Stephen Carr: Why organic should be posh and proud

What have things come to at the Soil Association when they think it even necessary to hold a special session at their AGM to discuss “organic elitism”?

Doesn’t our director, Patrick Holden, realise that the only reason that I converted part of my farm to organic status three years ago was in the hope of putting a little social and moral distance between myself and – just how does one put this without being considered indelicate – common-as-muck conventional farmers.

One’s friends were the first to notice the changes. I became a little aloof and was suddenly better spoken. Then my mode of dress began to change; gone were the coveralls, baseball cap, mobile phone and chunky Japanese 4×4. In their place came a Harris tweed sports jacket, plus fours, shepherd’s crook (hand-crafted by artisans from a sustainable organic ash coppice on the Highgrove Estate – naturally) and the obligatory very tatty but dead cool canvas-topped Land Rover Defender.

I’ve now been a member of the Soil Association for long enough to make it difficult to remember a time when I wasn’t as posh and certain about what is right and wrong as I’ve now become.

In informal moments my staff (formerly known as my wife and children) remind me that I once used to apply agrochemicals and artificial fertlisers to my land. Naturally I quiver with embarrassment at the mere thought of it. How could I have been so uncouth!

But, just as I’ve clawed my way up the social and moral order so convincingly, the normally reliable Mr Holden seems to have got it into his head that organic farming could do with being made a little less upper class and holier-than-thou. What dashed bad luck.

For some bizarre reason, he’s worried that the organic movement’s exclusive image might have something to do with the elevated social background of some of its key members and the hectoring tone they adopt when advocating the organic farming and food. But surely poshness, moral certainty and social aspiration are the movement’s great strengths, not weaknesses.

Why else does Mr Holden think that Waitrose has taken exclusive rights to the Prince of Wales’ Duchy Originals range of organic foods and announced that it intends to introduce up to “500 lines” of the brand in its stores?

Does Mr Holden think that Waitrose customers – famous for being flush with cash and a bit higher up the social greasy pole than the average shopper – are buying Duchy items by the trolley full, with the Prince of Wales’ coat of arms splashed all over them, to make an egalitarian statement?

Perhaps, then, he thinks that organic food sales would be helped by putting products into Tesco’s own brand bags and sticking a BOGOF label on them. Hardly, old chap. Whatever we do it shouldn’t run the risk of alienating our determinedly upwardly-mobile core customer base.

OK, so the Food Standards Agency has found that there are “no important differences in the nutrition content, or any additional health benefits, of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food”. And, yes, organic food sales are down 14% because of the recession but let’s not panic.

Mr Holden must put this silly we’re-too-posh-and-preachy crisis behind him. Let us celebrate the undoubted superiority of organic mange-tout over its conventional equivalent.

And let’s not get embarrassed by the lofty social status of so many of our key figures from our co-founder Lady Balfour to our long-standing policy director, Lord Melchett.

In short, Mr Holden, it’s time to expel all doubt, declare the certainty of our organic faith and stiffen our famously posh upper lips. Honi soit etc etc.

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