Organic Articles: Power to the People!

The Organic Consultancy

Power to the People!

Simon Wright
The Organic Consultancy

This article originally appeared in the December 2002 edition of Organic Business.

A successful conference needs a good title, a good format, good speakers and good timing. This year the Organic Processors Conference had all four. The Soil Association Processors Liaison Group helped to choose the title of “Education, Education, Education”. The timing was good, as the need to educate consumers about the full benefits of organic production is becoming increasingly apparent.

Finding the right format proved to be more challenging. Listening to speakers – even good ones – for a whole day begins to pall towards the end. Could we liven up the end of the conference whilst also achieving a definite output from the day ? The answer was to harness the collective wisdom of the audience. As the conference Chair I asked the delegates to say what they would like the Soil Association to do to promote Organic Education. Lizzie Vann acted as raporteur, so that the suggestions from the floor were projected onto the screen in real-time.

The result was a 33-point manifesto which will be presented to Colin Esrich, the Soil Association’s new Education Officer. The suggestions range from simple and easy to implement (“Point 22. Say Organic and Non-Organic, not Organic and Conventional”) through to highly ambitious (“Point 9. Develop an organic-inspired National Curriculum for nutrition”). Developing videos, targeting vending machines, public procurement programmes – the breadth of suggestions was enormous. Every suggestion has at least some merit and Colin is going to be a busy man.

Reflecting on the conference I was struck by two things. Firstly the Soil Association really does walk its talk – a session like this shows a firm commitment to democracy and open access to all parts of policy development. And secondly how easy it would be for us to say “OK, we’ve got our list of 33 points now it’s down to the Soil Association to deliver”. This won’t do. The Soil Association can initiate, co-ordinate and agitate but any serious attempt at an organic education campaign must also involve the rest of the sector. We can and should all do our bit. The future growth of the organic market depends upon more people buying more organic products more often, but most consumers currently see no reason to do so. The answer ? Education, Education, Education.

Simon Wright, The Organic Consultancy

For more information about the activities of the Soil Association’s Processors Liaison Group please email Helen Taylor (htaylor@soilassociation.org)