A dance music legend who journeyed down a "spectacularly-sized rabbit hole" into regenerative agriculture has explained his nature-friendly food network to Norfolk farmers.

Andy Cato, a Grammy-nominated musician with electronic duo Groove Armada, is also co-founder of Wildfarmed, which works with growers embracing nature-friendly practices to improve biodiversity and soil health.

He said his unlikely career change was inspired by reading an article on "the environmental cost of food production" - which was also one of the key topics at the Norfolk Farming Conference, where he spoke to about 400 delegates.

Eastern Daily Press: Andy Cato, founder of dance music duo Groove Armada and regenerative food initiative WildfarmedAndy Cato, founder of dance music duo Groove Armada and regenerative food initiative Wildfarmed (Image: Wildfarmed)

"I knew nothing about growing vegetables, or anything else for that matter, but from the moment I saw seeds become plants and plants become food, I became absolutely fascinated by all the processes that make that possible," he said.

"I went down a spectacularly-sized rabbit hole, which eventually culminated in selling my song publishing rights to finance the purchase of the farm."

Mr Cato said his initial efforts were "an absolute disaster" which led to "three or four really dark years of financial crisis".

But after much reading and experimenting with organic growing, pasture cropping and livestock grazing he became fascinated by research about "the power of plant diversity" and its crucial role in biomass production and soil health, compared to the "monoculture" of intensive arable production.

This became the basis of Wildfarmed - a "field-to-plate farming community" where growers plant multiple crops in the same field, such as rapeseed mixed with oats and beans, or strips of wheat alongside beans, along with cover cropping to protect soils in winter.

"These diverse plant communities are interacting with each other in spectacular ways," said Mr Cato.

"So this power in plant diversity seems to be nature’s organising principle, and the more that we can harness that I think it is a hugely powerful force for ecosystem restoration – a way of combining food and nature and getting rid of this 'either-or' debate which I think is spectacularly unhelpful."

Wildfarmed now has 100 growers, including some in Norfolk, who adhere to a set of standards including sowing cash crops with pulses or other "companions", not using pesticides or weedkillers, minimising bare ground and integrating livestock.

This network has around 500 customers of all sizes - including Manchester City's treble-winning football team - but as well as artisan bakeries Mr Cato also wants to involve supermarkets and high street retail chains to "unlock change at scale".

Eastern Daily Press: Groove Armada musician and Wildfarmed founder Andy Cato speaking at the 2024 Norfolk Farming ConferenceGroove Armada musician and Wildfarmed founder Andy Cato speaking at the 2024 Norfolk Farming Conference (Image: Denise Bradley)

"We’re really trying to bring together a whole food chain," said Mr Cato.

"This needs to be democratised as a message. There are so many urban dwellers who are worried about biodiversity loss, health, climate change, who have no idea that their food choices are a point of agency in all this.

"If we can recreate this field-to-plate community, and harness consumer support for farmers, it could be a really powerful force for change."

Mr Cato said although "there were days when he questioned why he swapped" careers, he had no regrets.

"It has certainly been a very humbling education coming into farming in my mid 30s and realising just what a nightmarishly complex and nuanced job it is, but also I wouldn’t change it for the world," he said.

"Being part of this community which I think has real potential to play its part in bringing nature and food together, and creating landscapes full of life. That is something of which I am really proud."