Rod Everett of Backsbottom Farm reflects on his time at the 2020 Oxford Real Farming Conference, picking out his key highlights.
Coming together with a thousand farmers, academics, radical activists and government leaders is an exciting experience that confirms there is a better way to farm. The wealth of chance conversations and diverse presentations provided thought provoking solutions for our future food system.
For example Josh from the North Aston dairy showed us how 16 dairy cows on 40 acres can provide employment for 2 full time and 2 part time workers through direct sales of milk yoghurt, cream and ice cream. On the West coast of Scotland a group of farmers are bedding their livestock with coarse woodchips and are building an active fungal network and soil carbon. Pasture Fed Livestock farmers are working with Lancaster University and others to see how mob grazing can build and regenerate the soil by working in conjunction with the soil microbes and herb rich pastures. (The meat from these cows has more healthy Omega 3 fats when compared with cows fed a high protein cereal based diet).
We learnt how a community Supported biodynamic farm, Plaw Hatch, has a turnover of £1.8million on 500 acres and produces a wide range of products for the local community with no harmful agrochemicals.
Henry Dimbleby who heads the National Food Strategy outlined concerns over the current food systems effect on health, climate and wildlife. He stated that 18 of the largest food and drink companies rely on portfolios of food and drink of which 85% are so unhealthy as to be regarded unsuitable for marketing to children under World Health Organisation guidelines.
Alfredo from central Portugal outlined an exciting social and ecological experiment in a degraded cork forest farm that now produces over 500 food products and supports 250 families on 600ha. They work with nature and a diverse range of farm animals by using intuition and “respect for what we don’t know.” The soil and the forest are regenerating and building fertility at the same time as encouraging back the rare wildcat and other wildlife. They “Farm Water” by taking inspiration from Permaculture, the Yeomans plough and Holistic Management.
There was a memorial lecture for Martin Wolfe who has set up an experiment where hazel, walnut and fruit are grown alongside a genetically diverse YQ wheat at Wakelyn Agroforestry – demonstrating a new way of cereal farming.
Overall it was a brilliant and inspiring conference that Food Futures hopes to replicate here in Lancaster on a smaller scale. In September we could see the start of a Northern Real Farming Conference…
Even if you couldn’t attend the Real Farming Conference in person, you can still view the excellent online resources that came out of the event:orfc.org.uk/archives