Farming with Nature

This is a picture of a cow pat.

Specifically, it is a Lincoln Red cow’s dung pat – one of the surprising things that I was giving my attention to during a recent walk in the fields with Isobel Wright, who looks after Wilder Doddington.

Wilder Doddington

If you have been to Doddington Hall, you probably associate it with beauty – country walks in the winter landscape, elegant buildings, even weddings – and I want to invite you to join the increasing number of people like Isobel who find beauty and excitement in dung! 

You’ll see the holes in the top – at this time of year those are peck holes made by birds, feasting on worms, dung beetle larvae and other grubs.

Earlier in the year smaller holes will have been left by dung beetles and other creatures burrowing in to lay eggs in the nutrient rich pat.  

Traditionally, cattle would have been wormed routinely, incidentally killing other important life.

Many farmers now treat only when needed, so the poos of healthy cows become a whole microcosm of life, and a part of the wider ecosystem.

The dung beetles perform a vital role taking all that goodness – including carbon – back into the soil. 

In soils depleted by decades of intensive farming, this process shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s an example of regenerative farming at work.

Oxford Real Farming Conference

What has poo got to do with food?

I have just come back from the Oxford Real Farming Conference, which was set up 14 years ago in deliberate opposition to the famous Oxford Farming Conference and its sponsorship by the agrochemical industry, to provide a forum for agro-ecological, regenerative, organic and indigenous approaches to farming.

The ORFC is now very much in the mainstream. In-person tickets to the ORFC sold out months ago, and it was attended by further thousands online. 

Principles for healthy farming systems – according to headline speaker Vandana Shiva – are diversity instead of monoculture, and cycles of life instead of waste.

Dung Beetles UK

At first I was amused to hear of a dung beetle WhatsApp group!

But this is a serious, optimistic and growing movement of farmers and foodies who see farming not as an industry but as an ecosystem.

It’s farming movement that – as well as supporting biodiversity – provides people with nourishing, delicious, real food.

Oxford Real Farming Conference logo mug
Panel of feminism & farming at Oxford Real Farming Conference. Landworkers alliance banner reads: more farmers better food
Oxford Town Hall full of people for Oxford Real Farming Conference

Notes on the ORFC

The Oxford Real Farming Conference 2023 is such a concentration of inspiring people, stimulating conversations, visionary ideas, thought provoking talks, scrumptious food, wisdom, stories, and other surprises – it needs to take place over at least a fortnight!

The event is now so large and diverse that I would not attempt to represent it – you can check out the programme for an overview – but here are a few notes on the sessions that caught my interest in relation to Lincolnshire:

In the name of the farmer

The importance of diversity cycles of life, creating regenerative livelihoods, and the teachings of all faiths to share food are highlighted by Vandana Shiva.

Should the UK grow more food?

In answer to Tim Lang’s question – Should the UK grow more food? – the panel’s consensus was: higher yields at any cost won’t help!

More useful approaches to food security suggested include:

  • considerations of what, where and how we grow different foods;
  • the phasing out of ultra processed foods, which would lead to multiple positive knock-on effects;
  • the need to change market incentives, regulation and planning
  • a greater focus on healthy affordable diets for all, rather than on keeping shelves full;
  • the right to food needs to be enshrined in UK law;
  • extending free school meal provision is urgent;
  • considerations of quality, healthy soils and nutrient density

A Food Partnership Approach

It was inspiring to hear about the work of our sister Food Partnerships in Leicestershire, Shropshire and Scotland, working with farmers through place-based, multi-stakeholder, systems approach.

Feminism & Agroecology

The Landworkers Alliance hosted a panel of 8 wonderful feminists doing farming differently and sharing their personal journeys and experiences, including unlearning “mastery” and domination/subordination.

Local Food Economies: How do we join the dots?

We need to fill gaps in skills and infrastructure, says Emma Shires of Nottingham Mill Coop, who mills flour at Nottingham’s small scale, cooperatively owned, urban stone mill.

We need to build trust and focus on collaboration more than competition, says Sophie Paterson, Food Data Collaboration. The Open Food Network, Big Barn CIC, Oooby and Hodmedods are showing how it’s done, based on a shared vision for agroecological production, fair wages and access to good food.

Communicate and be adaptable, says Danny from the Better Food Shed – who also work with their local #HAF (Holiday Food & Activities for school kids)

Be motivated by love. And grow a garden.

Wise words from Satish Kumar

How to grow a food hub

Lincolnshire has loads we could learn from Tamar Grow Local, the Apricot Centre and the Good Food Loop, Cambridge Food Hub, and the Open Food Network – that’s lucky that they’re coming to do some workshops in Lincolnshire on 25th Jan, then!

Sorry for the lack of images, I was much too absorbed in note taking and conversations!

This first part of this blog is published in the February issue of the Lincoln Independent

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: