Tag Archives: land

Land Delvings

All photos by David Ashwanden

For many ages and across many cultures, the question of land ownership has puzzled and confused those who consider it. Should we really have to pay just for being somewhere? And if we should, surely we should be paying whoever put us here; God, Mother Earth, the universal energy – call it what you will, for many it makes more sense than paying another person. After all, they too are only being.

In cities, perhaps, this feeling is less easy to define. Go out from the concrete box and away from the tarmac streets; follow the faint scent of wildflowers and sweet adventure, and stand with your bare feet on the bare earth, and then…breathe. Here is the clarification that you are a part of the land: it belongs to you and you to it.

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Connecting to the land…Photo by David Ashwanden

Yet if you want to live in a place that is not completely wild, it was probably built by someone and so they should receive some kind of acknowledgment, perhaps. Generally, however, the line of contact is not so direct and it is rare to find that the person to whom you have to pay money for the place you live is the same as the person who built it. More ‘normal’ is to pay someone who has nothing to do with the place you live a continuous stream of money simply to be in the space. But is it necessary to pay anyone at all?

There are many different ways of playing with alternatives to paying simply to live somewhere, a few of which I have explored.

Exchange

One quite common method is to exchange something other than money – most commonly, time given to the person who claims some kind of ownership of the place, to help them out in whatever occupies them.

This method is fairly well established and websites such as WWOOF (Worldwide Work on Organic Farms) (1),  Helpx (Help Exchange) (2) and Workaway (3) have thousands of members globally. The kind of places you could end up living in through one of these websites could range from a hand built concrete geodesic dome in the middle of the desert, to an immobile caravan 1600m up a mountain side, and the range of projects you may be asked to participate in is literally humungous. This is especially true with living with Helpx hosts, as this website has no specifications for what kind of place it needs to be (by contrast, to be a WWOOF host you have to prove that you are an organic farm). Workaway seems to have more hosts outside of Europe, the USA, Australia and New Zealand but many request a monetary contribution for food.  

If you really want somewhere to live where you don’t have to pay money, but fancy something more politically controversial than a farm is generally considered to be, you could also try Wwolfing (4) – “WWOOFing with teeth”. This is a website bringing together projects from all around Europe which are protest sites, squatted communities or other kinds of project which may be more risky than if people simple owned the land. The website is small at the moment and anyway there are crossovers with Helpx as many of the hosts listed on Helpx do not actually own their land either.

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Playing with animals…A real option with Helpx

My own helping experiences include, to name but a few

  • Building artificial coral reefs from recycled toilets
  • Riding and chasing horses around a field for exercise (for both of us!)
  • Helping to empty a 100,000 litre water tank into a deposito in the desert
  • Implementing irrigation systems in a Holistic Management farm
  • Feeding and playing with cats while staying in a wood cabin in an orange grove
  • Creating an adventure playground for a summer camp
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Desert Stars…

Hospitality

Fun and enlightening as all of my help exchange experiences have been, it seems clear that they still rest on this basic presumption that you should be giving something for the place that you stay. There are other alternative ways of living which question this notion entirely.

Three that I have some experience with are squatting, “free” communities, and websites such as Couchsurfing, Tripping and Bewelcome. They are all very different ways of going outside the idea that you need to pay to stay, and all add their own hue to this woven tapestry intermingled with, yet not quite touching, the generally accepted norm.

Occupied Buildings or Land

Beginning is easy…Right? The world is full of abandoned or forgotten buildings or pieces of land; jam-packed, in fact, and all beckoning with the exciting potential of what they could become. All you need is the will to change them into a living environment…Right?

In my experience, it seems that in order to occupy a piece of land the most important thing is to first establish a community. Without the support of your fellow so-called “squatters” (a strange term which we perhaps need to transcend if we wish to propagate the idea that the Earth is everyone’s to walk upon freely) or, crucially, of whoever lives in the area already, then it doesn’t matter how much you put into the occupation; you do not have the necessary network to succeed. This, much more than whatever the local laws may say about occupation of buildings or pieces of land, appears as the most important factor.

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Country Bath Anyone?

I have visited and lived in many squats in Europe and the successful ones are always the ones who are considerate of their neighbours, at least to some extent, and wherein the community of squatters is at least somewhat cohesive. These range from a squatted community in a forest in the UK, who were asked to occupy the land by local farmers to attempt to halt planned development which would have caused deforestation and loss of ecosystems to an impressively well-organised ex-fortress in the centre of Rome, Italy, where people not only live but grow their own food, host festivals and events and run a range of community workshops. 

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Creative Community

It is not always easy to find occupied buildings to stay in, for their grey legal status means that they are often only found by word of mouth. Of course many have an online presence but if you want to find out what is really going on there it’s best to visit. I lived in one squatted community in Spain where, when I left to visit local villages or cities, I was frequently given the news that the community had been evicted by the local authorities- only to return to find everything as ‘normal’ or at least how it had been when I left.

I have intentionally left out the names and locations of the occupied projects mentioned as the people living in them and running them may not wish to be public. If it’s right for you, you’ll find some occupied communities to stay in; just keep your eyes open.

