Put your mortar board away. Oxford farming conference season is over for another year!
I was at the Oxford Real Farming Conference for both days – chairing, participating, chatting and the odd bit of live tweeting! So too was the rest of our (small) team and quite a few of our Council members. It’s great to start the new year with a bit of positivity! Afterwards, I asked on social media what insights people who’d been to one or both of the conferences – #OFC20 and #ORFC20 – had taken away and what actions they will now take. It’s only a snapshot, but here are five quickfire reflections – drawing on the responses I received. Thanks to everyone who shared their insights and actions.
Has the Oxford buzz worn off already? It’s time…
1. It’s time to build bridges between generations, races, geographies … and even conferences?
At a time of division and uncertainty, it’s time for farmers and others in the food & farming world to avoid in-fighting, to acknowledge past mistakes and to build bridges. I thought Leah Penniman at ORFC was brilliant – and others agreed.
“It was powerful to hear farmers of a certain age acknowledging their practices had not been appropriate and apologising and changing!! I feel like there’s a lot of work to do to understand how we’ve appropriated indigenous skills and acknowledge them. Leah was inspiring.”
“Building relationships with people who aren’t like you or who don’t share your beliefs. Set out to engage and find commonalities. The change starts with you first.”
2. It’s time to embrace the change
Even if many farmers (unsurprisingly) didn’t embrace George Monbiot’s radical and controversial vision about the end of farming, the Brexit context will force change and the National Food Strategy offers the hope – at least in England – of different ways of doing things. Farmers are on the front line of a food system that must urgently confront multiple crises – climate, obesity, nature, democracy and farmer livelihoods, as well as the threat of being undercut by impending free trade deals. It’s transition time…
“Change is going to be really quick, time to decide what my farm will look like in the next decade”
“Change is needed. A big thread of #OFC20 was the global picture that makes this difficult… and the impact this will have on people with low incomes”
“Huge change is happening in pockets and those pockets are spreading 4 farmers…”
3. It’s time to shine a light on the positives
The City of Dreaming Spires is a beautiful setting, but the conferences are not so much about dreaming – they’re more about inspiration and practical tips, with the odd dose of debate thrown in. The session I chaired was all about people sharing examples of what the best livestock, meat and dairy looks like – best for environment, best for people and best for animals. Positivity is infectious!
“How much I still have to learn and what an amazing collection of knowledgeable people willing to share their experiences”
“The food and environment challenge is a result of.… and lack of showing the great work we do from farmers”
“Those passionate about nature-friendly, soil-nurturing regenerative farming are just lovely people who are generous with sharing their knowledge & are a very diverse cross section of society”
4. It’s time to decide what story we want to tell
Inevitably it’s the powerful storytellers and the memorable stories from the conference/s that stick in the mind, but what story do we want to tell…?
“That you can see food in a mechanistic and simple way, which leads logically to ‘Farm Free Foods’ or as a complex web of relationships with the natural world, and now is the time to choose which state of consciousness we want to be in. I want to tell the second story.”
5. It’s time to act
I asked on twitter what those who participated in the conferences would do differently. Here’s just a few of the concrete actions people said they will do:
• “Do Open Farm Sunday at last”
• “Actually measure what I’m doing, including soil carbon”
• “Create your own narrative!”
• “Frame my interactions in 2020 based on collaboration”
• “Personally, I need to be more aware of indigenous skills, how we’re continually guilting of co-opting those”
• “Clearing the clutter to help efficiency both mentally and physically”
• “Develop a local vegetables & salad business”
• “I will take more people out to lunch and find new people outside of my field to collaborate with”
Hopefully the memories, insights and resolutions will last until #ORFC21 and #OFC21. See you there…?
Dan Crossley, Executive Director, the Food Ethics Council