Five things I learned at Oxford Real Farming Conference 2021

The point of Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) is not to attack the status quo but to look ahead: to ask what the world really needs, and what’s possible, and to show what really can be done. Always on the agenda, or thereabouts, is the dream of Agrarian Renaissance: to restore agriculture and all that goes with it to its proper place at the heart of the economy, and indeed of all our lives.”

Ruth West
Photo: Oxford Real Farming Conference

The Oxford Real Farming Conference is an annual event bringing together farmers, economists, activists, scientists, policymakers and others to talk about agroecology – agriculture in positive relationship with the environment and society.

This year, the constraints of the pandemic became an extraordinary opportunity to include far more people – the conference was attended by well over 5000 delegates, and to hear and learn from farmers across the globe.

My top five takeaways from this year’s conference:

Eat more beans!

Can Britain feed itself by 2030?

Yes, according to Xavier Poux, the brains behind recent modelling of the European and UK food system, using agro-ecological principles.

But it relies on us changing our diet – eating far less sugar, less meat, less dairy, more fruit & veg, and about three times more beans/pulses!

Legumes play an important role in a sustainable farming system, because they fix nitrogen in the soil, eliminating the need for polluting, greenhouse-gas-emitting artificial fertilisers.

If you would like to get started exploring more beans for your diet, check out Hodmedods who are pioneers in British-grown (including Lincolnshire-grown) legumes, and have a number of delicious recipes.

Let us know how you get on with it, by tagging @lincolnfoodpartnership on Facebook/ Instagram or @food_lincoln on Twitter.

Oppose cheap food

Cheap food has not and cannot solve the problem of poverty (that is a whole other story) says Orla Delargy from Sustain.

Someone, somewhere is losing out, usually the producer, and their ability to farm in a healthy, sustainable way.

Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food, but by a scarcity of democracy”

Moore Lappe

Imagination is not a luxury

Slogan on Rob Hopkin’s t-shirt! We need to imagine what the world could be like – have a moment of pause, be genuinely curious, have many answers. What if we could build back better…?

Rob Hopkin’s podcast, What if to what next? explores such questions as, what if we learnt to love weeds? and what if we took play seriously? what if cities relocalised their food system?…

We need to imagine a future that we want.

Community Supported Agriculture is resilient

CSAs are designed to be resilient, and schemes have proved themselves during the pandemic: CSAs across Europe, asserts Florent Sebban, have remained steady despite the upheaval around them.

Many CSAs have experienced an increase in demand; the short supply chain has lowered transmission risks as fewer people handle food between field and fork; and they have become increasingly valued and integrated in their communities.

To create more CSAs in the UK, access to land and training of new farmers is
needed.

“Real farming has to be the revolution of our times”

I can’t even begin to convey the power and urgency of Dr Vandara Shiva’s message.

All I can say is, go and listen to her for yourself – she is an Indian physicist, academic and among the most incredible people alive!

These and more talks from ORFC can be found on their YouTube channel: Oxford Real Farming

Photo: Oxford Real Farming Conference

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