Dr Paul Benham of Primrose Organic Centre in Wales
"I arrived at the bare field of Primrose farm in 1985, gained the Soil Association symbol in 1986 and began farming organically to assess whether I could disprove the view of the time that organics could not achieve high output or superior quality."
Primrose Organic Centre is a flagship model of ecological and sustainable horticultural food production. The farm is people centred, has a very high output per acre and the produce is of exceptional quality. The farm has a very small carbon footprint, since minimal fossil fuels are used in production and all produce is distributed within 15 miles. Produce is sold from the farm, at Hay-on-Wye market and to 20 local hotels and restaurants. The farm is an inspiring model of the potential that can be achieved from a small piece of land of 1.5 acres.
Primrose has won 12 awards in three years at the True Taste of Wales Food and Drinks Awards Ceremony, including Gold in four categories. Primrose run courses on organic and sustainable food production and cooking. They also offer guided tours of the farm and seasonal meals for groups.
Can you give a short history of how you got to where you are now, including why and when you 'went organic'?
I received training in conventional agriculture at Wye College during the end of the '60's and was exposed to all the agri-business approaches to food production. Following a few years working within this kind of system including tractor driving in the massive wheat prairies in Australia, my disillusionment in this exploitative food system was total.
I then retrained in Ecology and Animal Behaviour and was very inspired to gain knowledge of natural ecosystems. I have incorporated these teachings into the management of Primrose to create a food production system that works within a highly positive relationship to nature.
I arrived at the bare field of Primrose farm in 1985, gained the Soil Association symbol in 1986 and began farming organically to assess whether I could disprove the view of the time that organics could not achieve high output or superior quality. Primrose shows both of these as very achievable, since it is one of the most food productive pieces of land in the UK and its produce is of exceptional quality.
In 1995, permaculture principles began to underpin the management of Primrose and sustainability, working with nature and minimising fossil fuel use, became leading directives. Since then, over the years I have deepened my sense of wonder and respect for nature and the earth and have developed much gratitude for the incredible generosity of Primrose land.
What does the Soil Association mean to you?
I believe that the Soil Association has a wonderful foundation with Lady Eve Balfour's deep appreciation for the wonders and workings of the Living Soil.
Who are your customers and where are they?
I have a very good relationship with the local hotels and restaurants that appreciate that good fruit and vegetables are an essential component of providing a quality meal.
What is your greatest achievement at work?
My most satisfying achievements have been in 2011, having a large feature in the Guardian newspaper with an audio slide show on their website and winning the Gold award in the sustainable development category of the True Taste of Wales Food and Drinks Awards.
What do you love most about what you do?
My love is when I am being creative on the land developing beautiful natural spaces or making willow structures or earth building or simply nurturing the plants.
What do you find most frustrating about what you do?
Most frustrating is time spent doing paper work or on the computer.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
My greatest inspiration has come from gaining an insight into the relationship of indigenous peoples with the earth and the land from which they acquire their food. I now try to encourage working with mindfulness and within the flow of giving and receiving. I now realise that all land is sacred and we can rekindle these energies wherever we are on the land.
If I was Prime Minister I would...
...encourage a much stronger connection between people and food growing and would give considerable financial support to people centred in high bio-diverse ecological farms.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
My greatest lesson has been through opening myself to 'nature as a teacher' and appreciating that my time learning and growing and producing food at Primrose has become for me a healing and spiritual journey.
Any unusual hobbies or past careers?
My previous career was researching into the behaviour of farm animals. My PhD was on the social relationships of cows and how this was affected by progressively more intensive management systems. Then I worked for three years on the interactive behaviour between badgers and cows with relationship to TB transmission.
I have a passion for sound healing and run a training programme for sound healing practitioners. I also play a large gong tuned to the vibration of planet earth in the garden to raise the positive energies of the land in a similar way to that of biodynamics for working with natural energies.
I'd like to be remembered for...
I would like to be remembered for caring deeply about our relationship to planet earth and for trying to inspire others to do the same.
I have immense gratitude for having had the opportunity to be caretaker of Primrose land and to be able to work with nature and the land and to realise the amazing potential and receive the benefits of the land's incredible generosity.
To find out more about Primrose Organic Centre, visit www.primroseearthcentre.co.uk.