Oxford Real Farming ConferenceLast update: 7.01.13 First posted: 6.01.13 by Nick in Campaign
I’m not one for conferences, I feel uncomfortable, shy and usually, bored by speeches, delivered in passionless monotones, ideas that are emperor’s new clothes, or just flights of fancy, that have not worn the muck of a trial in the real world.
This conference was none of that. This one was proper. Easily the richest two days of immersion in earthy, thoughtful, practical, sharing I’ve experienced.
The topic was Real farming, implying a difference from the new-fangled, industrial variety practised almost everywhere and heading toward a sticky end.
The Unreal farming conference, in the examination halls a couple of hundred yards away, was attended by government ministers, chemical giants and bankers.
Our’s was in the rooms above a town centre cafe, crammed full of academics, architects ,marketeers, thatchers, bakers, veg growers, sausage makers and land-loving anarchists.
The talk was a mish of the thoughtful and the practical, the atmosphere was optimistic we are beginning to feel like a a critical mass; The people across the road, hugely powerful for the time being, but on a road to nowhere.
In a strange sense we know where Real Farming is going, we know it’s supported human life for millennia, we know it works, for ever, we know it produces good food, and we believe that it can produce enough for everyone, if we do it right.
There was a solidity to things that I’ve not sensed before, a feeling of the possible, of the strength of so many minds and hands, young hands and old hands,
A sense of Oxford, in all its power, cleverness, youth, age and wisdom, coming to the rescue, like the cavalry, but on a cart pulled by a team of oxen, slowly, but surely, inevitably.
Colin Tudge, the big daddy of this conference, started things with his mantra “Good food, for everyone, forever” and announced the intention to build a farming university and a model farm in Devon, well, good on you! A model farm is the next big project for Incredible Edible Growing Ltd, so there will be two!
We had John Letts talking about thatch archeology and growing heritage wheats, and why it can be an imprisonable offence; and how he and HRH might share a cell for swapping wheat seed!
A chap told us about New York dressed chicken, it’s not as dressed like the average New Yorker!
And I now understand what the Manchester Veg People have been doing, and why it’s so important for growers and catering managers.
I’m gob-smacked to learn that a field of wheat can harbour alleys of walnut trees which not only increase the yeald but also produce a harvest of equal value to the cereal.
I want to read a book called the coming age of wood, before the world fills with plastic,
I learnt that Tom Curtis and collegues have produced a guide for land owners and would-be new farmers, to help them through the maze that is renting out land and making first steps into farming.
I goggled at the idea of sellotaping an ipad on to the side of a Fordson Major and trundling out into the fields to do a spot of precision agriculture, I wondered how that would play out with a horse!
I was stunned by Jyoti Fernandes’ story of a 20 year battle to get established on the land as a Neo-Peasant, her determination, resourcefulness and spirit.
And finally, I was much moved by the courage of a group of young land-hungry anarchists from the Forest of Dean, battling the forces of darkness and greed to stay and protect ancient common land and simply grow vegetables, to eat.
These last had been dispossessed of all they owned several times, one young woman spoke of being “B’daffled” by what was going on in a supposedly organised regulated civilised country, She used words like “Abhorant, damaging”, talked of “holding strong, embracing complexity, remaining placid but determined”.
Another talked of the wrongness of a world where we are supposed to meet and make friends in a pub, not over shared work, shared lives, a world where we eat out of plastic tubs from a fridge that is as cold as the real outside, and do not know how to access what is edible growing around us.
They talked of the Dig for Victory Campaign, how it started as people growing anywhere they could and then became a government allotment scheme, and of a bunch of people in Todmorden who grow food on land they dont own.
And I felt proud to be a part of all this.
If you want to read more my full notes for the conference are
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