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The Soil & Health Association of New Zealand was founded in 1941 by Dr Guy Chapman. The founding committee were concerned at the poor state of national nutrition due to the low priority given to sustainable, organic farming and growing practices ruling even in those times.
The Rise of the Mud & Muck Boys
In the January/February 2000 issue of the then Soil & Health Journal, Paul Smith talked to the people who recall the early days of Soil & Health. They remained true to our principles through thick and thin – "for the love of it".
Milestones in our Soil & Health history...
- The Humic Compost Club was formed in Auckland. The month of May saw a large crowd of interested spectators watching the first public demonstration of making compost.
- The first issue of Compost Club Magazine was printed.
- A crowd of between 200-300 people watched a compost heap being made on the property of Mr George Jackson and Mr Fisk. 35 new members joined up on the spot.
- Branches were formed in New Plymouth and Wellington.
- Massey College had a visit from Dr Chapman re their plan to make vast quantities of compost.
- T J D Kaye (who was still making compost at the age of 91) assisted in the building of a compost heap at a public demonstration at Henderson, Auckland.
- Branches formed at Hutt Valley, Christchurch, Otago and Wanganui. Hamilton and Hastings Branches under way.
- Page size of the magazine reduced to popular pocket size or Octavo.
- It was recommended that the Ikaroa and South Island District Maori Land Boards should investigate the possibility of making compost on their farms.
- Dr Chapman, who was actively promoting composting and lecturing on nutrition among Maori, was later made an Honorary Maori Chief. (Tribe not known). This honour was bestowed upon Dr Chapman in appreciation of the work he had done with Maori and showed how they held him in high esteem.
- H A Truman, MME, MIRHE(Lond) FRSH(Lond) Form.AISP (Lond), Registered Civil and Public Health Engineer, started large scale composting at Dannevirke. This scheme attracted world-wide attention.
- Death of Sir Albert Howard, CIE, who pioneered the "Indore" method of making compost.
- The Humic Compost Club became the Humic Compost Society.
- Mr Dove-Meyer Robinson was appointed President.
- Captain F H Billington, NDA, NDD, author of the booklet Compost for Garden and 1,000 Acre Farm and Principal of Flock House, died. He was a regular contributor to the magazine and a Vice-Patron of the Society.
- Dr Chapman formed a Branch of the Society in Apia, Samoa.
- Avondale Mental Hospital gardeners made 100 tons of compost for the vegetable garden.
- Dr I A Simmons, BSc, AMInst CE, visited England to investigate municipal composting plants at Leatherhead and Maidenhead. As a result of his report the Auckland City Council engineers built and operated a pilot compost plant utilising garbage and sewage sludge.
- D M Robinson, President of the NZ Humic Compost Society, gave evidence before the Local Bills Committee of Parliament in the matter of the Auckland and North Drainage Bills, emphasising the importance of the composting of the city refuse and sewage. His lengthy submission (which was funded out of his own pocket) concluded with the recommendation that the Board embark on longterm experiments and research into the whole question of the utilisation of organic wastes, sewage sludge and sewage effluent.
- The word "Humic" was dropped and the word "Organic" substituted because people did not understand the word humic. We became known as the NZ Organic Compost Society.
- A deputation from the NZ Branch of the British Medical Association urged the Timaru Borough Council to start a municipal composting scheme, utilising both sewage and garbage. They were unsuccessful as was a deputation from the Canterbury Branch of the NZ Organic Compost Society when they met the Christchurch City Council.
- The headquarters of the Society moved from Auckland to Christchurch.
- T D Lennie, AHRIH, NDH became National President, Tom Charters became National Secretary and Jack Meechin, editor-business manager.
- A North Otago farmer, Harry Leaman received orders for 145 sacks of organically grown wheat. This was the first sale of its kind to that date.
- The JVZ Composter's Guide by G Blarney of Auckland was published. Also on sale was the revised and reprinted edition of How to Make and Use Compost.
- The demand for organically grown wheat had escalated and Harry Leaman supplied 44 tons of wheat to be ground into flour. Christchurch millers refused to grind quantities less than 50 tons. Geo Woods (Merchants) bought Leaman’s wheat and by means of a hammermill, ground it into wholemeal flour for Christchurch and other buyers.
- On the suggestion of A K Bristow (President of the Wellington Branch) the name of our publication became known as Compost Journal instead of Compost Magazine.
- A special Municipal Composting Journal was issued with information gleaned from many parts of the world. This was the outcome of a project undertaken by Mr H A Wilson of the Canterbury Branch who canvassed the world for information which was delivered to a special meeting of the Canterbury Branch to which local body officials were specifically invited. Such was local body interest at the time that only one authority was represented at the public meeting.
