Our planet is facing its fair share of problems, many of which are directly influenced by our food and farming system. Climate change, declining wildlife, rising costs of diet-related ill health; these are all areas that need to be addressed and, while there is no quick fix, reviewing our approach to food and agriculture will be a vital part of the solution.

One of the ways we can do this is through choosing organic, but many of us still don’t understand what exactly ‘organic’ really means.

The benefits of organic to the environment, health, animal welfare and wildlife are broad, but for now we’ll stick with the basics. Whether you’re a farmer considering converting to an organic system, or a consumer thinking about trying some organic produce, there are five key things that differentiate organic food from the other options out there.

Fewer pesticides

In non-organic farming there are close to 300 pesticides available for routine use. But after spraying, these chemicals

can pollute the environment, run into rivers and streams, disrupt the ecosystem, and ultimately make their way into our food. In organic farming on the other hand, there are just 20 pesticides available, all of which are derived from natural ingredients and only permitted under very restricted circumstances.

Organic farmers have plenty of innovative ways of growing without pesticides, from crop selection and rotation through to novel management techniques for pests and diseases. They are proving every day that we don’t need pesticides to grow our food.

Furthermore, the use of artificial chemical fertiliser is prohibited in organic farming. Instead, organic farmers nurture their soil to ensure it has the fertility and nutrients required for growing a healthy crop.

The highest standards of animal welfare

Animal welfare is high on the agenda in organic certification.

Organic animals have access to pasture whenever weather permits, and suitable indoor living space when it doesn’t. They are able to graze and forage, and are fed a diet that is as natural as possible.

Organic standards for animal welfare cover everything from housing and food to transport and slaughter: it’s a whole-life approach.

No routine use of antibiotics

Antibiotic resistance is a looming human health crisis, and overuse of antibiotics in farming is one of the contributing factors.

Organic animals are never routinely treated with antibiotics, and organic standards prevent the use of any antibiotics that are classed as critically important to human health. By keeping smaller herd sizes, and regularly moving animals to fresh pasture, organic farmers are taking preventative measures to stop the accumulation and spread of disease, meaning less use of antibiotics and other drugs such as wormers.

No GM ingredients

We may not have much of an appetite for GM food in the UK, but that doesn’t mean GM isn’t creeping into our diets. Over a million tonnes of GM crops are important each year, and they are used as animal feed for non-organic livestock. This is not an option for organic farmers, who feed their livestock on a GM-free diet made up of organic forage and grain.

Nutritional differences

Organic foods have been shown to be naturally nutritionally different to their non-organic counterparts.

Meat and milk, for example, have around 50% more omega-3 fatty acids, and fruit and vegetables can contain up to 68% more antioxidants.

Beyond the natural differences, organic standards mean that hydrogenated fats and controversial artificial food

colours and preservatives are banned in organic foods. Avoiding additives like this, alongside reducing exposure to pesticides, is one of the leading motivations for organic shoppers.

When it comes to people buying organic, this all comes down to one simple message: food as it should be.

Organic farming and food production takes commitment and attention to detail, and it’s backed up by certification to a robust set of standards that are defined by EU law. That means any food or drink labelled as organic has been required, by law, to meet those standards. And that’s precisely what makes it a trusted, traceable option.

Would you like further information about what organic means for you? Find out more on the Soil Association website.

First appeared in The Landsman.

Bristol is a beautiful city: full of history, art, architecture and colour. Unfortunately, it seems a large number of its residents are missing out on their beautiful surroundings: their smartphone screens are clearly infinitely more interesting!

Almost everyone I pass on the street in Bristol is looking down…instead of looking where they’re going!

I picked up on this peculiar behaviour almost as soon as I moved here a year ago. I found myself playing pedestrian ping-pong on my way down the street, dodging from one side of the pavement to the other to avoid the smartphone zombies walking directly towards me. A two-mile walk to work became a four-mile dance, as I skipped from left to right to avoid collision. A trip home from the supermarket was double-jeopardy: now I had myself and a bag of vulnerable veggies to protect. And if there’s a group coming at you? Well, forget it: far better to take your chances against the cars and walk in the road!

