I am Thomas Gent, at the time of writing this I am 25. I live and work on my family farm and I am a farmer, our farm currently grows a range of different crops most of which end up in the human food chain these include: Wheat, Oats, Oil Seed Rape, Fava Beans and Quinoa.
My route to market for these crops is generally through the global commodity markets and grain merchants. Some crops we can and do sell more directly such as Quinoa. Almost all food supply chains are currently disconnecting the farmer or food producer from the consumer. So much so that most farmers have lost the opportunity to sell more directly due to the intensification and scale of farming businesses as a result of cost pressures.
The problems with our current food and farming systems:
The current food and farming system presents a range of serious problems that have consequences for our health, environment, and well being. The disconnection between people and farming is an issue that needs addressing.
With the industrialisation of food production, people have become removed from the process of producing their food and don’t have a good understanding of where it comes from, or how it is produced. The health implications of this are concerning. With a lack of knowledge about where food comes from, and increasingly unhealthy diets, people are not getting the nutrition they need for a healthy lifestyle.
Furthermore, with a reliance on industrial farming and mass production, there is a heavy use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers which are having a detrimental effect on our health and the health of the planet.
The environmental impact of the current food and farming system is also concerning. Carbon emissions are being produced in large quantities. Biodiversity is also under threat, with a lack of diversity in the types of food being produced and a heavy reliance on mono-cultures. Soil health is also being compromised, with soil erosion, soil degradation, and soil contamination all becoming more and more common.
At this stage it is important to state that this is no one's fault there is no one to blame. Often we find that people looking to disrupt the food sector like to find someone to blame for what is happening to the planet and our health. I truly believe that people are not bad everyone is trying to do what they can within their control to improve. The time is coming where we need more radical change however. For example before supermarkets we did have small local grocery stores, but there was a reason that supermarkets took over they were cheaper and more convenient. So the radical solution we move towards must bring more value to the customer without compromise.
Part of the solution : Radical Transparency
Farmers generally are pretty terrible at marketing ourselves. We currently rely on our supply chain to do that and tell our story for us. However I personally feel we are the ones that should be telling our story.
Never before have I seen so much interest in farming. It is exciting that people are starting to care about the countryside they live in and the soil that supports all life on earth for without this few inches of quality soil there would be no life on earth. Slowly the public are becoming more aware of the solutions farmers can provide, to be climate heroes and produce healthy nutrient dense food.
Traditionally when the supply chain would like to tell a story or build a brand around farming a new label or standard is created that farmers follow often to gain a small premium. This simply does not work for nature based initiatives, I accept it works and is essential for food safety and things like this where we should prescribe that farmers ensure food areas are clean etc. But for nature improvement a tick box exercise of requirements incentivises farmers to find easier ways to tick each box often not resulting in the desired effect. It is a fact that every farm is different with different habitats, geography and diversity and so producing a standard audit system that covers this is extremely difficult.
I believe the solution could lie in radical transparency. Everyone needs good healthy food 3 times a day, everyone deserves to know where and how it was produced. Using technology and innovation we can create a platform and a food producing business based on radical transparency and I do mean radical we as food producers need to be open and honest about every decision we are making and why. We can get our consumers interested in this and engaged. For those consumers that do not want to take the time to look through every decision they can simply sit safe in the knowledge that if they wanted to it is there in the public domain. Essentially we are talking about using the public to judge and audit how a farm is working through engaging information and transparent farming systems.
Let's talk pricing the tricky thing with new farming systems is often the price, but as we have seen from a recent Sustain report often less than 1% of the retail price of a product ends up with the farmer who grew the ingredients. I am looking to use radical transparency here again to demystify the pricing structures. To achieve this we must first accept that everyone in the chain needs to make some money (10% approx) once we all accept that then lets be open about pricing. I am happy to inform my customers of how much it cost to grow my produce, the price they pay will then be that plus 10% and so on down the chain until we arrive on a shelf at a truly fair price that can be traced back to the farm.
Our current farming system is heading much too quickly in the wrong direction. Farmers are being squeezed out, nature is being abused and consumers are getting poor quality food. The time has passed to make small changes we need to make a conscious decision to rewrite the map and head in a different direction!
I am a farmer, I am growing thousands of tonnes of regenerative, carbon neutral produce every year. I am looking for end users who would like to promote radical transparency in their supply chain and lets farm differently.
Founder - Gentle Farming.