The Development of the Organic Network – updated review
We apologise to Philip Conford and all our readers for an error which appeared in GC72. We published a review, by Edward Echlin, of Philip’s latest book, The Development of the Organic Network, but printed an image of the cover of his previous book with the review. As a result the review declared that the book’s Forword was by Jonanthan Dimbleby. In fact the Forward of the new book is by CEL patron, Jonathon Porritt. We now publish here the review as it should have appeared. Chris Walton
The Development of the Organic Network:
Linking People and Themes, 1945-95
By Philip Conford
Philip Conford is by far the nonpareil historian of the UK organic movement. His earlier book, The Origins of the Organic Movement, as its title indicates, describes in depth the origins and early years of organic growing. That is, as Conford notes, if we can ever describe holistic nurturing of the soil as having a beginning. The book here reviewed, with a foreword by Jonathan Porritt, narrates in depth the continuation of the organic movement, including organic gardening which, as Alan Gear observes, has 18 million growers, from the post-war years to the late 20th century.
Two words in the title encapsulate what this erudite book does. It describes, in prophetic, countercultural astonishing detail and depth, how this movement continued in the late 20th-century age of industrial farming. And it does so by describing the key contributors and their efforts as a network, which indeed the organic movement was and remains. The book teems with details about people, meetings, conferences, books, articles and debate – so many it would be impossible to mention more than a few here. This does not suggest that all agree or were, in Conford’s view, right about everything. But all those included in the network agreed that the natural world is healthy and has things right, and that it is unsustainable human interference such as chemo-biotech agribusiness and expelling small farmers from the land that destroys soil and biodiversity, and threatens the continuation of life on earth. In this fascinating narrative, therefore – and I repeat that Conford has no peer as its historian – we meet the great people of the movement upon whose shoulders we stand: Lady Eve Balfour, E. F. Schumacher, John Seymour, Friend Sykes, Lawrence Hills, Teddy Goldsmith and dozens more, with their words and deeds, appear in these pages. Conford, a member of CEL, includes the CEL conference at Ryton Gardens and concludes with a chapter on the varied spirituality of the movement, which in his opinion should be more Christian – as it was in the beginning, but is not always so now. He mentions a spirituality workshop at the Cardiff Soil Association conference, which he and I attended, as woolly at best and at worst nonsense. Both this book and that workshop show that we Christians are challenged by contemporary culture to re-inhabit our own deep agro-ecological tradition and serve the wonderful biodiverse soil community within which we are members and for which we are responsible. For these reasons, and because of its immense erudition and interest, I sincerely recommend this learned and inspiring book.
In the middle east where, in Christ, God walked the earth, and where the Bible was composed, our human faces are adam, ruddy, the colour of their topsoil (adamah), in the hill country. We are God’s image, with responsibilities, but, as John Seymour said in the seventies, soil organisms too.
Edward P. Echlin
Author of The Cosmic Christ, A Prophetic Alternative (Columba Press, 2009)