Taken from Patrick Holden’s interviews with Owsley Brown at the Festival of Faiths 2014 and blogger Silvia Benito. Silvia writes about food, mindful living and farms, you can read the full interview here.

On starting out…
My farming career started in 1973 as part of the back to the land impulse which was very prevalent at that time.

On our relationship to the environment…
We’re connected with the fertility of the soil, with the biome, with the ecology of place, with the need to manage water. There’s porousness.

On finding the right words…
Someone once said that when you write or speak you are exercising a kind of muscle in the brain, which is there in many of us, but it needs to be worked in order to develop its full potential – that’s what my grandfather said about water divining, he was a missionary working in India and he realised he had the gift of not only finding water, but knowing how deep it was, how many gallons per minute and even the quality, which eventually he could do from a map.

So if I am able to communicate well, which sometimes I seem to be able to do on a good day with the wind behind me, I feel, as I know many others do, that the ideas do not really come from me, but that I am a channel for their expression having born witness myself to the timeless truths that I have experienced as a farmer, which I feel the need to share with others.

On faking it…
It is, I think, an ever attendant risk for anyone involved in public speaking, but audiences are remarkably perceptive and can usually spot the difference between authenticity and words which are not grounded in practical experience.

On unsustainable farming…
I’m talking here about greenhouse gas emissions, pollution of groundwater with nitrates and pesticides and, in all likelihood, damage to human health.

On our market economy…
The economics of our present food systems are totally distorted because we don’t put a price on the consequences of the industrial system.

On industrial feedstuffs…
Corn and soy are now produced on a vast scale using high levels of chemical inputs to feed our seemingly insatiable appetite for cheap white meat. Such grain and protein practices are quite literally costing us the earth.

On eating chicken…
Don’t get me wrong I’m not opposed to eating chicken, we had it as an expensive treat for our Sunday lunch, about once a month, when I was growing up in the 50s and 60s.

On the most sustainable meat…  
In my opinion this is pasture-fed lamb and beef, since those species can be fattened entirely on clover and grass mixtures, in other words cellulose. We need to dramatically reduce the amount of grain being fed to animals housed indoors.

On chemical residues…
They disrupt our cellular health, causing cancers, diabetes, obesity and other modern diseases now verging on the epidemic.

On perceptions of organic…
The real price of the consequences of our industrial food system is not shown in the shop, so sustainable or organic food is seen as niche, and only for the people that can afford it – rich people. That situation has polarised people, policy-makers, the farming community and the scientific community. This is a terrible thing as we’re all facing the same problems.

And finally
On Obama’s food activism…

Politicians will not lead the way until they feel the heat. Obama, when asked why he was not doing more for sustainable food,  said, “what food movement? Show me the food movement?” Meaning – and completely fairly – if he doesn’t feel the pressure from the people who want change to the food system then the corporate lobby will always be the bigger voice. In order to drive the change that is needed, we need a cohesive, joined-up movement. One with a voice as powerful as that of the big food companies.

Feature image by Choo Yut Shing, in text image by Steph French

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