Talk to the plant: Prince Charles’s organic revolution
Prince Charles on his farm in Gloucestershire.
By Kim Severson
International Herald Tribune
April 26, 2007
TETBURY, England: When Prince Charles gazes from the upstairs windows at Highgrove, his home near this tiny town in the English countryside, he can see a tree planted by the Dalai Lama. It grows near a field of rare British wildflowers, which fade into a row of box hedges trimmed to frame four small busts of the prince’s head. Tigga, his late, beloved Jack Russell terrier, is immortalized in a relief sculpture on a nearby garden wall, behind which a longtime gardener prepares the ground for the prince’s favorite vegetables, potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
Prince Charles, whose hobbies have included both polo and the peculiarly English rural craft called hedge laying, cherishes tradition. In his world, it seems, not much good can come of change. He has waged war against modernity, both in faceless urban architecture and in the erosion of the rural British way of life.
At home, the royal perspective has been criticized as conservative, stodgy and elitist. But to some of the generals of the American food revolution, the prince qualifies as downright progressive.
Alice Waters, who drove the organic movement in the United States, is smitten. “He is, in private, really one of the most forward-thinking, radical humanitarians I have ever talked to,” she said.
The left-leaning food elite of the United States has prince fever, and it has nothing to do with an underlying fascination with the monarchy, Diana and Helen Mirren notwithstanding. To Ms. Waters and her troops, no one else of the prince’s stature has spoken out on the issues they hold dear: responsible stewardship of the land, preservation of rural life and the need for good food grown without chemicals or worker exploitation.
“Can you think of any American political figure who has spoken eloquently or bravely about these issues?” asked Eric Schlosser, the author of “Fast Food Nation,” who has become a friend of the prince.
Ms. Waters agreed. “Al Gore doesn’t even talk about food,” she said.
(That’s not to say Mr. Gore doesn’t have prince fever, too. He has visited Highgrove to discuss the environment with the prince, and the two happily trade shout-outs to each other in speeches.)
Eleanor Bertino, Ms. Waters’s former college roommate at Berkeley in the 1960s and a food and restaurant publicist, is so impressed that she recently took on the job of promoting Duchy Originals, the prince’s line of organic food and beauty products, as it makes a new push this spring into the United States.
Like the prince, Nell Newman, the actor Paul Newman’s daughter, runs an organic food company whose profits go to charity. She said she is aching to visit his farm. The prince was even a hit among the farmers in Marin County, the hub of the nation’s organic movement, when he visited two years ago.
“The prince was treated like a hero when he showed up in Marin,” Mr. Schlosser said. “Think about how unlikely that is.”
Prince Charles sets forth a practical example of his agenda in the gardens of Highgrove and the neighboring fields of Duchy Home Farm, about 1,100 acres of farmland in Gloucestershire, about a two-hour drive west of London.
When Prince Charles bought the Highgrove house and farm property in the early 1980s, he wrote, he was appalled by the loss of his country’s wildflower meadows, hedgerows and chalk grasslands to “agri-industry.” So he began to turn the farm and gardens into organic showplaces that might help inspire others to preserve England’s rural landscape.
“I can only say that for some reason I felt in my bones that if you abuse nature unnecessarily and fail to maintain a balance, then she will probably abuse you in return,” he wrote in his new book, “The Elements of Organic Gardening,” written with Stephanie Donaldson (Weidenfeld & Nicolson).
The prince watches over every detail in the 15-acre garden at Highgrove. It thrives on compost and natural fertilizers brewed from comfrey or seaweed and uses only rain, natural groundwater or wastewater purified through a system of reed beds.
At the entrance to Home Farm, a short drive from his house, rustic signs proclaim the land free of genetically modified organisms. Rare breeds of British cattle eat red clover. Heirloom ginger Tamworth pigs roll in royal mud. The prince (actually, the prince’s people) grow vegetables from heirloom seeds, and raise organic oats that are baked into the thin, crisp crackers that are the flagship of the Duchy Originals line.
“Given another life, I think he’d have been a farmer,” said David Wilson, the manager of Home Farm.