Okay, I realise Bristol isn’t alone in this…it’s actually not ‘peculiar behaviour’ at all, but a universal epidemic that is quickly, and worryingly, becoming the established norm. But having moved here from suburban Hampshire – where the age demographic is somewhat higher, and getting anywhere requires wheels rather than feet – it was almost entirely new to me.

I’d come across it in only one other context; the university at which I used to work. Dodging downward-staring students was a sport for the rest of us on campus. But I felt sure it was a localised phenomenon; that the university environment had lulled the students into a bubble of security that simply made them forget to pay attention. As if the safety of the surrounding campus was enough to protect them from any outside forces.

One tale in particular is worth telling. The university had a road running through its centre and on this road was a crossing point: it wasn’t an official crossing so there were no traffic lights or white lines, but it was the most direct, and therefore the busiest, route on campus. Thousands of students crossed at this point every day, but barely one ever looked up as they did so. This reliance on the theory of ‘safety in numbers’ is another phenomenon I’ve noticed in Bristol: when I cross a road, the people around me follow. They place their trust in me, no questions asked. Luckily for them I remember my Green Cross Code…! Luckily for me, I don’t trust others to remember theirs…and it’s a good job I don’t – the number of people I’ve witnessed crossing the road without a glance (again, their smartphone evidently far too interesting!) is nothing short of frightening.

This is exactly the scenario I encountered at the university: approaching the ‘crossing’ a student in front of me, engrossed in his phone, started stepping into the road. The problem with roads of course is that they’re often full of vehicles, and at this particular moment a bus was passing. I grabbed the student’s rucksack and yanked him back on to the pavement. Only at that point did he look up…at the bus that would have squished him. I’ve since decided that shock must be the reason he didn’t turn around and thank me for saving him from being squished…and that his confusion at the whole situation must be why, as he crossed the road (minus bus) moments later, he was once again staring at this phone screen!

Of course, advances in technology will soon put an end to stories like that. Before long, integrated tech will remove the need for a physical phone, so we’ll have nothing to look down at. Instead, I imagine we’ll simply switch on our ‘entertainment eye’ and while our left eyeball enjoys videos of startled cats (because there are some things that will never grow old…) our right eye will be in charge of looking where we’re going. What happens when we need a third eye to read a text, I’m not too sure – perhaps the very notion of ‘reading’ a text will also be entirely antiquated. Automation, too, will undoubtedly be part of the solution. We’re already building cars that think for themselves, so why not bicycles or skateboards or even shoes?

But let’s imagine for a moment that further advancement of technology isn’t inevitable. Let’s say the tech we have now is the best we’re going to get. What then? My writer’s imagination runs wild with images of human evolution kicking in…our necks slowly becoming naturally bent, our eyes gradually parting ways, until eventually we have one on top of our heads for guiding us so the other one can focus on those all-important cat videos. Or, perhaps, we’ll all just develop sonar…I feel the premise for a new sci-fi novel…

For now, we’re in a bit of a conundrum. And I for one am not sure how much longer my patience will hold out. Each time I have to dodge someone on a pavement I get a little angrier. A little more tempted to stick my elbows out as they pass or, alternatively, just walk into them. Because as it turns out, it’s a little boring always being the one who changes course…!

So if you’re reading this, and you live in Bristol, and you want to avoid my elbows – try looking up once in a while. Not just for my sake, but for your own: this is a beautiful place, and you’re missing it. After all, would it really kill us to put our phones away until we get home?

It’s been a year since I said a fond farewell to my grandfather. Gramps. Dead at the age of 91, 5 months and sixteen days – a perfectly adequate age to have reached.

He was a great man, my Gramps. Mr Ronald Ernest Drew. Ron to most. Initials R.E.D. There’s a story about those initials, somewhere in the deepest parts of my memory…a car, a registration plate ending RED, bought specifically for those three letters…or was it just a long-harboured hope to one day have that registration plate? I don’t fully recall, but I know somewhere there is a story about a car and the letters R.E.D.

It’s a sad thought, in my mind, that these stories fade. Replaced in our memories by newer things, more urgent thoughts or less important items – my own head is disconcertingly full of song lyrics, lines from plays, and factoids that will only ever be useful at an obscure pub quiz (did you know, for example, that the ploughman’s lunch served in pubs across England has nothing to do with ploughmen, but was invented by the Cheese Bureau in the 1950s as a marketing ploy? Well, now you do…).

