Heroine of Organic Farming

Lady Eve Balfour (1899-1990) was an organic pioneer who had a variety of potatoes names after her.

She wrote ,“The greatest social service of all is, or should be, the provision of the people’s food…If fresh food is necessary to health in man and beast, then that food must be provided not only from our own soil but as near as possible to the sources of consumption.” [1].

Evelyn Barbara Balfour was born into a rich and influential family.  Her father was the second Earl of Balfour (hence Lady Balfour) and her uncle was Arthur Balfour, the Conservative Prime Minster.  She was determined to farm from an early age and studied agriculture at the University of Reading.  In 1920 she bought a farm in Haughley Green, Suffolk with her sister, Mary.

In the late 1930s her interest in organic farming lead to her to establish the Haughley Experiment.  This was the first serious comparison between organic and non-organic farming techniques.  It involved creating three mini-farms using different methods and recording the result over a number of years.  The first mini-farm grew crops but had no animals.  The second and third plots combined arable crops with a herd of dairy cows, a flock of poultry and a few sheep. One of these mixed plots used chemicals and the other organic methods.

Evidence from this experiment together with information she gathered from travelling around the world went into her book, The Living Soil, which has become a classic in the organic movement.  It was first published in 1943 and encapsulates her ideas about the relationships between soil fertility and human health.  She was a campaigner too and, in 1946, co-founded the Soil Association.

Eve Balfour is a food heroine because she recognised the link between good food and health, had the guts to argue for what she thought was right and the sense to realise that the organic movement needed evidence to prove its case.

[1] E.B. Balfour, 1948, The Living Soil, Faber and Faber, London, p.164.