Tag Archives: conference

Report from Inside the People’s March – the Juicy Details

On the evening of last week’s Conference of the Parties  international climate change conference (COP21) (1), people joined together all over the world to show what we can do and to start doing it…

Peoples march1

Gathering of the Food Warriors – A Formidable Scene. The apples shown here are less than half of what was intercepted. Photo by Feedback.

I’m not afraid of anything that’s blocking me/ I’m not afraid of human force”(2)
Even in Paris, where public demonstrations were banned in the days preceding the conference under the ambiguous reason of “security concerns”, more than 10,000 activists managed to make a human chain in a peaceful manifestation (3). However, London’s March was even more demonstrative of our potentiality to create positive change; as we were not demanding anything from anybody, simply showing what we have got.

 

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Many groups were represented at the march, from pandas and clownfish…

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To coral reefs…

This was the overwhelming sentiment I got from last month’s People’s March – by the people, for the people. Government “leaders” may have been getting high on the sound of their own voices in Paris, but one thing the March clearly demonstrated was the huge variety of initiatives which are aiding the process of positive societal change, all of which are already functioning in the UK and beyond.

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This “hippy” could be recognised by hir placard. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Free (no price) and Free (liberated)

My role at the March was very particular: as an “exotic waste warrior”, I was showing what I got!

What did I got? Apples! Around 2500 of them,  rejected by supermarkets due to “cosmetic standards”, but thanks to the Gleaning Network (4) and This Is Rubbish(5), were intercepted and gifted as sustenance to anyone who came within a hundred feet of us.

peoples march2

Apples for All! Photo by Feedback.

2500 at first seemed quite overwhelming, but in fact they all went amazingly quickly. We began handing out the apples around 11.30am and by the time the March actually began moving around 1.30pm we had only a couple of handfuls left. Such speed of redistribution shows that redirecting abundance can be very simple and easy; especially if we bring the surplus food to a place where there are many hungry people already gathering.

If you eat, you’re in

One key reason to be handing out apples on a march focused on climate change (other than their clear high value in both taste and symbology) is to highlight the impact which food waste has on the environment. Since we currently throw away around 30 – 50% of our food on a global scale even before it gets to a consumer (6), this equates to food waste, if it was a country, being the third largest producer of carbon emissions in the world, after only the USA and China (7).

If you are not a citizen of the USA or China you may think there is not much you can do about the first two, though it may be worthwhile considering where you buy your products from. There is a lot you can directly do about number 3, if you ever indulge in the pastime of eating.

You do? Then read on, as the solutions are delicious!

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Enjoying some of the delicious solutions as we handed out the fruit. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Some tasty ideas

For starters we have harvesting rescuers The Gleaning Network (4) who intercept fruit and vegetables from the fields which would otherwise have gone to waste, and Abundance (8), who map wild fruit trees for DIY harvesting. Then there is national network Fareshare (9) who redistribute supermarket surplus to charities and community groups, and more local versions of this such as Community Food Enterprises (10) in London and the Food Waste Collective (11) in Brighton.

This is Rubbish uses intercepted supermarket fruit and vegetables in tantalising and creative ways to entice and inspire you to do more about saving food.

These groups are doing fantastic work to bring the surplus abundance which already exists to people who are hungry. Yet all are working on the idea that, once the root of the waste is addresd, ideally they would no longer need to exist.

We can all help with this simply by changing our shopping habits. One very easy step is to only buy food produced in your country of residence; as it has had to travel a lot less far and so is less likely to produce carbon emissions or for unnecessary amounts to be thrown away.

Another is to check out This is Rubbish’s new campaign Stop the Rot (12), which is aiming to reduce food waste throughout the UK supply chain.

Enough to whet your appetite? You don’t have to stop here… Food is an issue which affects us all, and eating can always feel good. How do you relate to your food? How can you use this to create a healthier, more energy efficient food system?

The only limit here is your imagination…

References

1. Cop21, 2015. ‘COP21’. http://www.cop21paris.org/
2. Dubioza Kolektiv, 2006. ‘Justce’. Lyrics by Dubioza kolektiv. https://www.gugalyrics.com/lyrics-403779/dubioza-kolektiv-justice.html
3. Ecowatch, 2015. ‘10,000 form human chain in Paris demanding that world leaders keep fossil fuels in the ground’. Ecowatch, 29/11/15. http://ecowatch.com/2015/11/29/human-chain-paris/
4. Feedback Global, 2015. The Gleaning Network’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/
5. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘About TiR’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/
6. Institute of Mechanical Engineers, 2013. ‘Waste Not Want Not’. Imeche: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf?sfvrsn=0
7. European Commission JOint Research Centre, 2015. CO2 time series 1990-2013 per capita for world countries. http://edgar.jrc.ec.europa.eu/overview.php?v=CO2ts_pc1990-2013
8. Abundance, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.abundancenetwork.org.uk/about-us
9. Fareshare, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.fareshare.org.uk/about-us/
10. CFE, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.c-f-e.org.uk/About%20CFE.htm
11. HASL, 2015. ‘Food Waste’. http://www.hasl.org.uk/food-waste.html
12. This is Rubbish, 2015. ‘Stop the Rot’. http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/project/stoptherot/

Springtime Sowing at Seedy Sunday

This past week we have gone through a key moment in the solar calendar as the balance of light begins to tip inexorably towards more light and less dark. Many traditions celebrate this time as one of the “quarter days” in between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The exact date changes depending on where the sun is but is usually celebrated (by those who still pay attention to these things) between the 1st and 3rd of February. The festival, known most commonly as Imbolc – pronounced “ee-molk” – is a recognition of the changing of the seasons; a time when life begins returning after the winter months, and when the ground begins to warm up sufficiently for seeds to be planted.

It is fitting, then, that the first Sunday of February every year sees the return of the UK’s largest seed swap, Seedy Sunday (1), held this year on Sunday 1st February in its usual location of the Brighton Corn Exchange. Seed swapping is an important way to help you to grow more and stronger varieties, and to help to preserve genetics of existing varieties as more than one person will plant them.

The Seed Swap table. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

The Seed Swap table. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Er…why don’t I just go to the garden centre?

When you save seeds from your crops using open-pollinated methods you are preserving the variety of plant – be it flower, vegetable or other crop – and thus ensuring that the plant’s genes can continue to the next generation. By doing this you make the variety more stable and also you create a seed which is adapted to whichever environment you have grown it in, so you know it will do well there. However, being open pollinated, the seed will also easily adapt to other environments.

