The United Kingdom-based grain, pulse, and seed company Hodmedod is working to promote agroecology in British farming and diversify consumers’ diets.
“Hodmedod exists to drive change in the food system,” co-founder and director Josiah Meldrum tells Food Tank, “[and] to provide a missing link to allow farmers to transform what they’re doing, and to allow eaters…to directly understand the impact of their choices and what they’re eating.”
Founded in 2012 by Meldrum, Nick Saltmarsh, and William Hudson, Hodmedod began as part of the Norwich Resilient Food Project, which examined ways to make the city of Norwich’s food system more self-sufficient.
Hodmedod began by distributing seeds to local farmers, encouraging them to grow British protein crops, such as fava beans and peas, “to create more sustainable [and] resilient rotations that were lower input,” says Meldrum.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), global pulse consumption per capita is, on average, much lower than recommended levels.
A plant-based protein source, pulses are packed with dietary fiber, minerals, and essential amino acids. And as nitrogen-fixing crops, they have a net-positive impact on the climate by drawing nitrous oxide, a highly potent greenhouse gas, from the air and using it to improve soil fertility. This process also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers in farming. But the FAO finds that pulse consumption tends to decline with economic growth, and higher-income households increasingly turn to animal-based proteins.
Following their success in Norwich, Hodmedod is looking to increase the production and consumption of pulses across Britain.
They connect with farmers already practicing agroecology and agroforestry, and gradually buid a network of producers trialing indigenous pulse varieties, such as black badger beans, and introducing new crops, like lentils, to British farming.
As the company branched out, they decided they did not want to only partner with certified organic farmers. “By just working with organic farmers we would be limiting our reach and limiting the potential for change, so we do work with quite a number of farmers…who are on what we think of as an agroecological journey,” says Meldrum.
George Young, also known as farmingGeorge, is in the process of converting Fobbing Farm in Essex to organic and establishing agroforestry on the land to support biodiversity. He works with Hodmedod to grow lentils, buckwheat, linseed, hemp, beans, and heritage cereals.
And Hodmedod helps Young by providing a market for these niche crops so he can reach consumers. Young explains that the company helps him meet food safety standards and assists with bagging, processing, and marketing. “That’s not my job as a farmer, that’s a retailer’s job, and that’s exactly who Hodmedod [is] to me,” Young tells Food Tank.
Through this partnership, Hodmedod works to transform Young’s crops into a variety of products designed to help consumers eat more pulses. These include roasted pea and bean snacks, pulse flours, and canned British fava bean dahl.
Meldrum believes Hodmedod can facilitate the transition to agroecology in the U.K. by generating “higher value sales… to incentivize that process of change.” And he tells Food Tank that Hodmedod’s customers are willing to “buy and support that process…which doesn’t just rest on the farmer’s shoulders.”
But Meldrum emphasizes that the company does not want to monopolize the British grain and pulse market. “We would always encourage people to buy quinoa, for example, from organic fair-trade co-operatives in South America, in order to support those original producers, and that we are just another option,” Meldrum tells Food Tank.
“The food system is so opaque,” he says, “we are selling food crops that are largely commodified globally, and so are anonymized as part of that process.”
Advocating for greater transparency in food production is also important, Meldrum explains. That is why Hodmedod’s labels include the name and location of the farmer who grew each product. “It helps people to make a decision.”
Photo courtesy of farmingGeorge