A giant fluffy dice, or what looked like it, landed in my lap. It was actually a funky roving microphone, meaning I had the honour of asking panellists the opening question at the first #FoodTalks of 2024, during which we screened Six Inches of Soil. It felt apt, given that the transition to regenerative farming had just been described as ‘rolling the dice’ by one farmer featured in the film.

“I need local people to support me and in turn I’ll support them” (Farmer featured in the film)

After a brief absence, #FoodTalks was back with a bang. A packed house, delicious organic food, an inspiring film and a thought-provoking panel discussion. We were privileged to be able to use the amazing new Impact Hub London Euston space for the sold-out screening of Six Inches of Soil. At the time of writing, this has been watched at screenings around the country by an estimated 10,000 people. The film seemed to go down well with all or most of the participants, perhaps not surprising, as most didn’t need ‘converting’. It certainly went down better than it did with George Monbiot, who harshly labelled the film in the Guardian as “moo-woo”, linking it to the livestock industry’s greenwashing.

“Now that I’m the one making the decisions, I’ve realised it’s quite a hard job!” (Farmer featured in the film)

Lots of food, farming and environmental gurus were given a platform in the film, including Dee Woods (member of the Food Ethics Council), Henry Dimbleby (businessman and former government food tsar), Vicki Hird (Wildlife Trusts, formerly of Sustain), Satish Kumar (peace and environmental activist) and Professor Tim Lang (Centre for Food Policy). However, as intended, the stars of the show were the three farmers sharing their stories of transition. At #FoodTalks we were lucky to be joined in person by one of those – Adrienne Gordon, new-entrant farmer who runs Sweetpea Market Garden in Cambridgeshire. Also on the panel were assistant producer of the film, Julie Brown from Growing Communities, Dr Lucy Michaels, Researcher & Impact Producer, and organic farmer John Pawsey. The event was expertly chaired by Will White, farming coordinator at Sustain. Sustain itself was praised for the important part it played in advising on the film.

“We need to put our hands in the soil and ask better questions” (Farmer featured in the film)

I won’t spoil the film for anyone that hasn’t yet watched it. Suffice to say that the film picked up lots of important themes around the future of farming, including how difficult it currently is for new-entrant farmers, the perils of poor work-life balance and farmer mental health, the role of livestock as part of a regenerative system and the importance of farming in harmony with nature. It didn’t cover everything, but then it shouldn’t have tried to. It was suggested that in hindsight the film could have painted a clearer message about the need to eat less but better meat, rather than just the key message about the important role of grazing livestock for soil health in a regenerative future. In my view, the film succeeded in its intention, namely share hopeful stories and spark conversation about the food system. It certainly did at #FoodTalks.

“We have come to believe that money is more important than soil…. That food must be cheap… That idea has to change” (Satish Kumar)

We had a lively panel debate. There was praise for organic farming and for organic’s clear standards. There was a call for clear standards to be brought into regenerative food and agriculture too, to reduce the risk of the term being co-opted (further) by major agri-food businesses. Wildfarmed was praised for its efforts in looking to bring in regenerative standards, rather than principles alone. Separately, there was a plea to lobby for higher farming budgets from the next Government. The questions from the audience were wide-ranging, from the role of farmer protests in the public’s understanding of food and how to better challenge the agri-chemical industry, to squaring the circle on food affordability.

“I remember as a kid when the agro-chemical rep came to the farm. He opened up his Ford Cortina and there were all these gift for us, like key rings, designed to hook us in at a young age” (John Pawsey, farmer)

Is the transition to regenerative, organic, nature-friendly and agroecological* a risk worth taking for farmers? Absolutely yes, for the benefit of the land, the climate, people and animals. In fact, it’s more of a risk to not begin the journey. BUT, it requires commitment, hard work and support. If we want farmers, farm workers and growers to produce good food, look after the land, their animals, restore biodiversity, and look after themselves, we must all support them in the transition. It’s time to roll the dice.

*Let’s not be derailed by the differences and overlaps between all these here! 

#FoodTalks is a collaboration between Impact Hub London, Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming, Organico and Food Ethics Council. For summaries of past events and details of future #FoodTalks, please visit http://www.foodtalks.co.uk/

Six Inches Of Soil screenings: https://www.sixinchesofsoil.org/screeningdates