I wish I could remember the full tale of the car and the letters R.E.D. Because it’s an important story: not important in the grand scheme of the universe, but for my little part of the world – the little part in which Gramps resides – it’s hugely important.

Because ultimately, and shamefully, we only exist in this world as long as the tales about us are remembered. And I guess we can’t all be a Shakespeare or an Elvis or a Darwin…

Gramps’ physical footprint on Earth is now confined to his name in the book at Salisbury Crematorium, a reasonably thin collection of photographs in my parents’ attic, and the memories of him that reside in the heads of those who knew him. My generation of the family – me, my brother, my two cousins – will be the last generation to carry those memories. And yes, potentially we each have some sixty-odd years left on the planet, but when we’re all gone Gramps will all but disappear.

You, ‘the reader’, won’t have known Gramps (with the exception of those family members and old friends who happen to read this!) so let me tell you a little about him.

He was, in many ways, an ordinary man. He lived an ordinary life, at least he did in the years that I knew him. Before I knew him, he had a more eventful existence – off to the navy aged 19, then after the war a ‘beat cop’ (at which point he met my Nan – a wonderful lady, I’ll write about her someday) then the manager of a tobacconist shop. Quite a varied career. But during the years in which his life and mine coincided, he was very much like any other retiree of his generation. He followed The Archers, liked going on a drive through the countryside, enjoyed a roast dinner on a Sunday, did a spot of gardening, always had a pack of choc ices in the freezer, listened to the Queen’s speech every Christmas and (in his older years) grumbled at the state of the youth that traipsed through his neighbourhood. The very picture of an ‘old man’.

Of course, to me, he was so much more. And while all the things listed above are true, they are by no means the first things that spring to mind when I think of Gramps. Instead I remember a day at the beach as a child, paddling at the edge of the water as he ran past and dove headfirst into the sea, popping up some 20 seconds later beyond the waves and grinning like a schoolboy. I remember an imaginary dog called Fido that sat by Gramps’ chair and barked for our entertainment in a ventriloquist dummy’s ‘woof’. Gramps liked to paint (even taking up an art course in his eighties to renew his skills) and would coach me in my own attempts, telling me I must develop a ‘signature’ in my pictures, his own signature being three silhouetted birds in flight that appeared without fail in every painting he ever did. He loved gadgets: he had an iPad and a smartphone before I did and, incredibly, signed up for WhatsApp aged 90! He was a wildlife nut with a special fondness for birds, his garden filled with bird feeders and baths and scatterings of nuts and seeds. And I will never forget the day – horrifying at the time, and hilarious in hindsight – that I queued, aged eighteen, in my local chemist clutching a pack of XL Tena Man pants, having politely asked my grandparents if they needed anything from the shops.

These are the kinds of things that make up a person, these little moments, and they are the memories of Gramps that I carry; they keep him ‘alive’, and they are stories that I cherish.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. You’ve allowed me to share a few brief memories of a man I loved. Real memories, not stories made up for your enjoyment, but genuine pieces of a human existence.

I believe we are very good, these days, at forgetting to remember. We absorb so many things: from the news, from our phones, from magazines, from television. We have instant and somewhat unfettered access to what’s going on in the world, what the ‘celebrities’ are up to, and the never-ending content of Netflix and YouTube. Sometimes I think we are so drowned in content from outside that we run out of time to focus on the content we store inside. Before the era of television and smartphones and Playstations, people would talk to each other and tell stories and pass on wisdom. It’s something I am determined to do more of: the modern world is fantastic, but I plan to strike a balance between ‘new world’ content and ‘old world’ content. I’m setting myself a challenge: for each new piece of knowledge I gain – from the news, or from social media, or a book or a conference or the big wide world of Google…I’m going to write down a memory, or a piece of knowledge from the past – passed down by a grandparent, or learned at school, or remembered from my childhood.

Hopefully, that way, the ‘old world’ in me won’t be nudged out by the ‘new world’ I live in. And, perhaps, people like Gramps may stay alive a little longer in the stories I tell.

