The last of our People Stories, written by The Abbey School students, looks at the life of Lady Eve Balfour, co-founder of the Soil Association
Lady Evelyn Balfour was born on the 16th July 1898. After studying agriculture at Reading University she went on to write The Living Soil and then co-founded The Soil Association in 1945. She was also a main person behind the organic farming movement, which provided more jobs for women compared to the only 5% of women working in chemical farming. Born almost exactly 100 years after Lady Eve, we are both female, feminist and consumers of organic food, you can see how Lady Eve Balfour appealed directly to both of us, and why we are thrilled to be able to delve more into the life and the legacy behind one of the most influential people and women for agriculture in the early 1900’s.
Eve Balfour was born into a large and influential family (Fun Fact: Her Uncle Arthur was appointed as Chief Secretary of Ireland by his uncle Robert which is where the phrase ‘Bob’s your uncle’ originates). As a child she travelled between two estates with two different types of soil, one of which was bright red, which may have been the start of fascination with farming and soil. Eve’s family were keen to educate their children well, and one of the many things she was taught as a child is how to make and support a convincing argument. She was also seen as very determined as well as amusing (Fun Fact: One Christmas as a young girl Eve burst into the servants Christmas Dinner to sing them a song). At 12 years old Eve decided she wanted to become a farmer and was educated accordingly and accepted into the Agriculture College in Reading,despite her and her entire family’s awful spelling (Fun Fact: Eve’s brother, and heir to the Balfour estate Arthur Robert Lytton was probably dyslexic, he wanted to go into the Navy but despite passing the medical he failed the entrance exam by spelling his own name wrong (Robart)). Eve thoroughly enjoyed university and even spent a year on a farm. She planned to open a farm with her sister, Mary. In 1919 Eve aged 21 finally bought her own farm in Haughley, Sussex with her inheritance.
The reason why Lady Eve Balfour is important is because after she spent a year in farm, she took part in an experiment called the Haughley experiment where she proved the link between the quality of soil and our health. Before there had been scientists such as McCarrison who had made the link between health and diet and other scientists such as Harrison made a link between the quality of food and the quality of soil. The results were published around February 1940 and were highly respected by important institutes. After this she was able to set up the Soil Association in 1945 and has in this way affected farming significantly today. Although her discovery may seem very boring and pointless, it meant that farmers knew how to improve the quality of their produce and has improved the health of many people since then. Even though few people may know about her she has truly impacted all of our lives today.
Michael Brander, Eve Balfour: The Founder of the Soil Association and the Voice of the Organic Movement (The Gleneil Press, 2003), p.11
Sophie Poklewski koziell, Two women of the soil
Evelyn Balfour, The Haughley Experiment, p.7
I believe Eve Balfour’s farm was in Haughley Suffolk (not Sussex)