The Northern Real Farming Conference (NRFC) opened last week with around 400 people attending – all of which have a stake, or interest in regenerative farming systems in the North of England and Scotland.

Colin Tudge, co-founder of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, opened this unique online gathering by exploring the principles of real farming and their context within the current global economic framework. We briefly explored the benefits of approaching food from a systems perspective and by taking place-based approaches, and Rod Everett, an organic farmer from Roeburndale, set out the scale of the challenges ahead from a farmer’s perspective. This included a range of depressing statistics outlining the impact of industrial farming on our landscapes and biodiversity.

While the challenges are huge, it soon became clear how determined all the Northern Real Farming conference attendees were to confront them.

Twenty six sessions, plus a number of social events took place in week one, facilitating a series of ongoing conversations that brimmed with enthusiasm and hope. A number of themes also started to emerge, some of which are discussed in more detail on the NRFC website: www.northernrealfarming.org/news/

Themes included:

One ambition of the NRFC was to create space for discussing the challenges and opportunities of the upland landscapes typical of much of Northern England and Scotland. These upland areas have become contested spaces in recent years and we had lively discussions in a number of sessions around creating a shared vision for how farming, biodiversity, ‘public goods’ (such as clean water and air), culture and tourism can co-exist in this landscape. Sessions discussed practical approaches as to how farming and biodiversity can be integrated in upland areas, including habitat restoration on common lands and agroforestry. Throughout these sessions a common theme emerged: the need for collaboration and the sharing of perspectives and knowledge, both within the farming community and beyond.

There was a strong emphasis on the importance of creating and being part of farming and food systems that work better for a range of stakeholders that include farmers, conservationists, activists, communities, citizens.

Right from the opening session, we were also reflecting on the question of which voices were not included in the event, and how we could bring them in. A socially just farming and food system requires us to ensure that all voices are heard and that we all, collectively, need to do more to ensure that this happens throughout our processes and systems, as well as enabling new entrant farmers from a range of backgrounds.

We will be exploring all of these themes and more during the conference’s second week which will finish with a ‘what next’ session. For more information see: www.northernrealfarming.org

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