RTF Feedback from the Oxford Real Farming Conference and events in the coming year.
On the 5th and 6th of January two RTFers went to the Oxford Real Farming conference to speak about Reclaim the Fields as part of a session called ‘taking the initiative’. We have consolidated our observations into a wee briefing for you all:
The Real Farming Conference is a pretty new one, three years old this year. It was set up both to challenge the agribusiness dominated Oxford Farming Conference and to open a space for networking and movement building among people and projects working for sustainable agricultural. It was an interesting event. Optimistic and celebratory in general tone; quite politically cautious in its public messaging; explorative and coalition orientated in its unravelling.
One of the best things about it was the diversity of participants. Academics, NGO types, a permaculture crew, horticulturalists, market gardeners and livestock farmers were all out and about and it was good to have shared discussions across these different groups.
In the ‘Taking the Initiative’ session we gave a presentation about Reclaim the Fields. The response was really interesting and more supportive that I expected. The presentation and following discussion developed around to main issues, the challenges facing new entrants to agriculture and the question of access to land, which were dominant questions throughout the whole event.
We were holding the opinion that many of the new generation of farmers and growers will come from urban areas, and it is in the cities that much of the exploration and innovation in horticulture and social change are developing. There was some interesting talk about how these changes will come about, what must be done in improving access to skills and some form of career path, and how we will need both cultural and structural changes to the hegemony that certain groups wield over land. I realised that there is a lot of ground in these debates for community food growing projects to develop a position and engage more with some of the players in the farming scene. There seems to be a willingness to explore practical steps that we can take to support one another and manifest the urban contribution to ‘growing more growers’.
The Policy Opportunities for Agroecology was also an interesting session and gave an overview of what is happening in policy terms at governmental and international levels. Alongside the discussion of events, and the launch of the ‘agroecology alliance’ there was a lot of talk about the need for a popular movement for food sovereignty with a more grassroots voice and articulation.
In conclusion it was a fruitful event. Some useful links were made and I feel more certain than ever that the time is ripe for more active movement building through network development and consolidation activities.
Interesting groups we came across:
Agroecology Alliance is a new group with Patrick Mulvany (of the UK food group and) as its figurehead. They aim to:
1. Change the framing of the debate on food production among politicians, public, food providers and researchers.
2. Shift the political agenda towards agroecology , in particular in R & D funding priorities. Their main tactics are informing and lobbying the All Party Parlimentary Group on Agroecology.
Scottish Crofters Federation are the largest small scale producer union in the UK and the only UK member of La Via Campesina. They have a very interesting and politicised critique of land ownership and government policy towards crofters.
Land and Freedom