- Lady Louise Howard (wife of the late Sir Albert) started supplying Compost Journal with a series of articles dealing with the life and work of Sir Albert Howard.
- The first special Organic Farming issue was printed. This included no less than eight articles written by New Zealand organic farmers as well as two from overseas.
- Tree-ripened organically grown apples, grown by A C Maisey and Sons, were available for commercial sale from Selsdon Orchard, Richmond, Nelson.
- The name of the journal was changed from Compost Journal to The Soil & Health Journal, after permission was sought from and granted by Lady Louise Howard. (Sir Albert Howard was editor of the English Soil Association's publication which was known as Soil and Health. It had ceased publication some years before.
- A special committee of Compost Society members, chaired by Ross Macarthur (President of the Marlborough Branch), collated information from many parts of the world. Led by Mr Macarthur, a deputation met the Minister of Works, the Hon. P B Allen, with the recommendation that the government give the impetus to local bodies to undertake the composting of town and city wastes. The outcome was the reconstituting of the Interdepartmental Committee on the Utilising of Organic Wastes. This Committee produced two further reports.
- The Soil Association, under the chairmanship of R S Macarthur (National President), made a printed submission to the Lake Manapouri Inquiry Commission. The six page typed submission presented arguments against the raising of the level of the lake and the resultant likely damage that would occur if such action was taken. (This and other petitions accepted meant that the lake was not raised and certain safeguards were adopted).
- Margaret Heap, an executive member of the Canterbury Branch, was the first woman in Canterbury to win the A K Firth Trophy in the Canterbury Horticultural Society.
- The second special Organic Farming issue was printed.
- Harry Leaman (North Otago), a farmer, was elected National President. This was the first time a farmer (also an organic farmer) held this office.
- The Government Interdepartmental Committee on the Utilisation of Organic Wastes produced its fifth report as part of its survey of the potential for municipal composting in New Zealand.
- Sam Mayall, an organic farmer and member of the Executive of the Soil Association of Great Britain, visited New Zealand and was the guest of the NZ Organic Compost Society who conducted him on visits to organic farmers in both North and South Islands.
- In May, at the Annual Conference in Timaru, the name of our organisation was changed to The Soil Association of New Zealand (mc). This was to enable us to widen the scope of our activities in the conservation and ecological field.
- A committee of the Canterbury Branch, comprising Dr Abraham, J P Whitelaw and Jack Meechin, combined with the Christchurch Drainage Board and Lincoln College had regular meetings over a six month period and produced a booklet The Feasibility of Compost Manufacture in Metropolitan Christchurch.
- We welcomed the NZ Healthy Life Society who agreed to take 16 pages in each issue of our journal. With the increased circulation and advertising, we expanded the journal to a 64 page issue.
- Our increased interest in conservation and the environment became evident when in the June-July issue we produced a special number with double the size of the usual pages. This was known as The Green Book, the title being suggested by Mrs Amy Taylor of Palmerston North. This was a 64 page issue, dealing specifically with pollution, the environment and the necessity of recycling our organic wastes. 10,000 copies were printed and a copy was sent to Borough and City engineers all over the country. At a subsequent National Council meeting it was decided that all future journals should be of this page size.
- Organically grown vegetables were on sale commercially in Christchurch from Lynette and Tony Mallard and biodynamically grown from Janice and Hans Shaper.
- The birth of a mutual co-operative association of bodies concerned with conservation, known as COENCO. The Soil Association joined as a "B" class member.
- History was being repeated! A compost heap, complete with animal manure was built on the stage of the Horticultural Hall in Christchurch by the Canterbury Branch. The first time this had happened was when Dr Chapman built a compost heap on the stage of the Auckland Town Hall.
- Guidelines on Municipal Composting was the title of the sixth report of the Interdepartmental Committee on the Utilisation of Organic Wastes. This was the last of the series.
- IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Movements) was formed in Europe to further international understanding of what organic agriculture was all about, to understand its aims and purpose, and to produce a set of standards for agricultural production.
- Robert Rodale (son of J I Rodale who founded the organic movement in the USA and had the Rodale Press Publishing) visited New Zealand as the guest of the Canterbury and North Otago Branches. He visited several organic farms.
- "Pam's Pages" became a regular and most popular feature of Soil & Health. The Clean Air Society undertook to supply us with a four-page feature each issue of the journal.
- Robert Crowder, Senior Lecturer in Horticulture at Lincoln College, established the Biological Husbandry Unit at Lincoln. This was the first of its kind in New Zealand.
- T M C Hay of the Royal Forest and Bird Society began serialising his unpublished book The Ship of State on the Beech in our journal.
- The editor published an authorative article on the nuclear power question which was a controversial topic.
