TIM FIELD - ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENTIST AT DAYLESFORD ORGANIC FARM
Daylesford Organic Farm's Environmental Scientist Tim Field talks to me about his proudest achievements, his passion for foraging, the importance of food education, and the health and environmental benefits of organic food.
Tim was fascinated by nature from a young age. Born and raised in rural Wales, he spent his childhood roaming the countryside, searching for “creepy crawlies”, building ponds, and fishing in the River Usk.
As a school boy he already had a clear vision of spending his life managing rivers and conservation areas so assumed he was destined for a career in land management. However, while studying an Environmental & Behavioural Biology degree at the University of St Andrews, he became increasingly fascinated in ecology so set his heart on a career as an environmental consultant.
After graduating Tim worked with his cousin who was farming a stone’s throw from St. Andrews at a very progressive farm in terms of its consideration for ecology. He spent a year building up his portfolio of experience by working with various government and non-governmental conservation bodies in Fife, before landing a job with a prestigious environmental consultancy firm. “I was in far east Russia for six months trying to lessen the impact of oil and gas pipelines,” he exclaims.
Tim was really enjoying life at the consultancy and had just been promoted when an ex-girlfriend called out of the blue to tell him about an amazing new role that had just opened at Daylesford, an organic farm in Gloucestershire. A few months and three interviews later Tim was staring at an offer to become Daylesford’s new environmental scientist. Carole Bamford, the founder of Daylesford, is recognised around the world as a visionary in organic farming and healthy food retailing so Tim felt like it was too good an opportunity to turn down. “I thought Carole was very progressive and would be really interesting to work for,” Tim says.
He has now been at Daylesford for almost a decade, dipping his toes in to all sorts of different areas of the business to try and push the boundaries of sustainable food production. Essentially there are three main aspects to his role; managing the Grants Programme for the Daylesford Foundation, which involves looking out for innovative projects that educate young people in food, growing and farming; working with Richard Smith (Farm Manager) and Jez Taylor (Market Garden Manager) on special projects such as installing solar panels on the roof of the dairy or making a reed bed; and, on the retail side, reducing Daylesford’s waste and energy and making sure its sourcing is up to scratch.
Daylesford is very high profile for the size of its business and often shouts about how sustainable it is so I imagine Tim has his work cut out. He admits that his job is “horribly atypical” and that there are many challenges, with the training and recruitment of the right people amongst the biggest. “The moment you become a medium scale operator you need to scale up philosophy and make sure everyone, everywhere, gets it, so they are not just putting juice pulp in general waste but in the compost pile. That is a challenge Daylesford takes very seriously because we don’t want any of our stores to be any less than the flagship,” Tim says.
Tim often lays awake at night thinking about the many opportunities at Daylesford as well as solutions to the problems and finds his job highly rewarding. For instance one of his proudest achievements is when he transformed a 12 acre field that was tucked away in a corner of the estate, and very impractical to farm, into a magnificent seasonal meadow with conservation the main consideration. Watching the wildlife flourish in the meadow was an incredible experience. “It is like that film - If you build it they will come. We went from a rank pasture to fifty snipe getting up, kingfisher zipping past, ragged robin appearing and the old heritage Gloucester breed roaming through it like they were on the Serengeti coming out of the reeds. That would then connect to a supper club where the beautifully marbled Gloucester beef is served,” Tim says. A more recent highlight is the uptake he is seeing from Agricology, a new knowledge sharing platform for sustainable agriculture. “Farmers are accessing information that they would have never had before,” Tim explains.
When he was living in St. Andrews Tim would spend a lot of time out on Eden Estuary foraging for his own food with a shotgun. “I would go home with a duck or a sea trout occasionally. St. Andrews is an amazing play pen, it lends itself to that outdoor life,” he recalls. Now living in the Cotswolds, Tim can regularly be found spontaneously foraging on the Daylesford Estate. “I don’t challenge myself to live off the land for a week. It will always be I need to pick some elderflowers now as I need to make elderflower cordial. There is also nothing more sustainable than wild protein that is over populated in your areas – deer, pigeons and rabbit are way over populated so I have no issue harvesting that zero input food. Then I might also grab a fist full of herbs or pocket full of mushrooms to go with it. That is usually how it works,” he says.
Tim now imparts his foraging knowledge to paying customers by giving them an insight into The Daylesford Estate’s natural wild larder, from game to crayfish and wild garlic to mushrooms. They then take their bounty to the Cookery School and turn it into a series of seasonal dishes with the help of Head Tutor Steve Brown.
Working with Steve has really opened Tim’s eyes to the versatility of foraged produce. Indeed the humble nettle is now at the top of his list of favourite foraged goods. “The Daylesford nettle ice cream is amazing with a delicate blackberry or rhubarb crumble. That slightly herby, botanical, tea like flavour is fantastic,” he tells me. The venison carpaccio with foraged sorrel, grated horseradish and a freshly harvested salad with some juniper berries is also a stand out.
Unsurprisingly Tim subscribes firmly to the view that people should choose organic food above other types of food, however also recognises that there are two sides to the story. “Yes organic is better and if you can afford to choose it over the others and you want the best for yourself, your family, and the bees, and so on, then you should eat organic. But we should not ignore the fact that some people do not have access to that option. We need to create a food system which gives people access to good fresh food and not feel like they have to have an oven pizza or cheap chicken every day,” Tim explains.