I met my man up a mountain. Well…not entirely true. Technically we met at the bottom of a mountain, then trekked to the top. But that doesn’t sound half as romantic. So we tend to stick with meeting ‘up’ the mountain.

It was on an organised group trek to the top of Mount Toubkal in Morocco, and it was the first (and to date, the only) mountain I’ve ever climbed. I’d gone on my own, an impulse decision brought about by a turbulent year in my personal life that led to me ‘rediscovering’ myself and deciding…heck, let’s climb a mountain.

I’d always liked the idea of climbing a mountain. The fact that I had little-to-no experience of climbing didn’t occur to me as an issue, I did lots of hiking and surely that counted for something, right?! Fortunately I’d made a lucky assumption: hiking experience coupled with a decent level of overall fitness meant I was able to climb my first mountain with a look of relative ease and indifference…although, admittedly, that look was ever so slightly forced on one or two occasions!

Maintaining a cool composure all the way to the top of a 4,167m peak in the 30° June heat of the Atlas Mountains isn’t easy for someone more accustomed to British climes…and throwing in the added pressure of wanting to look attractive to a potential suitor didn’t exactly help.

I feel I should clarify at this point that, when I booked my trip, the thought of finding a date hadn’t even entered my head. I was thoroughly happy as a single female; in fact I was thriving as a single female! I loved doing my own thing, at my own time, with only myself to please. I had reached a point of complete contentedness in my own company and had brazenly declared to friends that I had zero intention of dating until my body clock ordered me to settle down and pro-create.

I was not ‘on my game’ in the dating department and was entirely unprepared for meeting someone. And in an effort to keep my kit as lightweight as possible I had left behind anything that I could have used to boost my appearance: no mascara, no jewellery, no pretty clothing…all I had at my disposal was my hiking ability and my charm!

The little stomach flutters that accompany a realisation that you fancy another human being appeared about thirty minutes after I arrived at the hotel. Pretty darn quickly, especially by my standards. I wasn’t prepared for the flutters, and to be honest I didn’t fully understand why I had them…this man wasn’t my usual ‘type’ (I’m fairly certain I’ve told him this, so hopefully it doesn’t come as a shock when he reads it here!). Nonetheless, the flutters were unquestionably there and the more time we spent together the worse they got.

The trip lasted eight days. It was the world’s longest first date.

If I had to describe either of us during that time the words ‘sweaty’ and ‘smelly’ would both feature prominently, as would – thanks to the glorious but somewhat spicy Moroccan food cooked daily by our nomadic cook – ‘farty’. I would also probably include a description of our unflattering hiking clothes, worn multiple days in succession due to luggage restrictions, and mention the fact that the chest straps on my backpack squished my boobs into a weird shape for eight hours a day.

All in all, it doesn’t create the picture of a romantic first encounter. But perhaps that’s what made it so perfect. We met each other in a raw, basic and, to a certain degree, vulnerable state. Most people would probably admit that they don’t put their whole selves out there on a first date; you hold a little bit of you back because you’re trying to portray the best version of yourself. There aren’t many people that can keep that mask in place for eight days straight and after a long day of hiking I categorically didn’t have the energy to fake it! It was very much ‘what you see is what you get’.

And hey, it worked. Nothing ‘happened’ in Morocco, but we had established a connection. We had spent evenings staring up at the stars together, had quizzed each other on our life back home, had shared jokes and observations and a few moments of flirtation away from the watchful eyes of our walking companions. We’d become completely comfortable in each other’s company.

When we arrived back in the UK we said our goodbyes at the airport and went our separate ways home – me to Southampton, him to Bristol. We said we’d see each other again, and it wasn’t an empty statement…we knew we meant it.

Two days later he ‘popped down’ to visit. The next weekend he came to stay. And the weekend after that. I visited him too, even if it was just for one evening between working days, because it felt like a completely normal thing to do. Gradually he started staying longer, working from my place on weekdays, and before I knew it my spare room had become his office and I was washing his underwear. He’d moved in. He even relinquished his own tenancy; Southampton had become his official home.