If you are a grower but you do not save seeds you will have to keep buying new seeds from a commercial company. There are very few commercial seeds available which have been produced using open pollinated methods; indeed, under EU regulations, it is currently illegal to sell such seeds without registering them for ‘Distinctiveness, Uniformity and Stability’ (2) and proving that the variety is ‘commercially viable’ (3). As open pollinated seeds are usually non-uniform and adaptable this is usually not possible; so the vast majority of commercial seeds which are available to buy will have been produced using other methods, usually hybridisation.

Such techniques are fantastic for producing a clear strain of crops which will all crop at more or less the same time and which need a specific environment to grow in, hence their popularity with farmers growing on a large, intensive scale. However, when you grow crops from hybridised seeds it is very difficult to save seeds successively from them, as the offspring of the plants will revert to either one or other of the parent genes and your seeds will not be true to type. If you want it to be worth planting your seeds – and even on a small, home scale it is still important that you utilise your energy and resources efficiently and effectively – there is little point in planting seeds which have been produced from a hybrid parent, as you have no idea how they will turn out. This, conveniently for the commercial seed companies, means that you have to keep going back to them for your seeds year on year. So seed swapping is beneficial even for no other reason than financially. For more on why it may be a good idea to save seeds, as well as practical ways to get the best from your saved seeds, please see my articles here and here .

This way for seeds! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

This way for seeds! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Brilliant! So how does it work?

One of the main ideas of Seedy Sunday is to create not only a space for people to come and exchange seeds, but to encourage education on issues around seed saving and exchanging, as well as creating links and networks with different groups from around Brighton and even further afield. The Corn Exchange (part of Brighton Dome) is a vast hall, almost ample for the number of different organisations who came along – although this year the event is growing so much that we had to have a few stalls in the foyer and cafe. On entering the Corn Exchange one is greeted immediately by a large barrow, alluringly spilling vegetables, from Barcombe Nurseries (3); then, after purchasing your ticket, which sets you back three pounds, you walk between light-bedecked twinkling trees – very appropriate for Imbolc as a time of celebration of light – and into the hall itself.

Lights in trees greet the attendees. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Lights in trees greet the attendees. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Greeted by Abundance. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Greeted by Abundance. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

What to do?

This year we hosted around 54 different groups, from commercial sellers such as Infinity Foods (our main sponsor) (4) and Foodshed (5) to charities such as RSPB Brighton (6) and Sussex Wildlife Trust (7); gardening groups such as Craven Vale and Whitehawk Allotment Society and Moulsecoomb Forest Garden (8); as well as exciting organisations involved in work to help people become more aware of food, seeds, and their role in gaining the most from them such as Brighton and Hove Food Partnership (9) and Brighton Permaculture Trust (10). All these, as well as campaigns like Beyond GM (11), and then organisations who may be more expected at a seed swap event: people selling plants and seeds such as Pennard Plants (12) and Special Branch Tree Nursery (13).

Along with the stall-holders came a whole host of activities; things to make, such as Seed Freedom’s (14) seedbombs, things to see, such as the numerous plant varieties on sale, and even taste, such as the recipes being demonstrated by the Community Chef (15), and the large selection of honeys on the Blackman Bee farm (16) stall. Children’s activities were also on offer from the Slow Food UK (17) stall and Infinity Foods Cafe (18) were set up in the corner for anyone fancying a breather. And a breather may well be necessary; having weaved your way with fascination amongst the numerous stall holders, you still have not yet come to the helpfully signposted Seed Swap table itself.

On arriving at the Seed Swap table, first thing to do is hand over your own home-saved seeds – if you have any. In previous years the Seed Swap has accepted pretty much anything which people bring, though we have decided to become stricter on which seeds are allowed at the Swap as we realised that some are not worth swapping. For example, commercial and other seeds from hybridised plants have much less value as they will only produce one crop whereas open-pollinated seeds can theoretically be re-grown every year. If you have not saved any seeds, you can still participate in the seed swap; all seed packets are given away for a donation so even first-time growers can get started.

Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Learn, save…celebrate!

As well as the seed swapping aspect, a key part of what makes Seedy Sunday special are the talks, helping to raise awareness of issues around seeds and seed saving, and enabling people to broaden their education on such matters. This year the ‘star speaker’ was a lady from the television – oh yes, we even have celebrities! Her name is Christine Walkden and she participated in a ‘Q&A’ session on gardening tips with Steve Bustin, this year’s chair of the Seedy Sunday Committee.

For those less star-struck but still thirsting for knowledge, we had talks on how to save seeds successfully from Pat Childerhouse and growing seed potatoes from Chris Smith of Pennard Plants (12). There was also a screening of some film clips from an upcoming film on seed saving – ‘From Seed to Seed’ (13) – by Nicholas Bell and Martina Widmer.

As mentioned on the Seedy Sunday programme, the whole event has recently been under threat by the proposed, though currently politically dead, EU regulation on Plant Reproductive Material (14). Last year saw a dramatic increase in the number of seed campaigns across Europe as a reaction to the legislation, with the result that, dire as the consequences of the regulation would have been in terms of biodiversity of our ecosystems and freedom of our people, it at least encouraged many more people who were otherwise unaware of such issues to take an interest in them. For more on the proposed regulation, you can see my article from last year here and a more up-to-date one here.

Though the PRM regulation is politically dead for now, the laws of the United Kingdom and indeed of Europe and much of the rest of the world are still far from accommodating when it comes to seed saving on anything less than an intensive industrial scale, and to discuss these issues we had Ben Raskin from the Soil Association with a talk entitled ‘Why does the European Union keep trying to interfere with our seeds and what can we do about it?’

Such issues are important to maintain an awareness of if we wish to keep saving and exchanging seeds. Of equal importance, however, is the celebration of these activities as a celebration of life itself. That Seedy Sunday is held at the same time as Imbolc is no accident: this is the time when life begins returning, symbolically and also physically. I heard many Seedy Sunday-ers commenting throughout the day that they feel as though they are just beginning to wake up after spending the wintertime ‘almost asleep’: such feelings are characteristic not only because of the grim damp greyness which is the British winter but simply as a manifestation of the cycle of life. For many who attend Seedy Sunday the day is just as much a social occasion as it is for business; and to add to the air of festivity we had the Acabella choir singing periodically throughout the day, with a capella songs about plants, trees and growing.

