The switch to industrial-scale, chemical dependent agriculture which began in earnest at the end of the Second World War is often incongruously referred to as the green revolution. At the heart of that revolution was the use of chemicals, and artificial fertiliser in particular, to boost crop yields.
It is no coincidence that the green revolution coincided with the end of the war. With the domestic military war effort suddenly ended, factories which had been manufacturing nitrates for munitions were in danger of closure, until their nitrates were diverted instead into producing huge quantities of artificial fertiliser.
Before artificial fertilisers, farmers used techniques that would today be described as “organic” to boost healthy crops, for example using composted animal manure and vegetable waste and deploying crop rotation, both of which helped improve the nitrogen content of the soil – some crops, such as beans and peas, naturally harness nitrogen from the atmosphere and fix it into the soil.
It seems bizarre that within a generation of the start of the green revolution, organic farming, which has so many centuries of holistic wisdom underpinning its principles, came to be regarded as unorthodox or eccentric.
The use of artificial fertiliser was first advocated in the mid 19th century by a German scientist called Justus von Liebig, who through experimentation had come to believe that nitrogen-based fertilizer was essential for growing the healthiest possible crops. He went on to develop and market an artificial fertiliser, but he failed to convince the farmers of his day to use it.
A century later, as predicted by von Liebig, the use of artificial fertiliser was shown to increase crop yields significantly, at least for the first few decades of the green revolution. But it has come at a cost. The yields from artificial fertiliser have since reached a plateau in some cases and an abrupt decline in others. At the same time, decades of excessive artificial fertiliser usage has led to water pollution and drastic soil degradation and erosion.
Interestingly, in later life von Liebig changed his views completely and argued strongly against the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers, having come to believe that it would be better to find ways to capture nitrogen naturally from the atmosphere, which, after all, comprises 78% nitrogen.
Several recent scientific studies have shown that by adopting pre- green revolution crop rotation techniques, farmers could do precisely that, reducing their dependence on nitrate based fertilisers without any adverse on their overall yields. Other studies have shown that smaller organic farms which use soil management and crop rotation techniques have, pro-rata, the same or even higher crop yields compared to larger scale farms using artificial fertilisers.
Probably of most long term significance is the fact that organic farming also helps counteract global warming by trapping and converting carbon dioxide whilst farms which rely upon nitrogen-based fertiliser are a huge net contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
If we are to restore organic farming principles to the heart of our food production then it will need a new green revolution, driven in large part by consumers making informed choices about the food they buy. Unless that happens, and as long as our mainstream agriculture remains so heavily dependent on chemical based production then it is inevitable that we will continue to witness declining soil and water quality, diminishing crop yields and rising greenhouse gas emissions, and in the foreseeable future we may reach a point where it will be too late to undo all the damage we have created.
On that happy note, let’s move on to the recipe.
I grow several heritage varieties of tomato on my 100% organic allotment plot each year, some of which are very rare, so every year I save some of the seeds from each crop for sowing again the following year.
For this refreshing chilled soup, I am using a variety of tomato I have been growing for many years called orange bourgoin, a very tasty and bright orange/yellow coloured tomato.
Gazpacho originates from the Andalusian region of Spain, and, for me, has a taste that is at once fresh and invigorating but also evocative of long, balmy summer days.
Taste apart, another great advantage of this soup is that it can be made in advance, and is all the better for being left to develop its beautifully intense flavour.
In this version I’m using some of my orange bourgoin tomatoes to give it a vibrant colour. It can be served either in shot glasses as an amuse bouche or in bowls for a more substantial first course or a light and healthy al fresco lunch.
yellow tomato gazpacho shots
700 g organic yellow tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and roughly chopped
150 g organic cucumber, peeled, deseeded (use a melon baller or teaspoon), roughly chopped
1 organic yellow peppers, deseeded and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
juice of half a lemon
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
3-4 drops tabasco sauce
1 tbsp basil leaves, roughly torn
750 ml vegetable stock, chilled
1-2 basil leaves, very finely sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
1. Place the tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, garlic, shallots, lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt, Tabasco and basil leaves in a large bowl. Stir to combine then cover the bowl and leave the flavours to infuse for at least a couple of hours or, even better, overnight.
2. Add the vegetable stock to the infused tomato, cucumber and pepper mixture and stir.
3. Pour the mixture into a blender (you will need to do so in batches) and process until smooth.
4. To serve, pour the gazpacho into serving bowls and top with a couple of drops of olivelittle scattering of the sliced basil leaves.