The Oxford Real Farming Conference Sets the Tone for an Abundant 2018

Katie Hastings, Seed Coordinator for Wales

There is no better way to start the year than to surround yourselves with energetic, committed and inspiring folk from across the food justice movement. The Oxford Real Farming conference creates a space to do just that, and the can-do attitude which emanates through Oxford’s Town Hall is incredibly contagious.

Having attended the conference for the last few years, this was a particularly special year for Gaia. The conference marked the coming together of our newly appointed Seed Sovereignty team, who will be working across the UK and Ireland to support seed producers and growers to increase the amount of agroecological seed being grown here on home soil.

Currently only 3% of seed grown in the UK is organic. That means that very few of the organic products you pick up off the shelf or at your local farmers market are actually grown from organic seed. Similarly, the number of varieties available are limited. Our overall ambition is to increase the diversity and quality of agro-ecological seed available and to support, connect and train a greater number of confident seed producers from Scotland to Wales, Ireland to England.

The Programme is managed by Neil Munro who was formerly the Head of the Heritage Seed Library at Garden Organic. On the second day of the conference, Neil led the ‘marketplace’ discussion on Seed Legislation in the context of Brexit. Legilsation will form a part of the Seed Sovereignty Programme, as we seek to make existing legislation understandable and navigable for growers, whilst also influencing policy discussions around seed as Britain prepares to leave the EU.

Down the stairs and across the hall, over the lunch break on the second day, Gaia’s Francesca Price gave a moving presentation of some of the photographs that have been taken as part of our international initiative We Feed the World. Celebrating the success of agroecological farming from Bolivia to Benin, We Feed the World has worked with some of the world’s most renowned photographers and will be revealed in October this year as part of a global campaign to debunk the myth that we need an industrial food system to feed the growing global population.

Le Ferme du Bec Hellouin Farm from the air

Away from Gaia’s immediate team, conference highlights included hearing Perrine Herve-Gruyer share the story of Le Ferme de Bec Hellouin, the small farm in Normandy which she established with her husband Charles. Neither had pervious farming experience and what they’ve created is abundant, beautiful and diverse in equal measure. It was an inspiring insight into what can be done on only a very small about of land using permaculcture principles, trial and error, and a lot of love. Their story is told in the book Miraculous Abundance , which is now firmly on the Gaia reading list.

Also on the reading list is Rewild by Jeff D Leach. Sadly Jeff was unable to attend the conference but his work was shared by conference founder Colin Tudge. Jeff founded the Human Food Project to better understand what really makes a healthy gut microbiome. His research has taken him all over the world, and casts light on the impact of western diets on a healthy gut in comparison to traditional cultures, particularly in Africa. It’s a fascinating insight into what we could learn from the eating habits of cultures who have remained more closely tuned to the land.

A great way to start the year and thanks to the organisers for arranging such an important event on the food, seed and farming calendar. Now the work for 2018 begins, and we’ll hopefully share some of the stories of the UK Seed Sovereignty Programme this time next year.

Rowan