Food and farming are high on the local agenda in north Lancashire, so it was wonderful to welcome farmers, growers, researchers and food activists to Lancaster in early December for the first ever in-person Northern Real Farming Conference gathering. This followed a week-long online conference with over 30 sessions exploring everything from mushroom growing to bee-keeping, from food hubs to market gardening.
The purpose was to explore the challenges and opportunities around farming in the North of England and Scotland to move to more locally owned food systems, farm in more nature friendly ways, and to fairly pay and reward food producers. We also need to make sure that healthy food is accessible to everyone.
Many examples highlighted how things could be done differently. These included ways of integrating more trees and hedges in our upland landscapes to support live-stock farming systems, working with chefs and restaurants to create menus with ultra-local fruit and vegetables, and Food Hubs that enable coordinated distribution of local produce.
Michelle Scally-Clarke, Leeds based poet, closed the conference with a poem, co-created with conference participants:
‘We are This…..
The North has its own unique North-ness.
From industrial cities full of potential growing spaces
Sharing and eating and composting spaces.
Through to the burnt grouse moorlands, peat bogs,
Hill farms, coastal towns and cities.
We have come together for information,
But even more for inspiration,
Collaboration and conversations
We also need together, to dream big
To support each other,
To find common ground.
Because the stakes are high,
It is a question of power also.
How can we address rising food insecurity?
Whilst building a thriving local food economy
That nourishes people, other animals and planet.’
Perhaps most importantly, the value of sitting together, walking together and eating together, with an intent to change things, was one of the most important parts of the conference. We stood in together in our hope to build resilient networks of people working the land, looking after nature and producing food that is fairly available to everyone.
If you are interested in being involved in the Northern Real Farming networks, you can sign up to the mailing list here: https://www.northernrealfarming.org/contact/
The recordings of all the online conference sessions will shortly be available via www.northernrealfarming.org