It is reasonable to expect the existence of amateur, smallscale, part-time, hobby gardeners already practising organic food growing in all parts of the country, including even in less suitable areas such as inner cities. This is confirmed by the contacts members of SOFI have made over the past decade and by the fact that more than 500,000 allotments are still cultivated in this country. How can these limited activities be developed to become occupations?

The major challenge facing any kind of Local Organic Food Initiative would be how to encourage these small-scale, amateur growers and individually based projects to expand both in terms of area cultivated and their capacity to introduce more gardeners to organic production techniques. Hence it is possible to project a network of existing projects with the potential to offer these skills, which could theoretically have complete geographical coverage. Ideally, a LOFI could act as a co-ordinating body putting people in contact with growers able to help them in their own local area. This could be complimented and supplemented by more advanced courses offered by regional colleges and universities.

It is undoubtedly the case at present that such an initiative would initially have to be concentrated on remedial education to introduce inexperienced new beginners to the fundamental principles of organic production.

Once a degree of competence has been achieved, the next step would be to help complete the transition from growing to a standard acceptable to the grower him or herself, to a quality which would be acceptable to the buying market. For this purpose, less experienced growers could be put in contact with those with more experience. At this point, the LOFI could begin to act as a market maker, co-ordinating supply with existing demand, and attempting to avoid under- or over-supply of certain products in each season. If this stage with many competent producers can be reached, it becomes possible for certain growers to specialise either in specific products or in the over-production of materials such as compost or seeds which could then be re-distributed to the rest of the network.

Assisting many smallscale growers to make a living out of organics could deliver local supplies especially where little large-scale production capacity exists. Also, once a multitude of qualified growers has developed, they could then help with the conversion of industrial-scale, mechanised agriculture to a more humane and human-scale means of production.


LOFI’s could fulfill the vital function of guaranteeing and confirming that produce claiming to conform to organic standards is just that. Without some form of certification of local sites, the effort of establishing organic production and marketing could be undermined and devalued by conventional produce falsely claiming organic status.

National and international certification bodies exist to ensure that commercial production and marketing conform to organic standards [including biodynamic, biological or ecological equivalents in other countries]. However, the current administration costs and logistics of certification are prohibitive for small-scale and occasional production. LOFI’s could fulfill this vital function by organising systems for local certification, which could be much cheaper than the existing scheme geared to medium to large-scale producers. Sites could be visited by a local officer trained to identify genuinely organic practices, in the same way as the national body currently operates. The national body could then monitor local schemes and ensure that standards are being maintained, by visiting as at present and by conducting spot-checks on some of the small sites. This could alternatively be achieved by extending the bond of trust between the certifying body and existing certified suppliers in a given area, to include dispersed networks of minor producers. For instance, when an existing outlet registered to sell organic food exists, such as a shop or retailer, small-scale producers could be encouraged to start supplying whatever produce they have available. This pattern could also act as an incentive to encourage smallscale producers to group together and expand their activities.

The proliferation of information-processing technology has increased the quantity and quality of source-labelling of individual products. As well as providing information about the ingredients of processed goods, this capacity could be used to communicate accurate details about how a certain item was produced, where it came from and even who produced it. This kind of innovation would enhance the trust between suppliers and customers, and would mean that specialist requirements such as biodynamically or veganically-produced food could be made more available.


Many functions essential to the successful development of organic food-growing capacity could be undertaken by a dedicated agency working in a similar pattern to existing services such as the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service [ADAS] or support organisations such as Smallholder and Tenant Farmers Associations and unions. A seperate body could be justified to provide specifically organic advice and support or alternatively, existing organisations could be reformed to deliver help to the organic sector.

It is vital to understand that the nature of a network of organic producers would be disparate and scattered. Organic operations are often isolated from other organic producers and motivated more by individual commitment to the ideals of organic growing than by simple economic ambitions. Producers have historically been marginalised and may have a beleaguered or embattled attitude compared to their conventional counterparts. Hence initiatives to develop this sector must attempt to be structured in ways which take into account the devolved or subsidiarised nature of the network they serve and the psychology of the individuals involved.

Ideally, support staff for organic networks would be drawn from the ranks of existing producers or at least by people experienced in and sympathetic to the ethics of organic production. In the initial phase of development, employment in organic support networks could provide supplementary income for producers who have not yet completed the transition to being self-supporting solely from their own produce.

The functions of Local Organic Food Initiatives could include the co-ordination of fundraising and/or raising investment for organic enterpris. Bulk-buying of externally-sourced inputs and arranging secure markets for produce could also benefit producers participating in such a scheme.

One of the key functions would be to help promote the public profile of organics locally and to undertake more complex campaigning roles which the individual grower is unable to achieve. LOFI’s could act as the local link for larger, national organisations and agencies, delivering support direct to local growers on a more personal and ongoing basis than those large organisations can achieve. There is a need to promote recommendations for organic practices and explain the many mutual benefits that could be generated not just amongst the general public but also specifically directed to organisations such as local councils, health authorities and education departments. There is great potential in lobbying such authorities to convince them to permit, encourage and even favour organic food growing capacity.

LOFI’s could also function as providers of information to growers, not just on remedial principles and techniques, but also to provide specialised information and research which individuals may find difficult to access. Hence a LOFI could acquire libraries of relevant information for distribution around its area and form links with larger organisations that have the facilities to deliver complex and specialised data.

There are many other functions which an organised network would be better placed to provide than isolated individuals. Complex and costly services such as soil testing or designing packaging could be obtained much more easily, as occurs in existing organisations such as the Soil Association’s Organic Marketing Company.


Pressures on land use are continually increasing from domestic, industrial and transport requirements. In spite of this, there is still more than enough land suitable for cultivation even in urban and suburban areas. LOFI’s could develop registers of land available for organic growing and mediate between landowners and prospective tenants, performing the function of estate agents for owners and tenants who wish to manage land organically.

A similar function could be evolved to act as a contact point [or dating agency], putting prospective organic customers in touch with producers. Likewise, people seeking training and employment within the organic sector could be assisted. Ideally, this function would help to bring together groups who could benefit each other to their mutual benefit, such as those who own land or can fund organic projects, with those who have the time and energy to actually develop them.