Lady Eve Balfour

16 Jul 1898 – 16 Jan 1990

Lady Evelyn Barbara BalfourOBE (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.

In 1946, Balfour co-founded and became the first president of the Soil Association, an international organisation which promotes sustainable agriculture, and is the UK’s main organic farming.

Through the introduction of the Agriculture Act 1947, the UK 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’, later 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.”

Balfour, one of the six children of Lady Elizabeth Edith “Betty” Bulwer-Lytton, daughter of the 1st Earl of Lytton, former Viceroy of India and Gerald, 2nd Earl of Balfour. She was the niece of former prime minister Arthur J. Balfour. Balfour lived with Kathleen Carnley (1889-1976) for 50 years.

An interesting radio programme about Eve Balfour came our in 2023