Client Corner - Colin Tudge

By Olivia Bowen

Our Client Corner section focuses on the lives and achievements of some of our clients. In this piece, Castlefield’s Olivia Bowen interviews Colin Tudge, a writer, biologist and founder of The Real Farming Trust alongside his wife Ruth West.  Colin writes on aspects of biology (evolution, genetics, and natural history including trees and birds); several are on food and farming – in the course of which he evolved the idea of “Enlightened Agriculture”, aka “Real Farming”; but also on the underlying politics and metaphysics. 

We first advised Colin and Ruth in 2007 -- Olivia remembers getting off the train to meet them whilst fairly pregnant with her first child!  Over time, Olivia learnt more about the concept of Real Farming from Colin and Ruth, eventually becoming chair of The Real Farming Trust for a few years.

In this interview, Olivia finds out more from Colin about his life, passions and views:

OB: You were at Dulwich around the same time as my Dad Colin. What did that school & Cambridge University teach you?

CT: Dulwich in those days (1954-61!) was a curious hybrid: a bona fide  public school (founded by the actor Edward Alleyn in 1619) with, at that time, a socialist headmaster who wanted to attract as many “direct grant” scholarship boys as possible. So my (elder) brother and I sneaked in. The quality of teaching was marvellous; some truly outstanding teachers particularly in the two subjects I liked best (the only two I really took seriously) – biology and English.  The one thing I agree with David Cameron about is that, irrespective of content, all education should be of that kind of standard. The present, niggardly investment in education, and the way the teachers are overworked and underpaid (as are most people who devote their lives to the general good) is, I suggest, criminal. A government that cannot take care of the basics is not a government at all in any worthwhile sense of the word.

One specific thing I learnt at Dulwich was that science and religion are far from incompatible as seems to be commonly supposed. The two most senior biology teachers at Dulwich were both Christians (one a formidable Welsh lay preacher but a keen and well-versed Darwinian nonetheless). I learnt less at Cambridge. I was too unfocused. I did come to realize though that although science is my thing (I love the ideas) I did not want to be a professional researcher, and so became a writer instead. (I think I could have been a botanist but I had dreadful hay fever). 

OB:  Please explain what Enlightened Agriculture means, for those not familiar with the term

CT: I define Enlightened Agriculture – which we usually call “Real Farming” for PR purposes -- as

“Farming that is expressly designed to provide good food for everybody, everywhere, forever, without exploitation, without cruelty, and without wrecking the natural world”.

You might assume that this is what all farming is for – but in reality, at least for the past 200 years, agriculture has been treated as “a business like any other” and all businesses in this neoliberal age are conceived not as the natural economic underpinning of a democratic society but as milch cows, generating disposable wealth, and obliged to compete with every other kind of business in a global market to maximize profit and grab the biggest possible market share.

As I have described in a whole series of books this mentality leads us towards the kind of farming that is the complete opposite of what the world really needs if we truly wanted to ensure that everyone has access to good food and to look after the biosphere. Ie the neoliberal approach leads the powers-that-be to favour maximally productive high-input ultra-simplified monocultures on the biggest possible scale with minimum and preferably zero labour. Enlightened agriculture in absolute contrast is rooted in what I call the “bedrock principles” of morality and ecology and more specifically in the ideas of Agroecology and Food Sovereignty which lead us to favour farms that are as diverse as possible (ie “polycultural” -- generally mixed), low-input (ie organic), therefore complex, therefore skills-intensive (plenty of skilled farmers and growers using whatever technologies are most appropriate to the task in hand), and therefore small to medium sized (since with low-input skills-intensive enterprises there is little to no advantage in scale-up). Such farms could indeed ensure good food for everyone and would not, as present-day high-tech farming very decidedly does, devastate landscapes and exacerbate global warming and mass extinction.

Very obviously, however, Enlightened Agriculture requires a different kind of economy, and a government that sees the need for a different economy, and science geared to ecological reality and not simply to short-term profit, and overall a different moral and metaphysical mindset. I tried to tie all the necessary ideas together in my latest book, The Great Re-Think, and I expand upon them in my new website, “Colin Tudge’s Great Re-Think” on   

OB: How did you move from biologist to Real Farming specialist?

CT: It is hard to make a living just by writing about science and my first job was with a medical magazine, World Medicine, now alas defunct. But I was always attracted to the practicalities and ideas of conservation and agriculture and applied for a job with Farmers Weekly – which, amazingly, I got. After Farmer Weekly I worked for New Scientist and then the BBC Science Unit doing programmes on Radio 3 but agriculture remained my main thread.  

OB: What sort of things get discussed at The Oxford Real Farming Conference?

CT: Most of the sessions at the ORFC are supplied by the attendees themselves – more than half of whom are farmers. We discuss aspects of agroecology, such as agroforestry and pasture feeding; the essential idea of food sovereignty (every society should have control of its own food supply); farming policy; and the economic, political, scientific, moral, and metaphysical implications of Enlightened Agriculture. Farming isn’t just about high-tech and money, as seems to be supposed in the most influential circles. We can gauge the interest by the numbers. Thus the ORFC began in January 2010 with about 80 people (about half of them farmers) in a mediaeval library in Oxford and this year we had 1800 delegates with many more on standby, in six venues around Oxford, and several thousand more on line from every habitable continent. Worldwide many millions – probably, literally, billions – of farmers would like to farm in the ways we are advocating (we got many of our ideas from them after all!) – if only the politics and the economy allowed them to.

OB: You have recently launched a new website as well as a book – what’s the thrust of The Great Re-think?

CT: The point of my new website ( is to explore and develop the ideas presented in my latest book (The Great Re-Think) and indeed in many of my other books and – more importantly! – to provide a forum where anyone with anything serious to add can say their piece. Socrates was surely right: the path to wisdom is through dialogue, and wisdom is what the world now spectacularly lacks (especially in high places). I see the whole endeavour as part of a growing global movement which one day, with luck, will make the antics and ambitions of our present day leaders -- of whom Putin right now is the most conspicuous – seem not only vile but ridiculous. I hope people in a hundred years or less will say, “What was the world thinking of? How could we allow ourselves to be ruled by monsters?”

OB: What do you consider your greatest achievement?

CT: I’m quite pleased with some of my books and my role in setting up the ORFC and the Real Farming Trust. I am most pleased with my three children – a teacher, a doctor, and a writer – who all married very excellent people and have provided four excellent granddaughters. I do think the young generation gives real cause for hope. 

OB: How can Castlefield co-owners and our clients support these ideas?

CT: Ah! Despite the obvious shortcomings of capitalism including the crassness of neoliberalism I think it is obvious that money is useful and indeed is necessary if we want to do anything practical on all but the smallest scale. What’s needed are ways of raising money that are not themselves destructive (as most forms of mining are, for instance); and then making sure that the money raised is not simply concentrated in the hands of a few so that, as now, the rich grow ever richer while the poor grow poorer; and then using the money in ways that can help to create a better world – to support “convivial societies, with personal fulfilment, within a flourishing biosphere”. In other words we need an economy constrained by the principles of morality and ecology – the morality aspiring to tell us what is good, and ecology intended to tell us what is necessary (in order to do good) and what is possible. As long as possibility exceeds necessity we should be OK. If not, not.

Castlefield as I understand things is seeking to generate and deploy money in ways that at least do more good than harm which in reality is probably the best we can hope for. 

More links to Colin and Ruth’s work can be found here:

Colin Tudge's Great Re-Think (

Oxford Real Farming Conference (

Real Farming Trust