- The Soil Association of New Zealand sent to Parliament submissions opposing the introduction of nuclear power plants in New Zealand.
- At the Annual Conference in May, a resolution was passed that the Soil Association officially supported the concept of a nuclear-free New Zealand. Alternatives suggested included more use of solar energy, more efficient use of natural gas, better standards of insulation, etc.
- The journal continued to publish articles from authorities in many parts of the world opposing the addition of sodium fluoride to public water supplies. This was part of the official policy of the Soil Association and we were the only publication to feature regular articles opposing the measure.
- On a suggestion from Conference, the editor started a series of articles on organic farming.
- Dr Ken Morris contributed a series of articles dealing with the treatment of cancer by consuming raw foods and the use of herbs.
- All aspects of organic gardening were covered in a series of articles which started in the May/June issue.
- The journal published an eight point code for standards of organic produce. This was an outcome of the formation of a Wholefoods Producer Co-operative formed by members of the National Council. This never functioned and the shares were later bought out by those who formed Bio-grains, Ashburton.
- The first organic husbandry course organised by the Soil Association was held on the property of Aubrey and Joy Reed, "Everfresh" Organic Gardens, Hope, Nelson. Students from both Lincoln College and Massey University were present. There were two of these weekend courses and both were well attended. The Soil Association provided the lecturers who covered a wide range of subjects.
- The Soil Association published its Environmental Policy which covered seven sections. The Oct/Nov issue featured the first of a series covering aspects of biological farming.
- Jack Meechin, the Association's longest serving editor, resigned after completing the Dec/Jan 1982 issue. The National President, Mrs Mollie Chalklen, then took over and produced two issues. A series of editors followed over the years.
- The Institute of Alternative Farming Methods was set up at Kassel University in Germany. This was the first chair of organic farming in the world. Holland followed the next year and Germany instituted a further two chairs. Canada also set up a chair in biological husbandry.
- A Steering Committee was set up by Federated Farmers (NZFF) to gather information on biological husbandry.
- The NZBPC (New Zealand Biological Producers Council) was formed. Comprising members of the Soil Association, the Biodynamic Farmers & Gardeners Association and the Henry Doubleday Association. This organisation had the primary task of designing and registering a trademark that would serve to identify officially recognised and approved organically grown produce.
- The Kelmarna Gardens (Auckland) were given the go ahead by the Department of Labour to start a works skills programme to teach young people the basics of organic horticulture.
- The Tauranga Community College started their biological husbandry courses under the tutorship of John Stuart-Menzies, NTC, NDH. These were a series of twelve lectures over a period of twelve months.
- A seminar on biological husbandry was held at Flock House, Bulls. Sponsored by Bell-Booth & Co and run by Federated Farmers under the driving force of Peter Waugh and the Agricultural Training Council, it can be said that this seminar showed official acceptance of the viability and success of organic methods of agriculture.
- Headquarters of the Association were moved from Christchurch to Auckland and Chris May became National President.
- MAF (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) issued Biological Farming Report.
- MAF began research into organic farming, making a study of six organic farms.
- Lincoln College, under the guidance and inspiration of Robert Crowder, together with members of the Soil Association (Canterbury Branch), presented to the public one of the finest and most graphic demonstrations of organically grown food ever shown in New Zealand. A full page article in a daily newspaper and other publicity brought hundreds of people to visit the Biological Husbandry Unit at Lincoln for a field day. Here, Bob Crowder and his team conducted the visitors around and explained the working of the unit.
- "Project GRO" was officially launched at the Soil Association Conference held at Christchurch by the Patron of the Association, Sir Dove-Meyer Robinson, with an appeal for funding.
- Departments of Agriculture in Australia, USA and New Zealand produced reports which showed that the organic farming system is a realistic and economic alternative.
- The Soil Association set up an Advisory Service with advisors available in Canterbury, Hawkes Bay and Auckland.
- The Soil Association appointed Perry Spiller, an experienced organic grower, to the position of Educational and Advisory Officer, as one to interview Government Ministers and Departments as well as the public generally on the merits of organic growing and the weaknesses and harmful practices of conventional agriculture.
- MAFTech established a programme to increase New Zealand’s contribution to exports of organically grown foodstuffs. Two areas in the North Island and one in the South Island were designated as organic production areas and were registered and recognised by the NZBPC and managed by IFOAM Standards.
- The Association arranged to have its accounts kept by Databank Account Analysis Service. This resulted in a big financial saving and meant that there was a clearer picture of the Association’s performance on a month-to-month basis, the financial position for that month, the budget for the year, as well as total figures for the preceding year.
- Dr Robin Scott (Science Director MAFTech) announced that MAF had made the decision to assist with the promotion and production of organically grown food, and supported research into biological husbandry.
