Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | May 12, 2008

The top five organic food heroes of all time

Our worries about rising food prices and global warming have taken us to a place that Lady Eve Balfour could never have imagined when she founded the Soil Association in 1946. She always promoted local food, but her argument was about freshness – the near to the point of production you eat it, the more good it will do you, says Patrick Holden, the associations director. She obviously wasnt thinking about carbon footprints, but I think intuitively she was on to the same thing.

That’s why this years Times/Soil Association Organic Food Awards, in association with Highland Spring, are so important. Next month, a panel of food experts will be sipping, slurping and munching their way through thousands of entries, but we would like you to recommend who you think should be rewarded as well, in our special Times reader award.

The Soil Association has put forward their top five below, but wed like to hear from you too. So if you know a brilliant butcher, baker or organic cheesemaker, or have a favourite brand of anything from chocolate to baby food, click the link below and let us know about them. And one of them will become the 2008 Times/Soil Association Food Hero.

Click here to submit your nomination
Your personal details will not be used for any purposes other than the administration of this award.

1: Phil Haughton, founder and MD of The Walled Garden and Better Food Company

For commitment to the organic movement and entrepreneurial vision

The Better Food Company was founded in 1984, originally as a home delivery service. Since then, Phil Haughton has overseen its growth and development, the company now boasting a box scheme, an organic supermarket, a garden shop and a wholesale vegetable operation supplied by the Victorian walled gardens in Wrington, North Somerset, themselves taken over by Haughton in 2000. As well as two cafes in Wrington and Bristol, he also runs a shop selling clothing, books, household plants and other eco-friendly lines. The Better Food Company has won awards including the Soil Association Organic Food Awards for Best Box Scheme (1998) and Best Local Initiative (2005), and plans to open further outlets and be increasingly radical about sustainable retailing.

2: Julie Brown, founder and MD of Growing Communities

For her passionate tenacity in bringing fresh organic food to inner city London

Growing Communities has been providing fresh, local organic food for inner-city London since setting up Londons first organic box scheme in 1994. With various payment options for those on low or irregular incomes, today the scheme packs over 750 bags of fresh, organic produce every week and helps support over 20 organic farms and cooperatives by providing them with a regular outlet for their produce. A not-for-profit company since 1996, all of Growing Communities projects, which include three organic market gardens in Hackney, the first organic food-growing land to be certified by the Soil Association, are designed to be practical, long-term alternatives to the current food system.

3: Tim and Jan Deane, owners of Northwood Farm, Devon

Pioneers who laid the roots of the box scheme movement

Tim and Jane Deane have run Northwood Farm, a smallholding of 30 acres in the beautiful Teign Valley on the edge of Dartmoor, since 1984. It was in 1991 that they set up one of the first organic box schemes in the country, supplying people in nearby villages. Because Northwood Farm is protected from the worst of Dartmoors weather, they have been able to grow a wide variety of sheltered crops such as aubergines, cucumbers and peppers in poly tunnels, and a range of outdoor crops including carrots, leeks, sweetcorn and squash. It was with the Deanes help that the organic box movement really kicked off when they helped the Soil Association run a series of six workshops across the UK, and the pair have continued to inspire many small organic farms from all over the country.

4: Geetie Singh, owner of the Duke of Cambridge, Islington, London

For being the first and only fully certified gastropub in the world

Geetie Singh is on the Soil Associations Restaurants and Catering Standards Committee, and goes above and beyond basic organic certification with the Duke of Cambridge. Her business practice takes account of energy use and waste as well as food. She used recycled materials as much as possible when renovating the pub, uses organic hand soap and organic sanitary products in the toilets. Opening in 1998, the Duke of Cambridge has won a slew of awards, including the Time Out Best Gastropub in 2000 and the Good Pub Guide Pub of the Year in 2002, as well as receiving critical acclaim in publications ranging from the New York Times to Vogue.

5: Andrew Whitley, founder of The Village Bakery

For his real bread campaign, and encouraging people to grow wheat in their back yards

In 1976, Andrew Whitley converted a stone barn in Cumbria into a small bakery and tearoom, and was soon incorporating the use of renewable energy and organically grown English wheat into his company, The Village Bakery. By 2002, when Whitley handed over the running of the now greatly expanded business, The Village Bakery had grown to supply wholefood and organic food shops across Britain, as well as Waitrose. Today Whitley chairs both the Soil Associations Processing Standards Committee, which aims to encourage the production of bread made with natural ingredients, and heads The Real Bread Campaign, which aims to put grain and bread production at the heart of a sustainable and ecological food system. Bread Matters, his book, is the definitive guide to baking your own bread and exposes the deplorable state of modern, commercial bread making.

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