Reflections from the Oxford Real Farming Conference

19th Jan 21 by Feedback staff

Solidarity, innovation and perseverance were the underlying themes of this year's ORFC Global.

Every January, many Feedback staff travel to the Oxford Real Farming Conference for a chance to connect with others working towards building a better food system. This year, things were a little different: like most things, the conference went virtual. Despite not being able to connect in person, the conference provided inspiration and hope. Below are some reflections from Feedback staff.

“ORFC 2021 has re-inspired me and reconnected me. In the breakout rooms from workshops, I met people from all over the world and I even have a pen pal from another continent. However, the highlight for me was when Pete Ritchie, of Nourish Scotland, invited us to imagine a day in 2030, at which point our dreams of our perfect lifestyle and food system have been achieved. Over the weekend, and with the help of Rob Hopkins’ time machine, I fleshed out this vision – adding details to the cooperatively owned farm, until I could smell the flowers, hear the birds singing and the children laughing. I could even feel the weight of the veg bags as we hand them out to our diverse CSA co-owners. With help from Frances Moore Lappe, who has taught me that democracy is something we do, not something we are given, and from a panel about making CSAs more accessible to run and to eat from, I can start to translate my vision into changes and policy asks that we can work on achieving over the next few years.” Krysia Woroniecka, Project Manager Soil Depletion and Land Use

“Solidarity, innovation and perseverance were the underlying themes of this year’s ORFC Global. Whilst the ORFC has always had a global presence, this year’s online conference was a revelation. Participants from across the globe took part in the 7-day meeting of minds. Particular highlights included the ‘food justice, not food aid’ talk, which highlighted the work carried out in South Africa and Kenya to establish grassroots movements, and the Community Supported Fisheries seminar, a concept which is thriving in countries such as the USA, Turkey and France but is yet to take off in the UK. Inspiring talks from closer to home included the captivating Merlin Sheldrake, talking about the lessons we can all learn from mushrooms and mycelial networks; a discussion hosted by Baroness Rosie Boycott on post-Brexit trading relations; and an ORFC favourite, the need for small abattoirs in the UK, hosted by Patrick Holden from the Sustainable Food Trust. Missing from the conference was a wider debate on the future of sustainable meat. A discussion around animal feed failed to take into account the land requirements for increased soy production in Europe and there were very few mentions of protein alternatives. Indeed, the main innovation of the conference was the global platform; many of the panellists and viewers appeared to be united in their outlook and practices. Hopefully the momentum and vibrancy of this year’s conference will be carried over to ORFC 2022.” Helena Appleton, Project Officer Regional Food Economy 

“I felt honoured (and a little intimidated) to have been invited to attend such an unusually international event from the comfort of my bedroom during a pandemic. As someone who is just beginning to dip my toes into the world of agroecology I really tried to make the most of the global expertise on offer. I came away overloaded with new knowledge, as well as inspiration and ideas for my own projects.

I was particularly motivated by the session run by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements showcasing good policy practices across 3 continents. It was incredible to learn about the differences in what is tried and test in different places, but also the commonalities. It left me with the decision that aside from prioritising rescued veg, I will try to only buy organic produce.

I wanted to learn about the global food system; how and why much of farming has become so horribly unsustainable and some ideas on ways people are trying to change it. To gain some background information I attended a great talk about the neo-colonial hold on farming systems worldwide which detailed some of the ways that the international farming trade is rooted in colonial ideology. The talk confronted some of the false ‘solutions’ that have been implemented over the years and their impacts, as well as the bureaucratic and at times negligent teamwork by AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Agriculture) and the UN itself (among others) to hide evidence of the damage of the false promises they have made. However, despite some negative aspects, overall, I was uplifted by a workshop run by Sustain about ways that the UK’s supply chains and infrastructure for supporting agroecology is improving. I was particularly interested in how we can encourage the use of Dynamic Procurement Systems to help smallholder farmers access mainstream public sector contracts (e.g universities, hotels etc). my takeaway sentiment was: What an opportunity!” Abi Itkin, EcoTalent Intern working on Feedback’s Flavour Project Pilot, Sussex Surplus

All the sessions are available on YouTube and can be viewed here:



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