As the second week of the Northern Real Farming Conference (NRFC) came to a close, the conference team hosted a reflective session to explore key themes, the vision for the future and key next steps. Ellen Pearce, the NRFC conference coordinator, shares some of the outcomes in this week’s column.
The NRFC gathering brought 500 people from across the North of England and Scotland together around a common cause- a commitment to regenerative farming. A total of 65 sessions were organised that explored a range of issues – from cow with calf dairying (where the calves are able to stay with the mothers), traditional cereal crops and their uses for baking and brewing, to the need for procurement systems that enable small-scale farmers and producers to sell their products. The recordings from most sessions are now available to watch.
After a challenging and energising two weeks the final session focused on some key questions, including ‘what next?’.
One key theme emerged around the need to better connect farmers with local consumers: How do we work better with those closest to us who are restoring habitats and farming in a nature friendly way? This is a question that FoodFutures – North Lancashire’s Sustainable Food Network- is considering carefully as part of its strategy development work this winter.
The final session also discussed approaches for (and the tensions that surround) attracting new people into farming. 
During the NRFC we heard from Cumbrian farmers and conservationists Adam Crowe and Helen Rawlinson, who recently featured in the Guardian film ‘Nowt but a fleeting thing’. This short film beautifully captures the challenges that surround getting started in sustainable farming, succession and an ageing farmer population. 
When farming is poorly paid and involves long hours in often isolated rural communities, how do we nurture the next generation?
Understanding strength in diversity also emerged as a key theme – from diversity in crops, business models and supply chains, to people and those working on the land. Events linked to climate change and the Covid-19 emergencies have highlighted how those with ‘eggs in more than one basket’ can often fare better. 
Keeping the network alive, in order to cultivate the many connections made over the past two weeks, was also considered important.
As the coming months look set to bring further Covid-19 restrictions and potential lock-downs, we need to support and collaborate with those that are both rebuilding our depleted ecosystems and nurturing healthier food systems. To facilitate this work, LESS and the Northern Real Farming Conference team have secured funding for regional networking events over the coming year in addition to a second Northern Real Farming Conference.
To learn more about the NRFC outcomes, visit: www.northernrealfarming.org/news

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