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The Oxford Real Farming Conference 2022
by LILLIE BELLAMY
The Oxford Real Farming Conference is an annual gathering that brings together people working in and supporting agroecology. This year’s conference was held online. The sessions I attended had common themes including inequality,injustice and the need for change in agricultural systems. It is generally accepted that globally, we face a nature and climate emergency which has implications for human health and food supply chains. In the UK alone, around 70% of land(1) is being used for agriculture. Transformations within the different layers of the agricultural system are therefore a key area of focus for improving biodiversity, mitigating climate change and flood risks, providing clean air and water, and for social and physical human health. With limited time to act, the government, farmers and consumers all have their part to play in driving change and tackling the problems we face.
Unity and Equality in Agriculture – Building Blocks for Regeneration
Many women working in agriculture worldwide, experience deep rooted and convoluted inequalities. Access and control over land and decision- making powers can be a massive barrier for women compared to men. The long hours and income of agriculture may be particularly challenging for women caring for children. Although I do not experience the inequalities which women working the land face first- hand, I have experienced the sting that social structures can leave when women are left feeling divided amongst themselves, and inadequate and un-entitled compared to men. Women who feel connected to, or work the land in some way, often feel an innate connection with it. Women and the Earth share cyclical natures and have at their disposal the ability to be wild as well as nurturing ‘mothers’. This feminine energy associated with natural caregiving is a powerful tool for approaching agricultural practices. Honouring both the masculine and feminine energies, breaking down barriers women face in agriculture, and nurturing the ecosystems – rather than dominating them – can open up possibilities for reconnecting with and regenerating the health of the land.
How a field is farmed may depend on the farmer’s vision of the world, policies and subsides, food and soil type and economic factors. Common practices, such as pesticide use,
are causing huge environmental concerns and risks to human health. The whole farm approach, used
in biodynamic and permaculture farming, nurtures the land and is focused on habitat regeneration, utilising natural resources and reducing inputs such as pesticides. This approach can boost soil fertility, biodiversity, animal health and welfare, and crop quality and yield. It’s also at the heart of DEFRA’s vision for the future of agriculture(2). The system we currently find ourselves in is geared towards the production of cheap food rather than one where the land, food, animals and people who produce it are valued and respected. Dairy farmers are particularly vulnerable with injustices in food supply chains and power dynamics within the system. Abusive practices by processors can often leave dairy farmers tied to exclusive contracts, exposed to last minute price changes and subsequently unable to plan and implement environmentally beneficial practices. Consumers are often unaware of these wider implications of cheap food.
For me, the Oxford Real Farming Conference raised huge and tricky questions of how we reconnect with our food and improve agricultural practices on a large scale to support nature and farmers, whilst maintaining affordability and convenience. It is inspirational to see the passion and work that people are putting into solving these problems. The acceptance that we are all interconnected with each other and with nature, that we are not above nature but in fact totally reliant on it, can hopefully help us to cooperate and work towards a more integrated and stable future.
Many of the sessions from the ORFC are available on YouTube:
Oxford Real Farming – YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/OxfordRealFarming
(1). DEFRA – Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2020 (Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2020 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk))
(2). Whole farm approach at the heart of agriculture’s transition, says DEFRA Minister – Nature Friendly Farming Network (nffn.org.uk)
Lillie Bellamy works as Certification Officer for Biodynamic Association UK Certification: https://bdcertification.org.uk/index.php/bd-certification/