The products we make and buy reflect our deepest values.
In this, our occasional ‘Turning Point’ column, we tell the stories of individuals working in the
‘mainstream’ of life who experience a moment of epiphany and change their lives; who
embrace a more holistic, organic and human-scale approach to their work. Here we introduce
Carole Bamford, founder of Daylesford Organic.
TWENTY YEARS AGO, I walked into one of England’s most prestigious agricultural shows and discovered some stands occupied by organic farmers. It was like an unexpected but overwhelming homecoming: I experienced a sense of intense recognition. Here were individuals striving against industrial farming who paid real respect to the land and wanted to grow food in harmony with it. Here was the answer to what I had felt myself over many years – the urgent need to be sure that we safeguard our children’s futures, by feeding them real, wholesome, organic food. It was my moment of epiphany – an inspiration that has informed my work ever since.
My two linked businesses, Bamford and Daylesford Organic, are twin boughs of the same tree. They are physical manifestations of what I believe: that we are all guardians of the soil itself, and that we break the link between the health of the soil, and the lives and health of those who live upon it, at our peril. At Bamford and at Daylesford Organic, we search for original artisans who promote these values and who are dedicated to preserving traditional techniques; we try to produce food and other products that embody this integrity.
After my moment of revelation, it took some effort to persuade those who worked on our conventionally run farms in Staffordshire, and at Daylesford in Gloucestershire, that it was right to go organic. That was over twenty years ago. Now we connect with those who have a passionate aspiration towards joined-up thinking about food and farming, and who make informed decisions about sustainable lifestyles. At Daylesford, the bread you eat may have been made from flour that has been grown in our organic fields, the cheese and milk come from our dairy herd, and the vegetables and fruit are from our organic kitchen garden.
First and foremost we acknowledge that these businesses are sustained by artisans: people with special skills who have come together because they share our commitment to promoting better ways of living and working. On the farm, we make a stand against degraded, nutritionally starved food; against depleting the soil. In our Bamford ranges, we stand against the loss of originality and individuality that comes with the industrialisation of the once precious traditional way of life. As a businesswoman, I believe that the products we make reflect not only our aesthetics, but our deepest values.
THIS SENSE OF holistic responsibility is at the heart of my businesses, but there is another strand of inspiration – another bough of the tree – that I draw on which initially taught me to value the important work of the artisan: whether this be the tailor, the baker, the farmer or the vintner. Early on in my life I travelled extensively in India and was introduced to the practices of yoga and meditation – as well as to the human-scale, craft-oriented ‘village economy’ that is practised there.
India has been of enormous importance in my life and my businesses. It has been my visual stimulation and spiritual inspiration – and has been my teacher, providing me with an endless series of lessons about life. As a passionate nomad, I return as often as I can and I have made it a particular point of our company business that we seek out artisans wherever they are, and help them to preserve and promote their precious skills by trading fairly and justly with them. This in turn helps the wider rural communities. We aim to work with the individual, and not the mass-produced market; it means we are able to give something back to India for all her inspiration.
For example, we adopted the government school in Jharsaintli, where the basics – teachers, desks, chairs, hygiene – were needed; we sponsor literacy projects, language learning, computer skills, and the marvellous craftworks that are so much part of Indian life, thereby offering people a means of making a living with pride and self-expression. In Ambi village near Pune, the school now boasts a range of classes and skills, a library and kindergarten. With health, hygiene and drainage programmes and income-generating skill development, it’s all exciting work in progress and something that my customers participate in indirectly.
I have also established a trust which has adopted the village of Ladiapur – embracing schooling, health, and infrastructure – and a school for women. We work with them to produce stitching and embroidery for items they can sell, and we work together on the marketing and distribution. In Lucknow, we are working with a charity that supports women to relearn the fascinating skills of traditional embroidery. We have designed a series of baby clothes, kurtis and dresses using their exquisite white stitch on white cloth, and our organic khãdi cotton. The women come from all castes and religions; many are widowed, socially outcast, and powerless. Having these skills gives them dignity, independence, a better quality of life, and the freedom to interpret and express themselves in their own work.
THE TURNING POINT in my life has led me to work with wonderful communities of people who recognise real wealth: that Nature and human relationships are the things of true value. Through our businesses we try to support the underlying networks that protect and nurture these relationships. To that end, we are in the process of creating the Daylesford Foundation, which will be dedicated to supporting the precious skills of the artisan, down to its very roots – the soil. The people I most admire – such as
Carlo Petrini of Slow Food, Patrick Holden of the Soil Association, the marvellous pioneer of bio-dynamics Giulia Maria Crespi, and of course, Vandana Shiva – have all shown the way.
At the Daylesford Foundation, we aspire to support those who promote sustainability in agriculture, in manufacture, in individual communities – and who need help to create things of real value and permanence in a transient and industrialised world. However ambitious we might be, we shall remain firmly human-scale and family-oriented. We don’t wish to grow so big that we lose the core values inspired and sustained by India.