The origins of the Group go back to a meeting held in February 1955 to arrange for a display at the Great Yorkshire Show. When the show moved to a permanent site in Harrogate, two organic growers in Yorkshire – Arthur Ball a market gardener from Masham and Michael Thompson, a farmer from Raywell, suggested to the Soil Association that it should be represented at this major event to spread the organic message. The response was to put them in touch with each other and to supply a list of members in Yorkshire and to challenge them to organise it.
This they did, and a group was formed. They were allocated an awkward triangular site, set up a bell tent with a display, and used the ground around the tent to grow farm and garden crops, with members coming in regularly to tend it; during the Show composting methods were displayed and literature was sold from the tent. Eventually a better site with two good fenced plots flanking a decent rented tent in which display boards, literature and bread baking demonstrations were sited.
By 1975 the group had enough members throughout Yorkshire to divide into three: for Mid Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Sheffield areas. The West Yorkshire section was first called the Kirklees Branch of the Soil Association, but as people joined from the surrounding area it changed its name to the West Yorkshire Group of the Soil Association.
The three groups continued to cooperate in running an information stand at the Great Yorkshire Show, but by 2007 the Soil Association headquarters in Bristol was regularly running the stall and staffing it with professionals, so the co-ordinating group decided to disband.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s the West Yorkshire group organised talks and demonstrations often involving the Soil Association. From 1988 a link was made with the Henry Doubleday Research Association, which led to a visit to the newly opened Ryton the following year.
In September 1988 the West Yorkshire Group organised a tomato fair and organic show in the Bradford Market Square and in October an event in Keighley – opened by Anne Cryer who also presented prizes. September 1989 saw a day of organic growing and produce at Shipley Library and October that year they broke new ground by running an all organic vegetable show, judged on taste. It was a great success with plenty of good quality produce submitted and it was clear that it should continue click here for more details about the show. This show continues to this day
The West Yorkshire Soil Association and the Mid Yorkshire Organic group worked together to produce a newsletter from 1992 to 2002 when it ceased to be produced.
In 1992 an AGM agreed to the new name of West Yorkshire Organic Group (WYOG) rather than the various version of West Yorkshire Group – Soil Association / HDRA, although it continued to work quite closely with both organisation but the role of local groups was not always clear and it felt better to be independent.
The newsletters outline the main activities of WYOG from 1992 until the early 2000’s and showed that stalls were often held at other organisations events, such as the East Riddlesden Hall Garden Party, Oakwell Hall, Ilkley Green Fair, Halifax Green Fair, Meanwood Valley Urban Farm, Keighley Show, and Bradford Mela. It ran an annual plant sale at Shipley library for many years, with other organic stalls, and later this moved around to various events like the Dragon Boat Race or Bingley market.
Visits were made to members gardens, HDRA/ Soil Association events and talks, local food growers – Brickyard Farm, Oldroyd’s Rhubarb, Growing with Grace, as well as to City farms, permaculture projects, Cawood experimental farm, Burley Model allotments and to gardens such as Parceval Hall and to Ryton and Barnsdale, Geoff Hamilton’s centre
Talks were organised for members in the mid 1990’s; speakers were WYOG members like Terry Marshall and Jack First, along with those from outside such as from the Herb Society, seed savers and scientific expert, Topic covered includes growing in Yorkshire, growing in polytunnels and greenhouses, permaculture and organic growing, tomato growing, potato growing, and fruit growing. Members meetings were tried, but after a good start these became poorly attended and were dropped after a couple of years. Occasional events such as wine tasting were organised and well attended.
WYOG continued to support the AGMs of the Yorkshire group, the mid counties group and run their own with different speakers. At times WYOG hosted the Yorkshire Groups AGM at Cartwright Hall and they sent volunteers to the Great Yorkshire show.
During the 1990’s members of WYOG did a lot of radio and TV appearances to promote organic growing, in 1992 Wall to Wall TV plus a slot on Women’s hour and a couple of years later on the Food Programme and then BBC 2 a slot for Open Space. 1996 saw interviews on BBC1 local news, and Radio 5 live and in 1999 YTV filmed potato day and then the Sunday Times carried an article.
In 1993 WYOG raised funding to make displays boards which they could take with them to different events to promote organic growing. Over the decade they partnered with many other organisations to raise awareness of key issues, such as the state of allotments in Bradford, Agenda 21 initiatives around the county, with BEAT and BEEs, Leeds environmental network, Bracken Hall countryside centre and got involved in campaigns such as against the fluoridation of water, genetic engineering of seeds, pesticides in foods, the impact of BSC and community composting.
In 1997 they organised a garden for a day – they made up beds in Bradford’s centenary square, filled them with many pot plants of veg, flowers, fruit, covered the pots with chippings to make it look like a raised bed, and attracted a lot of attention.
In the late 1990s WYOG started harvest markets in Keighley and Bradford – a forerunner of the local produce markets which would spring up around the county over the next few years.
In 1999 WOG organised their first potato day as Calder Valley Organic Group were taking a year off from organising their own potato day; the first day was held at Carlisle Business Centre in Bradford and has continued ever since at Shipley College link to pot day history. Also in 1999 the first WYOG web site was launched to promote events and activities and raise awareness of the benefits of organic growing and the problems with conventional farming and food production. 2000 saw Terry Marshall at the Chelsea show, getting a silver for his tomatoes and supporting a stall about health with Dr Marr.
There was a feeling that there were many opportunities but too few people to follow them all up and the idea of applying for a development worker was considered.
During the 2000’s WYOG has continued to run its potato day and the show every year; it has run a gardeners question time event, plants sales and swaps; it has partnered with Veg on the Edge to encourage seed saving and swopping at potato day. Talks have been organised at these main events. Visits continued to be organised - to Harlow Carr and local growing projects such as Growing with Grace
A new web site was launched around 2010 to provide opportunities for people to engage more with WYOG. The bulk ordering of organic compost is undertaken with a local allotment society. An e-newsletter was started again in 2020 and is sent out every 4-6 weeks throughout the year.
In 2021 an outside event was held in Saltaire as part of the festival to showcase organic growing and o give space to community growing groups, it was supported by several food producing stall holders and there were displays, including one of how to make biochar ad its usefulness. A new web site is being launched in February 2022.