Partner Beryl Hearnden, Kathleen Carnley
University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading • RG6 6AE, Regno Unito
New Bells Farm, New Bells Ln, Haughley, Stowmarket IP14 3RW, Regno Unito
Whittingehame, Haddington EH41 4QA, Regno Unito
Lady Evelyn Barbara Balfour, OBE (16 July 1898 – 16 January 1990) was a British farmer, educator, organic farming pioneer, and a founding figure in the organic movement. She was one of the first women to study agriculture at an English university, graduating from the institution now known as the University of Reading.
Balfour, one of the six children of Gerald, 2nd Earl of Balfour, and the niece of former prime minister Arthur J. Balfour, had decided she wanted to be a farmer by the age of 12. At age 17, she enrolled, as one of the first women students to do so, at Reading University College for the Diploma of Agriculture. After obtaining her Diploma in 1917, she completed a year's practical farming, living in 'digs' at 102 Basingstoke Road, Reading. During this time she worked as a ploughman at Manor Farm. She was subsequently appointed Bailiff to a farm near Newport, Wales under the direction of various war committees, notably the Monmouthshire Women's War Agricultural Committee whose Chairwoman was Lady Mather Jackson of Llantilio Court, Abergavenny.
In 1919, at the age of 21 she and her sister Mary bought, using inheritance monies put into a trust by their father, New Bells Farm in Haughley Green, Suffolk. In 1939, she launched the Haughley Experiment, the first long-term, side-by-side scientific comparison of organic and chemical-based farming. She later became Chairmab of Haughley Parish Council for many years and organised ARP precautions within the village.
In 1943, leading London publishing house Faber & Faber published Balfour's book, The Living Soil. Reprinted numerous times, it became a founding text of the emerging organic food and farming movement. The book synthesised existing arguments in favour of organics with a description of her plans for the Haughley Experiment.
In 1946, Balfour co-founded and became the first president of the Soil Association, an international organisation which promotes sustainable agriculture (and the main organic farming association in the UK today).
Through the introduction of the Agricultural Act of 1947, Britain established its commitment towards a highly mechanised, intensive farming system, which disappointed Balfour, as it refused to offer support or funding towards organic production methods. By 1952, the Soil Association saw its membership increase to 3000, largely owing to the dedication of a small committee, including Balfour and the publication of their journal 'Mother Earth' (renamed 'Living Earth').
In South Africa, experiments were undertaken by the Valley Trust  using Balfour's methods in 1961 and 1962. These subsequently demonstrated that the organic approach was all that was necessary, indeed, that "the people did not need chemicals, which were worse than useless on the dry soil."
Eve Balfour lived with Kathleen Carnley (1889-1976) for 50 years. Carnley joined Balfour at Haughley during the 1930s and was a skilful dairy worker. After the large farmhouse was rented out, they lived in a cottage at Haughley. Before Carnley, historians speculated about her relationship with Beryl Hearnden (1897–1978). Balfour and Carnley became friendly with Graham White and stayed with him at Bald Blair when touring Australia and New Zealand.
Balfour continued to farm, write and lecture for the rest of her life. She is attributed with stating that, "Health can be as infectious as disease, growing and spreading under the right conditions".
In 1958, she embarked on a year-long tour of Australia and New Zealand, during which she met Australian organic farming pioneers, including Henry Shoobridge, president of the Living Soil Association of Tasmania, the first organisation to affiliate with the Soil Association.
She moved towards the Suffolk coast in 1963 but made continual visits back to the farm at Haughley. The farm was sold in 1970, owing to mounting debts incurred by the centre. In 1984, she retired from the Soil Association aged 85, but continued in the cultivation of her large garden.
In 1989 she suffered a stroke from which she died, in Scotland, aged 90, shortly after being appointed OBE in the 1990 New Year Honours list, on 14 January 1990.
The day after her death, a grant was offered to encourage British farmers to change over towards organic methods, by the Conservative Government (under Margaret Thatcher).
BACK TO HOME PAGE