It is clear that the current food system is faulty. There is too much sugar and not enough fruit and vegetables in our diet and growing hunger in one part of the world while Government’s spend millions in other parts trying to tackle an obesity epidemic. Education is the key to fixing the fault. “We cannot just assume that we can have chicken and meat all the time, I buy one chicken every fortnight. We need to think about the lower impact food types like fruit and vegetables in season to feed ourselves more sustainably. So if we change our diets, then absolutely organic can feed the world,” Tim tells me.
The Daylesford Foundation is doing a lot of work with charities to promote better food education, particularly in schools. “People need to be able to turn around lentils, courgettes and kale and make a nutritious meal rather than eating rubbish every day. While the likes of Jamie Oliver and the Food for Life programme are doing great things, change is not happening as fast as it should,” Tim says.
A common criticism levelled at the organic food industry is that it is extortionately expensive and only accessible to a small percentage of the population. While Tim admits that organic is on average marginally more expensive, on the flip side it is better for the environment, animal welfare and your health. “Just because we are making food that is a bit more expensive doesn’t mean that it is not equitable because we need to avoid the costs elsewhere whether that it is climate change or antibiotics resistance,” he says. Furthermore, there are plenty of people on the bread line that feed themselves organically proving that if you refrain from buying the more expensive ingredients every day then eating organic is affordable.
Ultimately it comes down to what people’s priorities are. “Do you want to have the tightest possible food budget so you can fly around the world and go on holidays to Miami? Or is it about climate change, bees, your health, your families health, antibiotic resistance, and so on,” Tim says.
My dad is a GP and regularly tells me that antibiotic resistance is one of the most significant threats to our long term safety. So I am keen to speak to Tim about the use of antibiotics in farming and what effect it has on humans. “Having done a bit of scratching around and being in enough conferences I understand we are in challenging times. We are not producing new antibiotics and the ones we do have we are rapidly becoming resistant to. It is a ticking time bomb,” Tim exclaims. Antibiotics are a necessity for the intensive way most farms are producing livestock. There is no waiting for the animal to be sick, antibiotics are administered prophylactically because when you have lots of animals in a small space it is a breeding ground for disease. On an organic farm like Daylesford, animals are reared without the routine use of antibiotics, and the emphasis is on trying to create a healthy animal and avoid it becoming sick. “Happy, stress free animals with good genetics and the right diet generally don’t get sick,” Tim explains.
Another issue that is often in the headlines is the decline in bee numbers. “It is worrying because we are so dependent on them in our food system – something like 73 per cent of our food crops are in one way or another dependent on insect pollination,” Tim says. Farmers are often blamed for the falling number of bees, which is ironic because they are so dependent on them. It seems like a fair criticism as a key threat to bees are insecticides such as Neonicotinoids which are routinely used on many farms. Tim can sleep safe at night knowing no pesticides are being used at Daylesford; to the contrary, their organic farmland is contributing to securing the future for bees.
Carole Bamford and her team at Daylesford are a determined bunch, passionate about encouraging people to think about where their food comes from and proving that, not only is organic farming better for your health, the environment and animal welfare, it can also work on the scale they are doing it. As Tim says, there is still a “great hunger” to do more, and Daylesford are continually pushing the boundaries of sustainable food production, be that packaging more efficiently, reducing food wastage, or developing new products. Their hard work seems to be bearing fruit - 98 per cent of the food in Daylesford cafes is organic and they have significantly expanded their geographic reach through their partnership with Ocado, which allows them to tap into the growing national demand for organic produce. Carole Bamford must take huge credit for staying true to her vision; at the height of the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009 there was a significant downturn in the organic market. The fact that Daylesford has stayed the course while many organic farms have fallen by the wayside is testament to Carole’s and her staff’s passion for organic food.
Tim clearly finds great inspiration from nature and the different seasons. I can hear the enthusiasm in his voice as he describes how rewarding a cold crisp day in the middle of winter can be. “The land is so bare and raw that you can go out and explore and see so much more in January and February time,” he says. He is also fascinated by food; for instance last week Tim was at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy learning more about the Slow Food movement. “Food is ecology really; what you eat is the aftermath of the ecological process of producing food. The slow food movement really celebrates that, it is the diversity of food they are trying to promote,” Tim tells me.
It is no surprise then that, after almost a decade at Daylesford, Tim has no plans to leave any time soon and feels incredibly lucky to be doing something he truly believes in. “When my wife, a local GP, comes home having seen ten people with depression and I say I have been walking in the wetland and have seen a kingfisher it sort of brings you back down to earth with a thud,” he says. This weekend Tim was at the Daylesford Summer Festival with the rest of the Daylesford team. In many ways the festival sums up what Daylesford is about – a celebration of simple, good food that has been produced with a lot of thought and consideration for the environment. Most people go to the festival for a nice day out in the sun, but more often than not, leave questioning where their food comes from, which can only be a good thing.
Headline photo credited to www.hunterboots.com All other photos credited to Tim Field or www.daylesford.com