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Beauty in the city

Intentional Communities

The global network of intentional communities is growing all the time; all of them with different aims and principles and all with different rules about whether or not you can stay in them. Some, such as Tamera in Portugal (4), are very strict: if you wish to visit Tamera you have to pay to stay for a minimum of 1 month as part of your ‘education’, after which time you can choose to pay to stay for more time, and on the ‘visitors’ section of their website they say rather inhospitably “we wish you an intensive time”. Others, such as many Rainbow communities around the world, are much more loose and indeed less hierarchical about who can stay and for how long. You can find more information about intentional communities in general here: (5).

Couchsurfing and related themes

The second most helpful website in revolutionising the way I travel, after Helpx, has been Couchsurfing (6), an international network of hosts and travellers where, if you have a spare room, bed or couch, you can offer it for people to come and stay with you. The central idea of this is that hospitality should be a gift: there is no reciprocity expected, simply the inherent idea that anyone who is coming to visit your home is worthy of being hosted. Such an idea seems in my experience to be quite an integral part of culture in many Islamic societies but is a new idea for modern industrialised civilisation. Couchsurfing has existed for a number of years now and in that time it seems to have morphed somewhat into a kind of dating website. However, the idea remains and many other websites have sprung up which are similar, such as  BeWelcome (7) and more specific ones like Warmshowers (8) where people host travellers on bike tours, usually providing them not with a bed but with space for a tent and, as the name implies, usually a warm shower.

Workplace Accommodation

There are many jobs which offer accommodation as part of the position, from artist’s residencies to boarding schools, and from architectural assignments to landscape gardening. If you already have a particular skill it may be worth considering if you can travel with it.  Similarly there are many online jobs which you can do from anywhere, though there still remains the question of how you choose to relate to being where you are.

The power of the book of face

It seems strange to include social media in an article about physical community-connections. Yet it didn’t feel right to include all of these ways of staying places for free without including the power of Facebook (9) in facilitating this. There are so many groups now on Facebook that it seems you can find hosts in most places. The advantages of this are that you don’t have to pay the website fees which Helpx, Workaway, Wwoof, Couchsurfing and others all require, and that, since many many people use Facebook extremely regularly, you are much more likely to get a swift response. The appeal of using websites such as Couchsurfing is that there is a reference system so you can check up on your potential guests or hosts; however, Facebook also provides a kind of informal reference, with really a lot more information than a couple of lines someone who has known you for 2 days may have written. Of course, there is a also a lot of irrelevant information on this website but using it is perhaps healthy exercise of one’s critical faculties.

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They say travel opens the mind….

Go Explore!

All of the aforementioned represent changes in our ideas and our culture which are a part of a real evolution into a more consciously connected global community, linked not by our ability to pay to be somewhere but by our shared humanity and wanderlust. Want to find out more? Maybe that holiday you’ve always dreamed of isn’t actually out of your reach; maybe you can learn the skills you’ve always wanted to study by practically doing them while being fed and hosted; or maybe you are simply a little curious to see how people do things in different ways.

Why not try it out?

References

  1. Wwoof International, 2016. ‘How it Works’. http://wwoofinternational.org/how-it-works/
  2. Helpx, 2016. ‘About Helpx’. http://www.helpx.net/about.asp
  3. Workaway, 2016. ‘Who We Are’. http://www.workaway.info/whoweare.html
  4. Wwolfing, 2016. ‘Wwoofing with teeth’. https://wwolfing.wordpress.com/
  5. Tamera, 2016. ‘About Us’. https://www.tamera.org/what-is-tamera/about-us/
  6. Fellowship for Intentional Community, 2016. ‘Welcome’. http://www.ic.org/
  7. Couchsurfing, 2016. ‘Couchsurfing’. http://www.couchsurfing.com
  8. BeWelcome, 2016. ‘FAQs’. http://www.bewelcome.org/faq
  9. Warmshowers, 2016. ‘Home’. https://www.warmshowers.org/
  10. Facebook, 2016. ‘Facebook’. http://www.facebook.com

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
  28. Beyond GM, 2014. ‘Beyond GM’. http://beyond-gm.org/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  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
  32. Soil Food Web, Inc: Dr Elaine Ingham, 2014. ‘Homepage’. http://www.soilfoodweb.com – retrieved 04/01/15
  33. Permaculture Association, 2014. ‘Our Work’. https://www.permaculture.org.uk/our-work -retrieved 04/01/15
  34. Gaia Foundation, 2014. ‘About Us’. http://www.gaiafoundation.org/about-us – retrieved 21/12/14
  35. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2014. ‘About’. http://orfc.org.uk/about/ – retrieved 21/12/14
  36. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2015. ‘Farming Outside the Box’. http://orfc.org.uk/orfc-2015/farming-outside-the-box/ – retrieved 04/01/15
  37. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2015. ‘Digging Deep’. http://orfc.org.uk/orfc-2015/digging-deep/ – retrieved 04/01/15
  38. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2015. ‘New Generation, New Ideas’. http://orfc.org.uk/orfc-2015/new-generation-new-ideas/ – retrieved 04/01/15
  39. Oxford Real Farming Conference, 2015. ‘Nuts & Bolts’. http://orfc.org.uk/orfc-2015/seminars-and-technical/ retrieved 04/01/15