Even the Corn Exchange decor can be seen as fitting to the event. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Even the Corn Exchange decor can be seen as fitting to the event. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Spring’s coming

So begins a new season: seeds, singing and socialising. Now is the time to start planting the seeds we have gained; both physically in the garden, and metaphorically as well. I trust all who attended Seedy Sunday this year had a thoroughly enjoyable day; any who missed it, why not consider attending next year, or, if you do not live in Brighton, finding your own local seed swap event. If there are none in your area, you may wish to consider starting one. Why not? Seedy Sunday may be the largest seed swap in the country but the whole thing is organised by a committee of just nine people, (including the newest member, me) who are all volunteers. If we can do it, you can as well!

References

  1. Seedy Sunday, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://seedysunday.org/category/about
  2. Raskin, Ben, 2014. “Using a Chainsaw to Crack a Nut”. Soil Association: Bristol. Available online here:
    https://www.soilassociation.org/blogs/latestblog/article/792/using-a-chainsaw-to-crack-a-nut
  3. Barcombe Nurseries, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.barcombenurseries.co.uk/about.html
  4. Infinity Foods Wholesale, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.infinityfoodswholesale.co.uk/about/
  5. Foodshed, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.foodshedbrighton.com/about.html
  6. RSPB Brighton, 2015. ‘District Local Group: Brighton’. http://www.rspb.org.uk/groups/brighton
  7. Sussex Wildlife Trust, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/about/index.htm
  8. Moulsecoomb Forest Garden, 2015. ‘About the Project’. http://www.seedybusiness.org/about.shtml
  9. Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, 2015. ‘About’. http://bhfood.org.uk/about/
  10. Brighton Permaculture Trust, 2015. ‘About’. https://brightonpermaculture.org.uk/about
  11. Beyond GM, 2015. ‘Beyond GM’. http://beyond-gm.org/
  12. Pennard Plants, 2015. ‘Growing the Dream’. https://pennardplants.com/
  13. Special Branch Tree Nursery, 2015. ‘Local Origin and Why it Matters’.http://www.specialbranchtrees.org.uk/why-local-origin.html
  14. Seed Freedom, 2015. ‘Home’. http://www.seedfreedom.net/
  15. Community Chef, 2015. ‘About’. http://communitychef.org.uk/about/
  16. Blackman Bee Farm, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.blackmanbeefarm.co.uk/about-us.html
  17. Slow Food UK, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.slowfood.org.uk/about/about/
  18. Infinity Foods Kitchen, 2015. ‘About’. http://infinityfoodskitchen.co.uk/about/
  19. Bell, N, 2013. ‘From Seed to Seed: an educational film on the production of seeds’. Civique Forum, 19/4/2013. http://www.forumcivique.org/de/artikel/seed-seed-educational-film-production-seeds
  20. Community Plant Variety Office, 2015. ‘Draft New Plant Reproductive Material Law’. http://www.cpvo.europa.eu/main/es/home/news/press-releases-and-communications/228-draft-new-eu-plant-reproductive-material-law

ORFC: Looking Back and Ahead

This month’s Oxford Real Farming Conference (1) managed to bring together so many different groups and ideas that, at least for me, it is all still taking some time to take it all in. The Conference has sparked many vital conversations which are already crystallising into actions, and inspired in various ways.

The Conference - helping people connect like mycelium spreading...Photo by Charlotte Haworth

The Conference – helping people connect like mycelium spreading…Photo by Charlotte Haworth

What is ‘Real’?

One of the most interesting aspects of the Conference for me was the whole idea of ‘Real Farming’: easily something which could possibly lead into some far-out existential questions, if those attending the event were not so down to earth. The Conference was originally organised in part as an ‘alternative’ to the Oxford farming Conference, held at the same time and even on the same street, though from the beginning the organisers, Graham Harvey (now of Pasture Promise TV) (2), Colin Tudge and Ruth West (founders of Campaign for Real Farming) (3) have made it clear that the event is about practical solutions; “to ask what the world really needs, and what’s possible, and to show what really can be done” (1).

Over the course of the two days many different questions were posed about just what we are providing an alternative to; or even if the Conference could now be seen as such. Who is it who sees ‘conventional’ or ‘normal’ farming as that which involves high-external-input of fossil fuels and agrochemicals; stripping the earth of nutrients and farmers of stability and connection to the land; creating huge wasteful chains of logistics which end up with up to 50% of all food grown being thrown away before it even reaches the shops (4)? As mentioned previously, the UN has recognised that these systems are unsustainable and need to be changed (5); a widely-reported scientific study last year by Dr Jill Edmondson and Professor Nigel Dunnett claims that UK soils have only “100 harvests left” before the soils are so stripped of nutrients that they can no longer support agriculture (6); and partly in recognition of this, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has declared 2015 as the ‘International Year of Soils’ (7) to try to raise awareness of the importance of creating new faring methods.

These are not exactly isolated or niche recognition of the fact that farming can be so much more sustainable than it is. Yet during the Conference, Ben Raskin of the Soil Association commented that in a discussion he was present in the House of Lords recently, someone commented that the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) “aren’t interested in agriculture” (8).

Er…What?

If agriculture is not of interest to the Department responsible for the environment and food, on which agriculture has a fairly large impact, and of rural affairs, of which agriculture is a part of more or less by definition, it does seem to beg the question of what (if anything) the British government thinks will provide our food in future. Musing on this is probably a futile exercise, however, and it is much more useful to look to where support for real farming is present. One thing which provided another clue as to the more mainstream leaning of the Conference was the venue itself which was the splendidly opulent “venetian palace”, as one delegate called it, which is Oxford Town Hall. So even if central government has no interest in agriculture, it is clear that at least one local government does.

I have to admit it was rather surreal wandering around the carven, fluted halls of the building, passing groups of muddy-booted delegates who were partially obscuring the huge glass cases of official memorabilia, including a giant, golden (not sure if it was real solid gold) mayoral mace. In many ways it was rather fitting that many of the discussions held in the Assembly Room which touched upon the idea that the land is being unnecessarily damaged at the cost of our own health that of the planet were overlooked by a rather sombre, if not downright disturbing, oil painting of the Rape of the Sabines. Possibly more disturbing was the display case proudly exhibiting a ceremonial painted truncheon. I am grateful to Oxford City Council for hosting the Conference, and feel they have a right to do what they like with their building, but cannot help feeling that the citizens of a town which showcases an object whose only purpose is to instil pain and intimidation may need to question their symbols somewhat.

