Six Inches is generating a real buzz among the next gen farmers

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Healthy soil is at the heart of regenerative agriculture. Pic: Six Inches of Soil Ltd.
Healthy soil is at the heart of regenerative agriculture. Pic: Six Inches of Soil Ltd.

Related tags regenerative agriculture

Matthews Cotwold Flour has joined an impressive list of farming and food organisations to throw their might behind Six Inches of Soil, which is challenging the status quo of a ‘broken’ food system.

Six Inches is all its taking to get a conversation going. The human hand is six inches long, so is a ballpoint pen, a pencil, a standard toothbrush and the US dollar bill. Six inches of soil also feeds eight billion people and the title of a documentary-style film that is making waves within the UK farming community.

Six Inches of Soil tells the inspiring story of the next generation of British farmers, small businesses, chefs and entrepreneurs who are leading the way in transforming how food is produced and consumed.

Dig deeper

Today, around 180,000 UK farmers collectively manage 70% of the UK’s land, many following ‘industrial’ mainstream farming practices that employ heavy duty equipment, fertilizers and pesticides that optimise bumper crops and bring in higher profits. Sadly, this also contributes to soil degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change.

Bertie Matthews in the Field (2)
Bertie Matthews. Pic: Matthews Cotswold Flour

“Current farming practices have proven to have long term damages to our soils,” said Bertie Matthews, MD of Matthews Cotswold Flour.

“We need to balance food availability and price with farming practices that regenerate soil fertility, not just sustain it.”

Agroecology is an approach to farming that includes regenerative farming techniques that work in harmony with, rather than against nature.

The term first cropped up in 1928, to describe various approaches to solve actual challenges of agricultural production. Though agroecology initially dealt primarily with crop production and protection aspects, in recent decades, it’s evolved into a practice and social movement that also encompasses the environmental, social, economic and ethical aspects of farming. Within an agroecological system, regenerative agriculture (RA) promotes soil health and fertility, sequestering carbon, increasing biodiversity, improving ecosystem health and improving water quality.

The advantages are numerous: farmers have the satisfaction of producing healthy food in a healthy environment and get paid a fair price for adopting the practice. For consumers, the concept of clean label comes to the fore, giving them the peace of mind of knowing who and how their food is grown.

But most importantly, agroecology may be our best chance in the face of climate change: it keeps carbon in the ground and creates resilient systems.

“Regenerative farming practices promote healthier soils, provide healthier food, restore biodiversity and sequester carbon,” added Matthews.

“We have already produced two wholly regeneratively farmed flours and our aim is that within the next 10 years all our flours will be produced from grains that have been regeneratively farmed. As producers, we want to provide consumers with affordable, healthy food that is better for the planet.”

The UK’s oldest family-run flour miller has also set up the Cotswold Grain Partnership, which guarantees a fair price for local farmers who are prepared to adopt regenerative farming methods.

“We want to do everything that we can to ensure our business is helping to preserve the fertility of the soil for future generations.”

How did we get here?

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It was a natural fit for Matthews Cotswold Flour to partner with DragonLight Films and Six Inches of Soil Ltd.

The docufilm of the same name tells the story of three young farmers who have embarked on the regenerative journey. Eleventh-generation Lincolnshire arable and sheep farmer Anna Jackson; Cambridgeshire small-scale veg farmer Adrienne Gordon; and Ben Thomas, who rears pasture-fed cattle in Cornwall learn about the practice and all the challenges it brings.

SIOS farmers
Anna Jackson, Adrienne Gordon and Ben Thomas

The 1 hour 36 min movie don’t shy away from tackling thorny issues, touching on controversial points like food poverty and affordability, the role of animals, Britain’s unequal system of land ownership, barriers to new farmers – especially those from diverse backgrounds – and  whether there is a place for carbon offsetting on farms.

It also looks at the history of British farming and asks the hard-hitting question, ‘How did we get here?’

For the answers, the trio are joined by clutch of seasoned mentors who help them on their journey and are privy to a wealth of insight from the growing movement of people who are dedicated to changing the trajectory for food, farming and the planet.

Six Inches of Soil is the brainchild of director Colin Ramsay and producer Claire Mackenzie and following two successful Crowdfunders and generous donations from private donors, trusts, foundations and ethical companies, took a whole year and over 120 hours of footage – visiting farms from Cornwall up to Cumbria – to shoot.

“It is a film about farming, so we needed to capture each season and all the hard work involved in growing and producing food,” Mackenzie told Farmers Guardian.

Matthews Cotswold Flour has been a supporter of Six Inches of Soil for the past two years and sponsored one of the six sold-out preview screening held at the beginning of February.

On March 19, the movie is then embarking on a country-wide tour of Picturehouse Cinemas (Croud End, London, Norwich, Bright, Bath, Hensley, Exeter, Liverpool, Chester, Oxford, Edinburgh, York and Ealing London), with a live panel conversation following the film.

“From our extensive research, we found that a community screening program can have more of an impact and lead to action being taken by the audience,” said Mackenzie.

The plan is to make Six Inches of Soil available – through either an online streaming service or video on demand service – at the beginning of summer.

Added Matthews, “We are delighted to be able to partner with Six Inches of Soil to support this film and help share the importance of regenerative farming with as wide an audience as possible.”

With the help of its partners, the Six Inches of Soil team has also created an online resource​ to enable Brits – and others around the globe – to dig deeper into regenerative farming and what impact it will have on the food system, climate and nature.

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