That was after just three months. But our life in Southampton wasn’t set to last: he saw his future in Bristol, but he saw his future with me as well. So, after a surprisingly brief discussion, we decided Bristol would be ‘our’ home, and I started job-hunting. It took a little while but eventually I landed myself a great job and – almost exactly one year after we’d first met up that mountain – I left my job and my home, bid farewell to my family and friends, and relocated. And the weird thing is…it didn’t feel weird. It felt completely natural and obvious.

We’ve been in Bristol for seven months now. I have a great job, in a great city, and we’re building a life. I still pop down to Southampton regularly, which is hugely important to me. But my outlook for the future is a world away from where it was before I moved. Thanks to my career move I’ve found a sector I’m passionate about, and thanks to the creative and lively influence of Bristol I’ve started doing more of the things I love – including starting this blog to share the stuff that’s important to me. I’ve become a more confident, more worldly, more ambitious and more adventurous person. I have more focus, more drive. I understand myself better and recognise my strengths with more clarity, I’ve found my feet in the world and feel like I can take on anything it throws at me.

And ultimately, I have the man who followed me up a mountain to thank for all of that.

Twas the night of the New Year, and all through the streets

Drunken revellers teetered on unsteady feet.

Having filled up on gin at the nearest cheap pub,

My friends and I stumbled our way to a club.

 

Mascara and lip gloss, applied with great care,

A mountain of product upholding our hair,

Stilettos too high, and dresses too tight,

We had romance in mind on this magical night.

 

The queue for a drink was as long as a mile

So I bought two at once, just to make it worthwhile.

And with one glass of fizz clutched in each of my hands

I strode into the crowd and I started to dance.

 

I twerked and I twirled and I shimmied and shook,

And kept scanning the room for an amorous look.

One by one my companions found dates for the night

Until just I was left, seeking my Mr Right.

 

When the countdown commenced with “Ten, nine, eight, seven”

I took a deep breath and looked up to the heavens,

And prayed to a being I’m not sure exists

That this New Year’s Eve I’d find someone to kiss.

 

I was sure as I whispered that desperate request

That I felt something flicker inside of my chest.

Then the party in unison screamed “four, three, two, one…

Happy New Year!”. And finally, midnight had come.

 

Around me, the couples in passionate embrace,

Clashing lips, and teeth, and tongues, and face.

The groping of buttocks, the clutching of hair,

Pressing crotch against crotch as if no one were there…

 

At a tap on my shoulder, I span round so fast

That Prosecco splashed over the rim of my glass.

As it trickled its way down the side of my arm

I stood stunned, face to face with my cause of alarm.

 

I’d spotted him eyeing me throughout the night

But had failed to evade him, try as I might…

And I wondered, should I have been slightly more clear

When I’d prayed for a partner to kiss at New Year?

 

His eyes, which were glazed from a whole night of drinking

Were brazenly aimed at my chest, unblinking.

His forehead, so sweaty! His cheeks, blotched with red.

A whole tub of hair gel slicked over his head.

 

His choice of attire made me turn up my nose

(He was dressed all in denim, from his head to his toes)

And the cut of his shirt couldn’t hide his round belly,

That shook when he danced like a bowlful of jelly

 

A wink of his eye and a sly little grin,

Then he tilted his head and began to move in…

On any other night I’d have given it a miss,

But I thought “heck, it’s News Years, what’s one little kiss?”

 

He tasted like vodka and stale cigarettes,

And his tongue flailed around like a fish in a net.

But just when I thought I could take it no more,

He stopped with a jolt and looked down at the floor.

 

On his face a peculiar look had appeared,

And he swayed where he stood and he slurred “I feel weird.”

Then his skin went quite pale and before I could move

He bent over and threw up all over my shoes.

 

In an instant, the people around us dispersed

And looked in on our horror as if we were cursed.

He clutched at his stomach and let out a moan,

Backed into the crowd…and I stood there alone.

 

But I heard him declare as he ran out of sight,

“I’ll be back in a minute”. That gave me a fright.

So I raced to the exit and into the street,

Threw my shoes in a bin and walked home with bare feet.

 

As I hobbled my way through the bustling town,

I thought over the evening’s events with a frown.

My New Year’s Eve snog really hadn’t worked out,

And I think maybe next year I’ll just go without…