- Dr Jo Springett and Kim Stevenson set up research and development programmes in the North and South Islands. This included the 4Oha mixed blocks at Winchmore, Canterbury and Flock House, Bulls; expansion of the vegetable block at Levin; and development of the apple orchard at Winchmore into an organic block.
- Perry Spiller (National President) was appointed as Honorary Public Relations Officer for the New Zealand Biological Producers Council.
- September saw the arrival of a television team from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. They were in New Zealand to check out the Biological Producers Council Certification Scheme and Inspection System.
- The Biological Producers Council refined its Standards for BioGro produce, in agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture and IFOAM.
- Dr Robin Scott retired. Some restrictions were put on funding.
- The Foundation of Research, Science and Technology (FORST) made some funding available. More staff were hired and resources were more plentiful. Unfortunately this condition did not continue for very long and difficulties occurred in the allocating of funds for specific purposes. Difficulties occurred in determining the integration/interactions of all the components of the production system.
- 618 people attended the Symposium (New Zealand's Growing Future) at Lincoln College. Organised by the North Canterbury Branch, this was the biggest and greatest effort ever organised by the Soil and Health Association. There were no less than 34 workshops covering farming, gardening, health aspects and food production. Lincoln College (now University) was an ideal venue and the attendance proved to the faculty that organics certainly had become viable. Two visitors from overseas were Dr Bernward Geier, General Secretary of IFOAM, and Dr Van Ledebur, Technical Committee Inspector of IFOAM, both from Germany.
- Mike Daly, Principal Research Scientist at MAF's Agriculture and Science Centre at Lincoln University, had been evaluating crops such as wheat and barley and cultural methods of controlling weeds and developing an internal parasites programme and seeking an effective organic drench for stock. As part of his Master's thesis, student Paul Fisher undertook an in-depth survey of organic farmers where he isolated internal parasites in stock and weed control in crops. Mike Daly reported that new cultivars of cereals were being evaluated for their potential suitability for organic growing.
- Robert Crowder, President of the NZBPC, was appointed to the Board of Directors of IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) at the General Assembly.
- C Alma Baker, author of several books on organic methods, had died in 1941, and in his will deeded money to the science of organic growing. The Soil and Health Association only discovered this a few years ago and approaches by Perry Spiller and Bob Crowder to the authorities and to the Baker Trust meant that some funds became available. These funds were allocated to biological research in farming and to the DSIR Grasslands research.
- Canterbury Frozen Meat Co manufactured a quality compost under the trade name of Bio-Blend, using wastes from the meat industry and crushed bark.
- Open Forum became part of Soil & Health Journal, contributing articles dealing mainly with aspects of health.
- David Bellamy, world renowned environmentalist, was appointed Patron of the Soil and Health Association (Inc).
- In past years our journal has published where organic foods can be obtained. The 1990 Organic Growers' Directory reflected the increasing developments in this field, for it had the most comprehensive list ever printed.
- Discussions took place in regard to the minimum standard for organic produce between MAF and the NZBPC, the latter opposing any lowering of the Standards previously adhered to. This viewpoint was supported by opinions published by various Soil and Health members under the heading "Organic Visions" in the June, 1990 issue of the journal.
- The DSIR entomologists concentrated research on reducing effects of pasture pests by newly developed pest-resistant pastures. This was a further advance on the original organic ley which has been in vogue for many years.
- The increased number of Branches in the South Island led to well attended South Island Regional meetings with both the National President and the National Secretary present. Organised by the South Island Liaison Officer, Trevor Wright, these meetings enabled South Island input into national affairs, previously carried out by delegates at National Council meetings in Auckland.
- At the South Pacific Horticultural Conference held in the Bay of Plenty Polytech, Perry Spiller presented the Principal with a cheque for $1500 to be used in the Biological Husbandry Unit.
- "The Original Organic Loaf" was launched by David Bellamy, our Patron. This loaf was produced by SX Bakeries in Christchurch from wheat organically grown in the Ashburton area by Bio-Grains who have BioGro Certification.
- Keith Gray, who has pioneered the use of rock dusts in organic growing in New Zealand, came up with further research and trials.
- Proposed new rules of the Association were finalised and printed in the journal.
- Another South Island Regional meeting, this time held in Geraldine. Blenheim Branch was in the process of being formed. Steps were being taken to form a Branch at Gore. Westport became a sub-branch of the North Canterbury Branch.
- Biological Crop Production Course covering members in 50 countries was being conducted by Joanne Blakely of the Open Polytech of New Zealand. The ten part course was designed for those who wished to minimise or avoid the use of chemicals.
- 50 year Jubilee Conference was held in Auckland.