Incongruence makes Wholeness?

Such incongruences were, in a way, present throughout the whole Conference: a sign that healthy debate was going on, as I rarely heard anyone claim to have the whole answer or solution. Indeed, quite the opposite: during one discussion, with the panel from the Square Meal Report (9) when a man commented that the only thing we have to do is “buy organic food and tell everyone else to do the same”, all members of the panel gently deflected this dogmatic approach, with comments such as Mike Clarke, CEO of the RSPB (10) who pointed out that it is better to “keep an open mind” and think about “what do we collectively need to achieve together?”

These sentiments were echoed by many over the two days. Rachel Harries of the Soil Association (11) was chairing a session, ‘Local Authorities and Access to Land’, which went over all of the different ways in which one can go about reclaiming disused land in a legal manner, and showcased two community groups, Organiclea (12) and Sutton Community Farm (13), who have done just this. During the session we learned that as part of UK law all citizens have the right to “reclaim land” which is unused, disused or vacant, by applying to the Secretary of State to do so (14).

Such illuminations (I had not heard of this right before) help to eradicate the idea of “us and them” which, as pointed out by the fact that we were being hosted by the Council, was already rather hazy. It was made clear that though we cannot simply write off local authorities as unhelpful organisations, since they are, after all, made up of people too, it can happen that these people sometimes get “adversarial” when it comes to the crucial question of land. With statistics like the fact that 70% of the land in the UK is owned by just 1% of the population (15), it becomes clear that the more people who are trying to find different ways around these the better.

Coming Together

The Landworkers’ Alliance (16) were present in one room for the whole two days, as part of the ‘New Generation, New Ideas’ strand (17) of the Conference. However, their influence did not stop in the town hall: they also organised a folk concert and ceilidh at the Jam Factory bar (18) on the evening of the first night of the conference. Though this may seem like a small part of the proceedings, for me it represented a significant point. Most people present at the conference are in some way involved in practical projects and though there were many academics I got the feeling that the majority (including myself!) found spending hours and hours sitting, listening and talking a slight strain. The ceilidh provided a space to release some tension and engage in communication which is after all of a deeper kind; that of dancing around with a roomful of total strangers. This energy could even be seen to be carried on into the Conference on the following day. I noticed that, in comparison with the talks I had attended the day before, all the talks on the Wednesday involved more free-flowing conversation, and people seemed more confident with each other and inclined to speak their minds. This could be simply that we had got to know each other by talking; but I feel the dancing was also a big part of it.

Springing up from the Ground

Much of the conference revolved around practical techniques you can engage in if you are already growing, such as seed saving from Ben Raskin, and Kate McEvoy from Real Seeds (19) and soil care from Dr Elaine Ingham of the Soil Food Web (20), and how to influence policy change from and the Landworkers’ Alliance (16) and others. One of the most interesting sessions for me, as a landless landworker, however, was one organised by the newly set-up Groundspring Network (21), the “entrant-level wing” of the Landworkers’ Alliance, designed to help those who wish to begin growing by supporting them and sharing ideas, methods and forums (21). The session focussed on the “rural-urban divide” in the UK which can be seen as putting off existing farmers from changing, and those wishing to get involved in farming to make the jump; when only 3% of farmers here are under the age of 35 (20), addressing the factors surrounding this seem pretty important.

The Groundspring Network are helping people to start growing, as well as linking novices with farmers who can act as ‘mentors’, and providing forums and spaces for new growers to share their experiences. The network is not the only one of its kind; there are many other such organisations in the UK and worldwide designed to help ‘bridge the gap’ between what is often seen as ‘farming’ rural and ‘non-farming’ urban; such as the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (22), Farmstart (23) (24) and Reclaim the Fields (25). One new (to the UK) forum being set up is Farmhack (26), already successful in the USA and Canada and which will be officially launched in this country on the weekend of 18 and 19 April (27), with practical workshops, shared food, and fine entertainment: since the event is organised by the Landworkers’ Alliance there will, of course, be a ceilidh, and Topspin Circus (28) shall be contributing mesmeric fire-spinning.

The Importance of Group activities

One of the most exciting things the Conference represented was a networking opportunity for people from a huge diversity of different perspectives: organic, biodynamic, permaculture, ‘pasture power’, low-carbon farming, agroecology; people who work in academia, in the food industry, in campaigning, growing, or decision-making; in wildlife-protection groups and food banks. All coming together shows the recognition that farming is not just about what happens in the fields; as the Square Meal report (9) points out, it affects our health, the health of the planet, the way our jobs are structured, and wildlife and biodiversity. The conversations which have sprung out of the Conference all point to a hopeful future, where we can work together to create more resilient, sustainable and affordable food systems beneficial to humans, animals and the planet. Not to be underestimated as well are the things which went unsaid; the feelings of connection and of support from one another.

This feeling was shared not just by me; as I found out at the Closing Plenary, which was basically a quarter of an hour of thanks being given to all present, especially the hosts, volunteers and sponsors. This is of course an important part of any event, though it began to feel somewhat strained as it kept dragging on. Then Jyoti Fernandes from the New Generation, New Ideas (17) was asked to stand up and speak. We prepared again for another thank-you speech. Instead, she scanned the crowd, locating Robin Grey, the man who had been providing folk-song entertainment for us the previous night, and insisting he come up on stage to lead the whole hall in a group singalong. Such an activity is perhaps not very common in this country anymore (outside of churches and other community groups) so it’s possible that some people in the crowd felt slightly embarrassed at this suggestion. Nevertheless, the power could be felt, no matter how silly it may seem, as we were led in the song which some of us had learnt the previous night, introduced as “the new national anthem, when the revolution comes”:

“Sing John Ball, and tell it to them all

Long be the day that is dawning,

I’ll crow like a cock and I’ll carol like a lark

For the light that’s coming in the morning.” (29)

Who John Ball is, or why he is an important part of this, is a tale for another story. What can be noted now is the importance of such joining activities in helping to create the better world we know is possible and easily achievable. If we are to spread such hope to others perhaps a good way is through interactions such as song and dance; which can appeal to many people at once without having to engage their intellectual (and thus possibly confrontational) mindset. A few days after the conference, I happened to mention to a (non-farming) friend the scientific study which predicts that our soils are so damaged that we only have “100 harvests left” (6). My friend shrugged, and with a laugh, commented, “oh well, at least that’s one hundred years of harvests!”

