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What we took from the Oxford Real Farming Conference

Oxford Town Hall provided a stunning hub for the conference.

At the beginning of January, 5 members of the Tuppenny team attended the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC). This alternative farming conference is in its 15th year, and brings together farmers, land workers and experts from across the world.

The ORFC is part of a growing radical move for change in farming: away from the industrial model of agriculture with its faith in high tech and the neoliberal market economy, to farming based on the principles and practise of agroecology.  The ORFC is calling for systematic change in the governance of our food and farming system. Many of the people and organisations leading this radical drive to agroecology were represented at the conference and inspired us with their ideas and examples of breakthroughs; here are our key takeaways.

Maggie Haynes, CEO

We were privileged to have Satish Kumar join us at the conference. He led several sessions including one I attended on Soil, Soul and Society; our reverence for the earth, our care of the soul and a just order in society representing a vision of sustainability, spirituality, justice and a holistic vision for the future.
With there being so much negativity around us at present and challenging circumstances for so many people, it was inspiring to listen to positive initiatives in the food and farming world.
One such session was entitled ‘The Lost Flock’ and was the journey for Jane Cooper of the Orkney Boreray to save the UK rarest sheep breed in 2013.  What Jane has achieved in Orkney was to take her thoughts and ideas into a working reality, driven by a passion to save a unique group of sheep from extinction and to highlight to others this can be done and to inspire others to go out and do something appropriate to their situation, skills and experience

Rosemary Wilson, Centre Manager & Deputy CEO

It was so inspiring to be with such a large group of like minded people all working to care for the land in a positive and agroecological manner. Looking at farming in a truly regenerative way, working with the land without the need for chemicals.
Tapping into the Spiritual Aspects of Nature for the Wellbeing of People and Planet was a fascinating exploration of the connection between farmers and their land. It lead on beautifully from Farming with Nature Spirits with Patrick McManaway, who explained how he works with farmers to heal the land and the way energies present affect health and fertility of land and animals as well as those who farm.  I can feel the positive energy at Tuppenny Barn and from those who work there, and hope that those visiting us for schools or for horticulture therapy can absorb some of that during the time they are with us.
Oxford was heavily flooded during the conference, highlighting he urgency of the ORFCs message.

Helen Wright, Head Gardener

The Oxford Real Farming Conference was fascinating. One of our goals was, especially in light of the extensive development in Southbourne, to seek out ideas to broaden and increase our contribution to the local biodiversity, thereby supporting wildlife, attracting pollinators and predators and improving the quality of our soil. There seems to have been a noticeable decline in bird life on site in the last four years, although this has not actually been measured, and we are keen to improve the situation.

As a result, a number of ideas are being explored including trying green manures again and researching food plants to attract appropriate insect species.

One disappointing/shocking aspect of the conference was the discovery that some “Regenerative Farmers” are sometimes still using glyphosate despite their best efforts, this highlights the difficulty of “trendy” marketing terms which are not clearly defined or certified.

Jane Gleeson, Horticultural Social Therapy Lead

The biggest thing I took away from the conference is hope for the future of food growing and land use. It is easy to become despondent when you see soils being degraded through farming practices and to watch topsoil wash off fields whenever we get heavy rain. The Oxford Real Farming Conference instilled hope as we listened to stories of farmers who have successfully transitioned to regenerative practices and are seeing biodiversity increase alongside their profits. Farmers desperately need support to do this. 

It was sobering to hear just how enormous the lobbying power of the Pesticide industry is and a timely reminder of the importance of speaking up against this. It was interesting to hear the speaker from Share Action talk about how to educate investors in this industry as potential leverage point for change. 

I was especially heartened watching the film premiere of Six Inches of Soil and cannot recommend it enough. IF you get an opportunity to watch it then it is well worth it.