Helen Browning's family has farmed at Eastbrook Farm for 67 years and we have been organic since 1986. Our philosophy is to grow the best quality crops and animals, whilst making space for nature too. But this doesn't stop at the farm. Helen Browning's runs a boutique hotel and dining pub in our village, Bishopstone. We also run a successful restaurant, offer workshops and courses as part of Eastbrook Experiences and are proud to announce our wildlife photography and workshop business, Prohides. Our online shop aims to bring you the very best products associated to all our businesses, carefully, locally and ethically sourced to be the best we can find. Buy them from here or come and visit us, hear our stories directly, and take a tour of the farm. We'd love to welcome you!
Helen’s story is simple and compelling …she is seeking ways to farm that are as good as they possibly can be for people, farm animals and nature. This is an ongoing exploration. Organic, of course, and constantly challenging how we can evolve our farming systems to do even more to stabilise the climate, feed everyone healthily and restore an abundance of wildlife to our countryside. As Chief Executive of the Soil Association, the educational charity that supports policy makers, farmers, foresters and citizens make better decisions about how we eat, farm and care for the natural world, Helen tries to ‘walk the talk’ at Eastbrook. To get a fuller understanding of the philosophy that she aims to put into practice, do read ‘PIG: tales from an organic farm’ which she wrote recently with her partner in life and business, Tim Finney. It delves deep into the issues that concern so many of us, including the ethics of meat eating, through the real life story of a gang of piglets from birth to bacon.
Although we are most famous for fabulous, high welfare organic pork, we are now introducing a range of Good Beef. This is because we recognise the importance of pasture fed livestock in improving soils and maintaining the grasslands that harbour so much wildlife…if they are managed correctly….and the need to move away from feeding animals crops that we could we could be eating ourselves, such as cereals, pulses and soya. Pigs and poultry need these ‘concentrates’ in a world where it is hard to feed the waste that was their traditional fare. Our ‘good beef’ live most of their lives on downland pastures, building carbon in the soil, and encouraging the floral diversity on which pollinators and many other insects depend.
Do come to see it all for yourselves when lockdown ends. We would love to show you what we do, and Tim runs the wonderful Royal Oak pub/restaurant with stunning rooms to stay in. Farm safaris, photography hides, brilliant walking and of course, fabulous food and drink.
What is Good Beef?
Good Beef is a by product of our glorious dairy herds, so it has a much lower carbon footprint compared to beef produced from ‘suckler’ systems where a cow just rears one calf each year. Our dairy cows produce around 6000 litres of milk for human consumption, as well as a calf each year. Research shows this is usually 50% more climate friendly in itself. Then we ensure that after 6 months of age, our beef cattle eat only grass and other green forages, like hay, silage and root crops. We have a mixture of herbal leys, which may have over 25 different sown species, as well as permanent pastures which develop their own unique eco-system, depending on soil type and altitude. We have even started experimenting with agroforestry, where trees are planted within the pastures, providing shade, shelter, habitats for birds and mammals, and even feed for the animals too. The trees lock up even more carbon, and recycle nutrients from deep in the soil, while also providing fruits, nuts and timber for us humans.
The cattle themselves may be pure-bred British Friesians, a wonderful dual purpose breed in that they are good for milk and meat (unlike the Holsteins which are very Twiggy like!) or they may be sired by a Hereford, Angus or Montbelliard bull. They live for about two years in our idyllic countryside, developing wonderful flavour on these rich, diverse pastures. And research shows that both organic milk (dairy) and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced products, as well as 40% more conjugated linoleic acid, which has been linked to a range of health benefits including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and obesity. So as well as being a high welfare, lower carbon and good for nature approach, Good Beef is better for us too.
But should we be eating beef at all?
Meat eating, and beef in particular, has been a hot topic in recent years. Our approach, in line with the Soil Association’s, is that it’s all about ‘less, but better’. It is absolutely clear that we must reduce meat consumption on a global basis, and that industrialised animal systems should cease. Over half the grain and protein crops the world produces are fed to animals, and around 60% of the antibiotics too. (While we are rightly tacking the CV-19 pandemic as a global emergency, it’s worth remembering that the predictions are for antibiotic resistance to kill more people than cancer by 2050, if we don’t stop using them so profligately). If we all eat as much meat as the Americans do, some 250g/day, we will destroy our chances of safeguarding the environment and nature. But in some places, people would benefit from eating a little more meat and dairy, as malnutrition stunts many children in Africa and elsewhere. So our approach is that meat should be ethically produced, in systems which use grasslands and wastes that we cannot eat, and which regenerate soil fertility and biodiversity. Some grazing animals are part of the solution, not the problem. So if you wish to continue eating some meat, do make sure it comes from farms which are pioneering new and better approaches, as we are with our Good Beef range. Eat less, savour it more.
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