Such an attitude, though admirable in its optimism, is perhaps symptomatic of the lack of understanding and connection that can be seen in many in our society. Events such as the Real Farming Conference are helping to rebuild the connection, and lead the way to a place where we all care about farming and how it is done because we recognise that it is integral to our lives.

References

  1. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2014. ‘About’. http://orfc.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  2. Pasture Promise TV, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.pasturepromise.tv/video.php?section=About – retrieved 18/1/15
  3. Campaign for Real Farming, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.campaignforrealfarming.org/about/ – retrieved 18/1/15
  4. Institute of Mechanical Engineers, 2012. ‘Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not’. IMechE: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf?sfvrsn=0
  5. UNCTAD, 2013. Wake Up Before It’s Too Late: Make Farming Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate. UNCTAD: Geneva. Available as a PDF here: http://unctad.org/en/publicationslibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf – retrieved 04/1/15
  6. Withnall, A, 2014. “Britain has only 100 harvests left in its farm soil as scientists warn of growing ‘agricultural crisis’”. Independent, 20/10/14.
  7. FAO, 2015. ‘International Year of Soils’. http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/en/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  8. Raskin, B, 2015. Comment during ‘The Rural/Urban Divide’ Session, Groundspring Network. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 7/1/15
  9. Food Research Collaboration, 2014. The Square Meal Report: A Fair and Square Deal for Farming, People, Wildlife and Public Health. Food Research Collaboration: London. Available as a PDF here: http://foodresearch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/squaremealfinalpdf-1.pdf – retrieved 18/1/15
  10. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, 2015. ‘What We Do: Overview’. http://www.rspb.org.uk/whatwedo/ – retrieved 18/1/15
  11. Soil Association, 2014. ‘What Is Organic?’ http://www.soilassociation.org/whatisorganic – retrieved 06/01/15
  12. Organiclea, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.organiclea.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  13. Sutton Community Farm, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://suttoncommunityfarm.org.uk/about-us-sutton-community-farm/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  14. UK Government Department for Communities and Local Government, 2012 (updated 2014). ‘Community Right to Reclaim Land’. https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/giving-people-more-power-over-what-happens-in-their-neighbourhood/supporting-pages/community-right-to-reclaim-land – retrieved 06/01/15
  15. UK Land Directory, 2015. ‘Land Usage in the UK’. http://www.uklanddirectory.org.uk/land-usage.asp– retrieved 18/1/15
  16. Land Workers Alliance, 2014. ‘Who We Are’. http://landworkersalliance.org.uk/organisation/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  17. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2015. ‘New Generation, New Ideas’. http://orfc.org.uk/orfc-2015/new-generation-new-ideas/ retrieved 18/1/15
  18. The Jam Factory, 2015. ‘Welcome to the Jam Factory’. http://www.thejamfactoryoxford.com/ – retrieved 18/1/15
  19. Real Seeds, 2015. ‘About’. http://www.realseeds.co.uk/about.html – retrieved 18/1/15
  20. Soil Food Web, Inc, 2015. ‘Home Page’. http://www.soilfoodweb.com/Home_Page.html – retrieved 18/1/15
  21. Landworkers’ Alliance, 2014. ‘Groundspring Network’. http://landworkersalliance.org.uk/groundspring-network/ – retrieved 18/1/15
  22. Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, 2015. ‘About Us’. https://www.farmgarden.org.uk/about-us – retrieved 18/1/15
  23. Farmstart Canada, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.farmstart.ca/about-us/ – retrieved 18/1/15
  24. Kindling Trust, 2014. ‘Farmstart Manchester’. http://kindling.org.uk/farmstart – retrieved 18/1/15
  25. Reclaim the Fields, 2015. ‘About Us’. http://www.reclaimthefields.org.uk/about/– retrieved 18/1/15
  26. Farmhack, 2015. ‘Home’. http://farmhack.net/home/ retrieved 18/1/15
  27. Landworkers’ Alliance, 2015. ‘Farmhack’. http://landworkersalliance.org.uk/farmhack/ retrieved 18/1/15
  28. Topspin Circus, 2013. ‘About Us’. http://topspincircus.wix.com/topspin#!about/c10fk retrieved 18/1/15
  29. Soundclick, 2015. ‘Lyrics: John Ball’. http://www.soundclick.com/bands/_music_lyrics.cfm?bandid=45728&songID=4135061&keepThis=true&TB_iframe=true&height=530&width=530 – retrieved 18/1/15

ORFC Day One: Planting Seeds

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 Cooperative (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.

References

  1. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2014. ‘About’. http://orfc.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  2. 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
  3. FAO, 2015. ‘International Year of Soils’. http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/en/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  4. Soil Food Web, Inc: Dr Elaine Ingham, 2014. ‘Homepage’. http://www.soilfoodweb.com – retrieved 04/01/15
  5. Biodynamic Association, 2015. ‘Biodynamic Plant Breeding and Seed Cooperative’. http://www.biodynamic.org.uk/farming-amp-gardening/seeds/biodynamic-plant-breeding-and-seed-co-operative/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  6. 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
  7. Friends of the Earth, 2014. ‘About’. http://www.foe.co.uk/– retrieved 06/01/15
  8. Beyond GM, 2015. ‘Beyond GM’. http://beyond-gm.org/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  9. Farmhack, 2015. ‘Home’. http://farmhack.net/home/ – retrieved 06/01/15

 

Oxford Real Farming Conference: Inviting Real Ideas for Real Sustainability

Tomorrow morning – well, in a few hours! – sees the beginning of the 6th annual Oxford Real Farming Conference (1), a two-day event packed with talks, seminars and hands-on workshops to bring together a diverse range of people; from seed savers to dairy farmers, permaculture researchers to biodynamic enthusiasts, and keen academics to keen revolutionaries; to talk about how we can change our farming methods to create more sustainable and possibly even regenerative food systems.

Why such a diverse range of people to talk about just one subject: farming? For those of you who may think that farming is just something which happens in fields far away from you, it might be beneficial to broaden your viewpoint. Farming, indeed, can be seen as one of the key aspects of our society: for it is how we source the vast majority of our food, and so the way in which the land is farmed should be something in which we all have an interest and input.

