Today saw the planting of many seeds at Oxford Real Farming Conference (1), some of which are already beginning to sprout (if the metaphor can be stretched so far)…
The Conference began with a recognition of the importance of soil, something which surprisingly few farmers care for the health of (see for example 2), considering that without soil we would not have any farms. In the wake of the overturning of the proposed Soil Framework Directive (2) last year, there is growing concern that we need to be paying more attention to this most fundamental of things, to the extent that this year, 2015, has been declared the Year of Soils by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (3). To show this importance the first speaker in the Main Hall was world-renowned soil biologist and educator Dr Elaine Ingham (4), who flew in especially from California to attend.
From soil to seeds in the Land Worker’s Alliance area: a lively discussion of EU seed law, ‘Pathways to Seed Sovereignty’ with the Soil Association’s Ben Raskin, Kate McEvoy from Real Seeds, Peter Brown from the Biodynamic Plant Breeding and Seed Co–operative (5) and Dan Burston and Ashley Wheeler from the South West Seed Saver’s Co-op (6), was followed by a read-out of the LWA’s manifesto for policy change.
In terms of food, and linking all of these issues to actually how to get the public to change their eating habits, we had a very interesting public discussion, chaired by Vicki Hird of Friends of the Earth (7) with a panel from the Square Meal Report: Tim Lang (professor of Food Policy at City University), Dan Crossley (Food Ethics Council), Rob Macklin (National Trust), Mike Clarke (RSPB) and Philip Lymbery (Compassion in World Farming). The discussion began with a summary of what the Square Meal Report is: a report highlighting the need for “a fair and square deal for farming, people, wildlife and public health”. After a brief introduction from each of the panel, the floor was thrown open and ideas, stories and concerns began coming thick and fast. How to persuade people to buy ethical, healthy food when they cannot afford it? Who do we need to concentrate on: policy makers? Corporations? Local councils? Ourselves? Responses were wild and, as is usually the case in these discussions, many more questions were raised than we had time to discuss. One overarching theme I gathered, however, was the importance of keeping one’s integrity while allowing others to keep theirs as well. As Mike Clarke put it quite succinctly, “we need to keep an open mind…and ask questions”.
The ‘New Science of GMOs’ session run by Lawrence Woodward of Beyond GM (8) and Michael Antoniou of King’s College London, was so popular that the 80-seated capacity room was filled up with people sitting, standing and squeezing. An interesting sign of the growing level of concern about GMOs, perhaps.
In the technology department we had a discussion of ‘Appropriate Technologies’ which was very informative, though unfortunately some of the technology involved in the session managed to fail entirely; as they were supposed to be linking via Skype with Dorn Cox of Farmhack (9), a new open source community resource for farmers and growers to take control of tools and growing techniques into their own and communities’ hands; but could not get the internet to work. Nevertheless, we did get treated to Farmhack’s promo video and heard about the UK 2015 Farmhack gathering which will be happening on 15 and 16 April.
Along with these were sessions on flooding, a criticism on climate smart agriculture, a discussion of the concerns raised by TTIP when it comes to food and farming, a presentation on mental health in farming communities, and much much more, along with tasty locally-sourced food (we were told) and a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere. Tonight the Land Worker’s Alliance are organising food and musical entertainment, and the conference continues tomorrow.
- Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2014. ‘About’. http://orfc.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
- Monbiot, G, 2014. ‘The farming lobby has wrecked efforts to defend our soil’. Guardian, 5/6/2014. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2014/jun/05/the-farming-lobby-has-wrecked-efforts-to-defend-our-soil – retrieved 06/01/15
- FAO, 2015. ‘International Year of Soils’. http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/en/ – retrieved 06/01/15
- Soil Food Web, Inc: Dr Elaine Ingham, 2014. ‘Homepage’. http://www.soilfoodweb.com – retrieved 04/01/15
- Biodynamic Association, 2015. ‘Biodynamic Plant Breeding and Seed Co–operative’. http://www.biodynamic.org.uk/farming-amp-gardening/seeds/biodynamic-plant-breeding-and-seed-co-operative/ – retrieved 06/01/15
- Land Worker’s Alliance, 2014. South West Seed Saver’s Co-op. https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=south+west+seed+savers+co+op&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gws_rd=cr&ei=gDisVN-hGsm4Ud-2g6gL – retrieved 06/01/15
- Friends of the Earth, 2014. ‘About’. http://www.foe.co.uk/– retrieved 06/01/15
- Beyond GM, 2015. ‘Beyond GM’. http://beyond-gm.org/ – retrieved 06/01/15
- Farmhack, 2015. ‘Home’. http://farmhack.net/home/ – retrieved 06/01/15