is important to realise that people form part of the ecosystem, are wholly reliant upon it, and must therefore not wreck it, as mainstream farming – with its reliance on fossil fuels, heavy machinery and ever more technology – is wont to do.

Tudge calls his approach towards a more sensible way of farming ‘Enlightened Agriculture’, and the steps it entails are outlined here. In clear terms Tudge explains the considerable shortcomings of conventional (non-organic) agriculture, dispels the notion that we need GM to feed a growing population, and proposes appropriate uses of technology as an antidote to today’s tech-heavy farming accessible only to the wealthy with land as far as the eye can see. Enlightened Agriculture is organic by default. It takes nature as its model, with fertile soil as the cornerstone, hence when covering farming livestock humanely, regenerative agriculture/holistic management’s idea of mob grazing is highlighted for its effect of reducing atmospheric carbon while invigorating soil. For the enlightened, no-till is key and keeping soil covered at all times, either with mulch, crops or green manure, is sacrosanct. As a biologist, Tudge spends almost a tenth of the book discussing soil in depth, how to keep it in good heart, and with refreshing honesty, how science has still barely scratched the surface with regard to understanding the role of microbial life and mycorrhizae in soil biology.

The upshot of Enlightened Agriculture is a return to small mixed farms of maximum diversity, employing many skilled workers, and Tudge spells out the multiple benefits of this. The book makes useful references to the latest data and sources to convincingly debunk neoliberal industrial farming’s purpose, revealing it instead as a road to bankruptcy at every turn. 

For its considerable scope, this is an easy and often enlightening read. In broad brush strokes and what Tudge refers to as ‘lightning quick sketches’, it covers much ground and largely succeeds in its desire to inspire the reader to get more involved with the quality and provenance of the stuff we may often unthinkingly fork into our mouths. As such it is more a ‘how to get involved’ book than a ‘how to farm’ guide, from which the reader is sure to come away inspired to look more deeply into the agroecological approach.

Simon Hursthouse,