Farming and feeding

In spite of its vast global importance in terms of preserving the human population, many farming practices which are very common today are highly detrimental to the earth, wildlife, and indeed humans as well. The criticisms and concerns are myriad (see for example 2, 3); but the conference is not really focussed on the negative. Rather, the four-stranded two-day programme aims to provide insight into how farming can be done sustainably, and show “who, right now, in Britain and the world at large, is truly farming and marketing and cooking in ways that the world really needs, and others can emulate” (1).

As farming is such a fundamental part of our society it affects every other part. In high-external-input, high-yield intensive farming, this almost inevitably means the comingling of chemicals and petroleum products with the production of food and other use-crops (see for example 4). So interlinked are the two that four of the largest seed companies in the world, who control 49% of the global seed production market, are also chemical companies: Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta and Bayer (5). Bayer and Syngenta are also pharmaceutical businesses, showing how the linking of food and drugs, an ancient practice which goes back to the first times we began noticing how different herbs have different effects (6, 7) are now both synonymous, in much big business, with chemicals.

The way in which we farm reflects upon the whole of society and the ideas being hinted at in tomorrow and Wednesday’s programme suggest a shift not only in how we grow things, but how we interact as a culture. There are many alternatives to those propagated by the seed-chemical-pharmaceutical companies, so much so, indeed, that it feels only a matter of people becoming aware of them.

Learning

The Conference promises to be a fantastic opportunity for learning, with academic presentations from representatives from educational institutions the Schumacher College (8) and the Centre for Agro-ecology, Water and Resilience (9), as well as the Permaculture Association (10), who run the UK Permaculture Diploma Programme (11) and whose director, Andy Goldring, shall be giving a presentation on Wednesday on permaculture research in the UK, along with Julia Wright, Jay Abrahams and Federico Filipi.

For those perhaps not so interested in academic pursuits there will be interactive workshops on soil evaluation by Bruce Balls and on a number of different market optimisation strategies by various inspirational speakers.

Then if all of this is just not quite enough for the vehement enthusiasm which you have managed to cultivate by now, there are also some fairly radical or hands-on sessions, including an interactive discussion on the rural-urban divide led by Ed Hamer of the Landworkers’ Alliance (12), a planning meeting for the Food Sovereignty UK 2015 Gathering (13) and, perhaps most intriguingly of all if you are interested in these issues but are wondering how, as a landless person, you can become practically involved, a session on how to work with local UK authorities to gain access to land for community use, chaired by Rachel Harries of the Soil Association (14).

Real farming, real people!

The abovementioned are just a fraction of the intriguing and, I fully expect, inspiring talks and sessions which are on offer over the next two days. The networking opportunities are also quite inspirational; as the more we connect and create networks with like-minded people at events such as these, the stronger we can become. To this end the Gaia Foundation (15) and numerous seed organisations from around the UK shall be supporting the coming together of any interested delegates and attendees at another meeting in February (in time for this year’s growing season) expIoring which groups exist in this country who are engaged in seed saving, education and sharing.

For the next forty-eight hours I shall be reporting from the conference: watch this space for updates.

References

  1. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2014. ‘About’. http://orfc.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  2. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘The Meat Industry and Ideas for What We Can Do About It’. Permaculture News, 15/04/2014. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/04/15/meat-industry-ideas-can/ -retrieved 4/01/15
  3. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Scientific Research Condemns Neonicotinoid Chemicals: What More Will It Take?’ Permaculture News, 17/7/2014. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/07/17/scientific-research-condemns-neonicotinoid-pesticides-will-take/ – retrieved 6/01/15
  4. UNCTAD, 2013. Wake Up Before It’s Too Late: Make Farming Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate. UNCTAD: Geneva. Available as a PDF here: http://unctad.org/en/publicationslibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf – retrieved 04/1/15
  5. GM Watch, 2014. ‘The world’s top 10 seed companies: who owns Nature?’ http://www.gmwatch.org/gm-firms/10558-the-worlds-top-ten-seed-companies-who-owns-nature – retrieved 05/1/15
  6. Nunn, John (2002). Ancient Egyptian Medicine. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 151. ISBN978-0-8061-3504-5
  7. Robson, Barry & Baek, O.K. (2009). The Engines of Hippocrates: From the Dawn of Medicine to Medical and Pharmaceutical Informatics. John Wiley & Sons.
  8. Schumacher College, 2014. ‘About Us’. https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/about – retrieved 04/01/15
  9. Coventry University, 2014. ‘Centre for Agro-Ecology, Water and Resilience’. http://www.coventry.ac.uk/research/areas-of-research/agroecology-water-resilience/ – retrieved 04/01/15
  10. Permaculture Association, 2014. ‘Our Work’. https://www.permaculture.org.uk/our-work -retrieved 04/01/15
  11. Permaculture Association, 2014. ‘Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design’. https://www.permaculture.org.uk/diploma – retrieved 06/01/15
  12. Land Workers Alliance, 2014. ‘Who We Are’. http://landworkersalliance.org.uk/organisation/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  13. Food Sovereignty Now, 2014. ‘National Gathering 2015’. http://foodsovereigntynow.org.uk/ukfoodsov/national-gathering-2015/ – retrieved 06/01/15
  14. Soil Association, 2014. ‘What Is Organic?’ http://www.soilassociation.org/whatisorganic – retrieved 06/01/15
  15. Gaia Foundation, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://www.gaiafoundation.org/about-us – retrieved 06/01/15

The Biodiversity Web and How we can Re-Thread It

From a cursory glance into your local shop or most media outlets, it could seem that the trend of high-input, intensive farming – wherein monoculture-grown crops which are bought at low prices then transported to be sold at high prices or, in many cases, thrown away or left in the fields to rot – is the norm of today’s world (see for example 1). This has many problems, not least that this type of farming is in no way sustainable and the systems surrounding it involves an estimated 30 – 50% (1.2 – 22 billion tonnes) of food being wasted annually, before it even reaches a human stomach (2).

