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Soil and Seeds at The Chefs' Manifesto

Arthur Potts Dawson’s recent trip to Ethiopia
The topic was sparked by Arthur Potts Dawson’s recent trip to Ethiopia in his role as a World Food Programme Advocate Chef. During his trip, Arthur witnessed soil degradation on a massive scale. The cause; a deadly combination of extensive deforestation, aggressive pesticides and fertilisers, mono crops and a critical shortage of compostable plant matter.

OmVed Gardens’ response to these learnings has been to curate a programme focusing on seed and soil maintenance for optimum nutrition, carbon sequestration and water retention. As we learnt today, this crucial topic not only relates to the obvious level of nutrients in our diets but it also holds the potential to reverse climate change.

Orchestrated by Paul Newnham, Director of the SDG2 Advocacy Hub and OmVed’s own Arthur Potts Dawson, the day heard all voices through fluid, collaborative discussions. Joining this extraordinary group of people were innovators, seed producers, thought leaders, scientists, researchers, students, lecturers, soil experts, farmers and business owners.

The energy and momentum behind the movement is certainly hard to ignore, and as we found ourselves enveloped by spring, new green leaves, crisp air and warm sun, there was a stillness in the gardens that morning which seemed to complement the continuous stream of arrivals that filled the glasshouse.

The talks kicked off with a dial in from Fabriche DeClerck – the Science Director from the EAT Foundation. Fabriche explained the findings of the recent EAT Lancet report which highlighted that our current systems are failing the environment and food production must radically change, yet the conclusion brought to the table was that healthy regenerative food systems could have the potential save our planet.

Holding the focus on soil, the morning’s conversations also opened our eyes to the importance of seed, which Paolo Arrigo from Franchi Seeds argues is the most important subject in the world; even with healthy soil, without seed we are nothing. Discussions wove between provenance of seeds, biodiversity as paramount, we touched on the profit fuelled world of GM and we celebrated fermented foods, gut health and zero waste restaurants. We also heard about the relationship between growers and chefs and The Soil Association’s Ben Raskin, urged all chefs to visits their growers, often.

Several UK and Ireland based restaurateurs shared their practice on exactly this – working directly with growers, championing local ingredients and educating the public about food and its provenance.

The discussion flowed as did the stream of chef speakers between the floor and OmVed’s thoughtfully designed open kitchen. All were welcome to either observe the preparation or indeed to get involved* and interact with the food experience. (*Naturally those who had come prepared with appropriate footwear). The chill in the glasshouse on Monday morning soon dissipated as the conversation heated up and, by lunchtime, along with the rich aromas of the lunch that was being prepared, the space was buzzing with energy, passion, direction, ideas, knowledge and most of all, solutions.

One, in many, of the positive learnings came from San Francisco-based Anthony Myint; a restaurateur and chef turned activist, who took us through California’s ambitions of becoming carbon neutral by 2045. The State has identified 25 potential solutions to reversing climate change; 15 of these 25 are in fact food and land-use based. OmVed Gardens heard about CA’s Healthy Soils Program which offers subsidies for good farming that contributes towards CO2 being drawn back down into the soil.

This notion that, through working sensitively and collaboratively with farmers, chefs can have a positive impact on reversing climate change was invigorating. OmVed Gardens will continue to offer this platform for chefs and the wider group of soil and seed experts to encourage change through inspiring individuals, educating communities, working with farmers, influencing companies and the government.

We’ll leave you with this:

’A mere 2% increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100% of all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere’ Rattan Lal, Ohio State University Soil Scientist

The next Chefs’ Manifesto event at OmVed Gardens, which will take place in June over three days, will play host to the international community of Chef’s Manifesto chefs and collaborators.