In January, I went to the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC). Now in its sixth year, the conference showcases some of the best sustainable food and farming techniques and on-farm advice from micro scale farming to large scale over hundreds of acres. The conference runs at the same time as the more mainstream Oxford Farming Conference, but the ORFC now attracts more people.
It’s an amazing feeling being surrounded by hundreds of like-minded foodie passionate people; to hear about the successes and barriers for farming and food systems around the country and the continent.
I learned about how food enterprises in other towns are shortening supply chains. In London Growing Communities is a social enterprise based on ‘community led trade, of which their major revenue streams are from an organic box scheme and farmers market, comprised mainly of food sourced from within 100 miles. They also run small scale urban horticulture sites for high value salad crops, an urban growers’ apprenticeship scheme and a patchwork of microsites for graduate apprentices to grow salads for their box scheme and market. Their core goal is to create an enabling environment for existing organic grower and new farm entrants, through offering living wages and providing a guaranteed local market for their produce, and focussing on sharing learning and innovation.
For those interested in the ‘re-wilding’ debate, George Monbiot and Rebecca Hoskins of Village Farm hotly debated the principle of land-sharing and land-sparing. A land-sparing approach involves large separate areas of agriculture and wilderness, of which George Monbiot is a strong advocate. Land – sharing involves actively encouraging wildlife and wild areas onto farm land - and recognises the key role that on farm diversity can have for supporting ecosystem services. Rebecca, who farms sheep and pigs in East Portlemouth, describes the farm as a diverse ecosystem first and foremost, where the health of the soil, the animals and many species of flora and fauna that depend on each other are of primary concern. Village Farm is the most ecologically appropriate and high welfare sheep farm I have had a privilege of visiting, where animals graze as they would in the wild, and the fields and hedgerows are teeming with life and vitality as the farmers work tirelessly to build diversity above and below the ground.
Finally, I learned about a current arts project called Field of Wheat, where a collective made up of members of the public, the food industry, farming community, artists and researchers are becoming active stakeholders in a conventionally grown field of wheat in Branston Booths, Lincolnshire, England. The collective will be asked to make key decisions about the farming practices in the field, and are supported to share thoughts and ideas with one another. This project is a creative and dynamic approach to re-connecting people to where their food comes from, and is seeding ideas in the Transition Town Totnes food team about how we could translate some of these ideas in Totnes.
Click here for more information about the conference and videos of some of the talks.
Myrtle Cooper, Food Link manager