The factors surrounding such inefficiencies are many, but luckily, they are not the only way. Low-input, efficient and sustainable farming has been practised by many groups for centuries if not millennia (see for example 3); and though recent decades have seen the rise of large machinery, disregard for biodiversity and ecology and factory-farmed animals and crops (see for example 3), concepts such as sustainability and biodiversity are gradually becoming popular once more. Key names of the sustainable design movement of the past thirty years include Masanobu Fukuoka who recommends very low-input agricultural techniques such as ‘No-dig Farming’ (4) and use of seed bombs (see for example 5); and Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, who coined the term ‘Permaculture’ and the principles with which one can use such a design style in practice (see for example 6, 7).

The Web of Biodiversity - visible in many places if you know where to look. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

The Web of Biodiversity – visible in many places if you know where to look. Photo by Charlotte Haworth

Caring for our world: not just for the minority!

These names, though well-known to people already interested in sustainable growing, may be completely unheard of to most of the public, including, probably, many farmers who are utilising what could be called ‘Permaculture’ or ‘Natural Farming’ simply through their own recognition of the holistic nature of the world and their respect for this while maintaining awareness of how to use the energies around them to create enough resources for themselves. Even in the world of what could be called ‘conventional’ farming, however, such ideas are permeating. In 2013 the UN Conference on Trade and Development published a report, entitled Wake Up Before It’s Too Late: Make Farming Truly Sustainable Now (8). This is not a bunch of alternative thinkers or unconnected-to-the mainstream farmers; but the UN, an internationally recognised and (more or less) respected organisation.  The report recommends

“A rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.” (9)

This shift would not be possible without a fundamental reappraisal of our relationship with our environment. We need to consider what has been coined the ‘true cost’ (10) of farming; not just the price of the crop itself, which is in any case subject to the tides of the international market, but the cost to the environment of what is going into the farming. Philip Lymbery and Isabel Oakeshott, co-authors of Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat (11) refer to studies (see for example 12) which show that when looked at in this holistic way it is clear that as well as the environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity caused by high-input monoculture and factory farming, it is in fact less efficient – indeed, farmers actually lose money by utilising such methods -and worse for our health. For more details on this, see my report here (13)

When these factors are taken into account, it seems impossible to take the words of groups such as Syngenta and Bayer, who claim that large-scale agriculture with high use of chemicals in necessary for crop production (see for example 14), with much serious credence.

The joys of having many fruit varieties! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

The joys of having many fruit varieties! Photo by Charlotte Haworth

A Different Way…

There are, indeed, many groups who are experimenting with other ways of farming which take into account animal, environmental and social welfare, without forgetting the welfare of the farmers themselves. The shift is, in many ways, a subtle one and involves us all starting to look at things from a holistic perspective. We can all be conscious of the ‘web’ of biodiversity which surrounds us and connects to us; whether we are designing a farm, a home-scale garden or simply our week’s activities. As we all eat food, regardless of whether or not we have access to land for production, so somewhere we are all affecting the way in which that food is grown. One of the simplest ways in which we can become more aware of how to help create beneficial connections is just becoming aware of the different factors involved. From many years of involvement in practical projects for sustainable living I feel that these factors can be split into the following main categories:

  • Seed sovereignty – The need for autonomy and diversity of seed choice in order to create more sustainable and secure food systems
  • Critical Education – Passing on of key skills in growing, such as seed saving and sustainable, regenerative or holistic farming (otherwise known as permaculture, agro-ecology and any number of indigenous terms); but also other key skills to help society to become regenerative and sustainable, such as effective communication methods and social designs (for more on this see for example 14)
  • Food sovereignty – Linked to seed sovereignty, this involves re-integration of food networks into locally autonomous ones, and re-distribution of food surplus in the short term leading to self-regenerating food systems which create zero or very little waste in the long term. On a personal level, putting this strand into practice can be as simple as getting involved with your local vegbox scheme or food re-distribution group.
  • Networking- Creating links between different groups and individuals for mutual benefit and to avoid duplication and waste

These three come under the broad theme which it is probably prudent to remember, and which has many names though I am calling it:

Culture of Biodiversity –The need to recognise, appreciate and celebrate the need for biodiversity to benefit the heath of the planet and of ourselves, and to strive to improve this at all levels.

This can apply to many aspects of life, whether it is a diversity of currencies, such as supplementing one’s salary with work-exchange, use of LETS (15) and CSA credits (16) and local currencies; of people, such as exploration of the rich mixture of cultures which is available to us; and of plants, such as use of heirloom seeds and trees or buying odd varieties of vegetables to encourage preservation of different genes, and collection and cultivation of rare or forgotten plants which still may be of key use to us as a society.

The above list is by no means exhaustive but it seems that when we take into account the importance of seed sovereignty, critical education, food sovereignty and networking along with the broad theme of a culture of biodiversity we can begin truly cultivating a sustainable world.

Real farming

  With this in mind, it is refreshing to find so many groups who are already working towards these things. At seed level, we have events such as the Great Seed Festival (16) and Seedy Sunday (17) and the newly set up South West Seed Saver’s Co-op (18) and the Biodynamic Plant Breeding and Seed Co-op (19) (BPBSC), as well as the London Freedom Seed Bank (20), Open Pollinated Seed (21) and the Heritage Seed Library (23) who are promoting seed saving of heritage varieties.

From seed to fruit; with groups such as the Brighton Permaculture Trust (24) who can plant a heritage-variety orchard for you, and who are involved in the Orchards Without Borders cross-cultural exchange project (25) (26).

For education there are innumerable campaigns and organisations out there to hep you to decide for yourself what is right, from the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership (27) to Beyond GM (28) or Compassion in World Farming (29), as well as actual education establishments such as the Schumacher College (30), the Centre for Agro-ecology, Water and Resilience (31) and online resources such as those offered by the Soil Food Web (32). One downside to such establishments is the somewhat exclusive cost of many of the courses on offer, though this may begin to change as our culture begins to shift away from dependence on solely money as a currency, or as people become more autonomous with food and shelter and so have more money available for other things.

In terms of promoting a culture of biodiversity there are a number of groups such as the Permaculture Association of Britain (33), who promote permaculture in practice through the Diploma programme and the LAND Permaculture Demonstration Network, and the Gaia Foundation (34), which amongst other things is encouraging indigenous growing practices to promote biodiversity.

With such a wealth of actions going on from such a diverse range of groups, suddenly the future seems altogether more hopeful. Yet it is when we come together that our actions can really come alive, and that is where the networking side of things comes in.

