Marianne Hill and Michelle Turner are transforming the relationship between food producers, their environment and the discerning customer. Their journeys began in different places, but they have united on a path towards the genuine regeneration of entire ecosystems. During a wide-ranging discussion, Marianne and Michelle outlined the ways in which well-established farming practices have a most deleterious effect on the land and, as a consequence, upon human health. In sharing stories of their own broad experiences, they explained how they have begun a movement, Food4Change, which has a momentum of its own, and one that has positive outcomes for all involved. They are putting healthy food at the centre of the relationships which bind communities.
Both women have an great depth and breadth of knowledge of their subject and were quick in this interview to point to the work of the Savory Institute, with specific regard to the tremendous damage that a monoculture grazing system can inflict on topsoil; something which is extremely challenging to reverse. Marianne has been involved with Michigan State University exploring the subject of no-till farming, a method that continues to cause controversy in orthodox agriculture. To illustrate her point, she described glyphosate as being less damaging to the topsoil than the plough—glyphosate, of course, never being far from controversies all of its own.
In line with so many of the previous iterations of environmental activism, the alarm has been sounded recently over the hijacking of the terminology. Regenerative farming, which should mean diversifying the use of the land in order to return it and its habitats to a condition as close to their natural states as possible, has come to mean something else in mainstream circles. As recently as September 2023, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) declared that it regarded glyphosate as an essential, and safe, part of farming. This was a decision that Britain’s then Environment Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, appeared to take great delight in rebroadcasting to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), declaring it a ‘critical’ part of regenerative farming.
The rampant industrialisation of farming in the post-war period of the 1950s has shifted the paradigm to such an extent that, even now, only a very small percentage of farmers view land as anything other than a means of extracting the highest possible yield at the lowest possible cost. This type of transactional relationship has left those farming extremely vulnerable to the pressures exerted by the large-scale distributors; the supermarkets in particular. Only recently, UK Column News featured a segment about a petition for a complete overhaul of the Groceries Supply Code of Practice. In short, it is a campaign to return some semblance of control and stability to the producer.
Marianne and Michelle use, as a case study in this interview, their dealings with a farmer named Tom. In opening the discussion around food and the specific interest that the local community has in buying what Tom had to offer, Food4Change enables the return of autonomy to the farmer. To date, the farmers that have come on board with Food4Change are smaller producers—and it will likely stay this way—but this entering into agreements that concentrate on quality and land husbandry is a trend that has proved to be of equal draw to producer and consumer alike. The largest obstacle, at this stage, is knowledge and the passage of information.
The buying public are, by and large, blissfully ignorant of the harms that modern agricultural methods inflict upon the land. The struggle faced by farmers, though, is more universally acknowledged, and it is this constant pressure that Marianne Hill and Michelle Turner are able to relieve via Food4Change. Many challenges lie ahead, for all parties involved, and a retail arm or even sales by franchise are being considered. The one thing in short supply at the moment is people who have the time and energy to commit to pushing this initiative onward, for the benefit of the food, the farmer and the community.