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Transforming our Food Systems through Activism and Connection

by Stephanie Phelan
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Day 2 and 3 of OFRC 2021 – The Oxford Real Farming Conference has developed over the last eleven years to become the unofficial gathering of the real food and farming movement in the UK. Working with partners, the conference brings together farmers, growers, activists, policy-makers, researchers and all those who support agroecology, including organic and regenerative agriculture and indigenous systems.

ORFC 2021

Due to the pandemic, ORFC is hosting a virtual event with speakers and delegates from six continents.  There are 500 speakers and over 150 hours of content from January 7th – 13th. For agroecology enthusiasts, the programme and discussion line up makes it difficult to decide which talks to attend. The thought-provoking material is desperately needed, and there is so much to learn from this conference.

We encourage you to explore the material in the 2021 ORFC programme, and all talks will be made available on the ORFC YouTube. In the meantime, you can follow the TexasRealFood journey through some talks, workshops and presentations as our staff explores the conference. You can check out our recap of Day 1 here.

Here are the highlights from the talks we attended on Friday, January 8th & Saturday, January 9th:


Discussion: Reaching Net Zero with Nature Friendly Solutions (7AM – 8AM EST Friday)

This discussion was hosted by Alison Rickett with Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) & Helen Chesshire  with the Woodland Trust. The panelists interviewed included 3 U.K. Farmers using net zero solutions to increase profit on their farmers. Here is a brief overview of each farmer’s talk and lessons learned:

Andrew Barbour – He runs a farming business in mainlands of Fincastle, Scotland –  this is considered a “high nature farming system”. Andrew wanted to grow trees, but not use agricultural production (specifically oak trees).  60% canopy coverage would help produce grass coverage = thus lowering carbon footprint. Lessons learned from Andrew – these are the main management considerations he identified when implementing woodland systems to reach net zero:

  • Scale – woodland pastures allow bigger areas to be planted without total loss of agricultural production
  • Protection – larger areas suggest stock exclusion from field rather than individual tree protection during establishment phase
  • Timing of stock exclusion – depends on tree growth and type of livestock
  • Implications for stocking – depends on nature of ground and stocking policy
  • Suitable for the more extensive livestock farms

Craig Livingstone – He runs the Lockerley Estate – a 1,000 hectare arable and sheep farm with a work­ing forestry enterprise in East Tyther­ley, Hampshire. Taking a more corporate approach, Craig explains the importance of business planning, profit strategizing and partnerships. Lessons learned from Craig – The Lockerley Estate has a partnership with LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), which allows them utilize an integrated farm management system.  

Martin Lines –  He is an arable farmer and contractor in South Cambridge. And also the U.K. founder of the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN). His talk focuses more on above ground farming solutions, as well as the NFFN and what they do. Lessons learned from Martin here are the main takeaways from what Martin addressed as key topics of interest:

  • Improving soil health – to hold more carbon and make farmers more resilient
  • Landscapes natural capacity – this can reduce the need for inputs
  • Improving crop and soil management – reducing tillage and changes to rotation
  • Lowering livestock emissions – reducing feed supplements and shifting to pasture or home-produced feed
  • Improved manure management and storage
  • Nutrient management planning – used to boost efficiency


Workshop: Activist Exchange: Taking Back the Future (10AM – 11AM EST Friday) 

A bilingual presentation presented by Verónica Villa with REDTECLA. – “Network of Social Evaluation of Technologies in Latin America”. The topic of interest was campaigning and what we can do as environmental activists to add momentum to the regenerative farming industry. There are 3 pillars of campaigning that were identified:

  1. Scientific publishings
  2. Appeals to ethics
  3. Weight of numbers

This workshop showed how individual stakeholders are primarily focused on one or the other pillar of campaigning, but all of these pillars are typically not balanced in today’s systems. As activists, what can we do to transform this system?

How can we bring about people’s control of technology?

How can grassroots activists and popular movements take on the might of corporations who wish to impose new technologies on us?

The workshop session was in collaboration with ETC Group, and was an opportunity for activists from different communities around the world to connect and learn from each other’s experiences in struggles about technologies in the food system.


Discussion: Transformations of our Food Systems; the need for a Paradigm Shift (12PM – 1PM Friday)

This discussion was presented by Frank Eyhorn with Biovision – a company that develops and manufactures assay kits, antibodies, recombinant proteins and enzymes for life science research. The panelists and talks surrounding this discussion include: Hans Herren, Ivette Perfecto, Molly Anderson, and Lim Li Ching. 

“Business as usual is not an option” – the global report by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), published in 2009, came to a clear and straightforward conclusion. More than a decade later, decisive action is no longer “an option;” it’s an imperative.

The COVID-19 pandemic has moreover laid bare the inequities, system failures and dangers of today’s dominant, globalized and increasingly corporatized food and agriculture systems that have concentrated profits in the hands of a few, while simultaneously driving global climate, biodiversity and health crises towards their tipping points. Today’s multiple accelerating crises demand transformative change. Ample evidence now exists that such change is not only possible but is already happening on the ground in communities and countries around the world.

In this session, we looked at how food system narratives have evolved in recent times, what key barriers still need to be overcome to achieve a profound paradigm shift, and what action is needed to accelerate food system transformation.


Discussion: Ideal State of Being: Impact of industrial agriculture on soil, health and our souls (10AM – 11AM EST Saturday)

This discussion was presented by Jairo Restrepo, a passionate educator and activist. He is known throughout South America for his practical support of small farmers as well as his campaigns for their rights in the face of powerful agribusiness. He is unique in that he argues for farmers’ autonomy and self-determination but also teaches an array of practical technologies and preparations to increase soil fertility and transform cropping. He offers tools and inspiration for farmers and activists alike.

In this talk, Jairo covered the effects of industrial agriculture on our soils, diet and ultimately on our souls. After many years of working as a government scientist, he does not reject technology but wants us to recognise farmers as guardians, innovators, researchers and quiet revolutionaries. He writes, “We don’t want to change technology; we want to transform society, thereby changing the technological proposal. Today the opposite occurs, the dominant type of technology proposes a society subjugated to industry. My dream is to construct a being, an ideal state of a being, so that I shall not be the ideal being of the State”.

Film Screening: Gather (10AM – 12PM EST Saturday)

See our full review of the film here!


Join TexasRealFood during the upcoming days as we continue to navigate our journey through the 2021 Oxford Real Food Conference. The abundant material allows us to dig deeper into the questions we have about regenerative farming, sustainable food practices and the future of our agriculture industries!

To learn more, please visit: https://orfc.org.uk/ 


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