Next week, I shall be attending an event which brings together many of the above-mentioned groups and individuals, as well as a whole host more; the Oxford Real Farming Conference (35). partly set up as an “antidote to the official Oxford Farming Conference” but mainly as a place for people to engage with positive actions and solutions, “to ask what the world really needs, and what’s possible, and to show what really can be done” (35), the Conference is now in its 6th year, with over 550 delegates planning to swoop upon Oxford this coming Tuesday.

Conference Networking

This year’s ORFC focusses on four main strands of alternative farming:

Farming Outside the Box: “fresh ideas and vibrant discussions at an event designed by farmers for farmers” (36)

Digging Deep: “economic and political trends that are shaping farming –– and at the deep ideas, of morality and science, that form the zeitgeist and underpin all our attitudes and actions” (37)

New Generation, New Ideas: “farmers and of everyone else who completes the food chain – bakers, butchers, distributors, retailers” (38)

Nuts and Bolts: “in depth discussion of all aspects of real farming” (39)

Each strand features speakers and there are also practical workshops for those who wish to get really in-depth.

The Oxford Real Farming Conference is just one of many examples of the power of networking, and I shall be reporting from it this Tuesday and Wednesday, 6 and 7 January 2015. Check this blog for inside information on all things Real (farming)!

References

  1. Collapse of Industrial Civilization, 2014. ‘Monoculture: Food Variety Tree’. http://collapseofindustrialcivilization.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/food-variety-tree-754.gif – retrieved 4/01/15
  2. Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 2013. “Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not”. Institution of Mechanical Engineers: London. Available as a PDF here: http://www.imeche.org/docs/default-source/reports/Global_Food_Report.pdf?sfvrsn=0 – retrieved 4/01/15
  3. Kirschenmann, F, 2004. ‘A Brief History of Sustainable Agriculture’. The Networker: Volume 9, No. 2. Science and Environmental health Network: Iowa. Available online here: http://www.sehn.org/Volume_9-2.html#a2 – retrieved 4/01/15
  4. Fukuoka, M, 1985. The Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy. Bookventure: Online
  5. Bones, J, 1995. “On a Green Mountain: Interview with Masanobu Fukuoka, Sensei of Natural Farming”. Wildness Rus, 1995. Archived content. Available as an internet archive here: http://web.archive.org/web/20051224120427/http://www.seedballs.com/gmmfpa.html – retrieved 4/01/15
  6. Mollison, B, 1988. Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual. Tagari Publications: Tasmania
  7. Holmgren, D, 2011. Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability. Permanent Publications: The Sustainability Centre, Hampshire
  8. UNCTAD, 2013. Wake Up Before It’s Too Late: Make Farming Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate. UNCTAD: Geneva. Available as a PDF here: http://unctad.org/en/publicationslibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf -retrieved 4/01/15
  9. UNCTAD, 2013. ‘Key Messages’. Wake Up Before It’s Too Late: Make Farming Truly Sustainable Now for Food Security in a Changing Climate. UNCTAD: Geneva. Available as a PDF here: http://unctad.org/en/publicationslibrary/ditcted2012d3_en.pdf -retrieved 4/01/15
  10. Lamberley, P and Oakeshott, I, 2014. Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. Bloomsbury: London
  11. Emily S Cassidy et al, 2013. Environ. Res. Lett. 8 034015. “Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare”. University of Minnesota: Minneapolis
  12. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘The Meat Industry and Ideas for What We Can Do About It’. Permaculture News, 15/04/2014. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/04/15/meat-industry-ideas-can/ -retrieved 4/01/15
  13. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Scientific Research Condemns Neonicotinoid Pesticides: What More Will it Take?’ Permaculture News, 17/07/2014. http://permaculturenews.org/2014/07/17/scientific-research-condemns-neonicotinoid-pesticides-will-take/ -retrieved 4/01/15
  14. Macnamara, L, 2012. People and Permaculture: Caring and Designing for Ourselves, each Other and the Planet. Permanent Publications: The Sustainability Centre, Hampshire
  15. Letslink UK, 2014. ‘Welcome! So what are LETS?’ http://www.letslinkuk.net -retrieved 4/01/15
  16. Soil Association, 2014. ‘Community Supported Agriculture’. http://www.soilassociation.org/communitysupportedagriculture – retrieved 4/01/15
  17. Great Seed Festival, 2014. ‘The Great Seed Festival: Celebrating the Seeds that Feed Us’. http://www.greatseedfestival.co.uk – retrieved 4/01/15
  18. Seedy Sunday, 2014. ‘Seedy Sunday Brighton’. http://seedysunday.org – – retrieved 4/01/15
  19. Land Worker’s Alliance, 2014. ‘South West Seed Saver’s Coop’. http://landworkersalliance.org.uk/south-west-seed-savers-cooperative/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  20. Biodynamic Association, 2014. ‘Biodynamic Plant Breeding and Seed Co-op’. http://www.biodynamic.org.uk/farming-amp-gardening/seeds/biodynamic-plant-breeding-and-seed-co-operative.html – retrieved 21/12/14
  21. London Freedom Seed Bank, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://londonfreedomseedbank.wordpress.com/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  22. Open Pollinated Seed, 2014. ‘Introduction’. http://www.open-pollinated-seeds.org.uk/open-pollinated-seeds/Introduction.html  – retrieved 21/12/14
  23. Garden Organic, 2014. ‘What is the HSL?’ http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/hsl – retrieved 21/12/14
  24. Brighton Permaculture Trust, 2014. ‘Home’. https://brightonpermaculture.org.uk – retrieved 04/01/15
  25. Brighton Permaculture Trust, 2014. ‘Orchards Without Borders’. https://brightonpermaculture.org.uk/orchards/withoutborders – retrieved 04/01/15
  26. Haworth, C, 2014. ‘Orchards Without Borders: Exploring Biodiversity and Culture’. Abundance Garden, 11/12/14. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2014/12/11/orchards-without-borders-exploring-diversity-and-culture/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  27. Brighton and Hove Food Partnership, 2014. ‘About’. http://bhfood.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
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  29. CIWF, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://www.ciwf.org.uk/about-us/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  30. Schumacher College, 2014. ‘About Us’. https://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/about – retrieved 04/01/15
  31. Coventry University, 2014. ‘Centre for Agro-Ecology, Water and Resilience’. http://www.coventry.ac.uk/research/areas-of-research/agroecology-water-resilience/ – retrieved 04/01/15
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