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Local food solutions, Indigenous practices, and Women in Agriculture

by Stephanie Phelan
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Day 4 and 5 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 | Day 2 and 3 here

Here are the highlights from the talks we attended on Sunday, January 10th & Monday, January 11th:

Discussion: Allpa Tarpuna: Indigenous journey to modern agroecology in Ecuador  (9AM – 10AM Sunday)

Rogelio and his daughter Michel Simbaña of the Kitu-Kara Nation share with us their experiences of 20 years, starting with a mini organic garden and growing up to two interconnected farms in different ecosystems. By working with their local community, they are able to preserve the Sacred Mountain Ilaló, and the organic shop they opened in February (just in time for the Covid-related food crisis).

Rogelio was born and raised as a poor indigenous farmer. When he was 7, his mother gave him a couple goats and told him: “now you have to look for yourself. If you want to study, you will have to pay your own school.”  The following years, developing his goat herd in Mount Ilaló were crucial in his development: he forged a strong connection with the mountain and the native forests there.

He was then drafted into the army, fought in a war, got a job in agrochemical agriculture after that, and then became really sick. Rogelio decided to return to his roots, and accepted an underpaid job managing a tree nursery for his community. This gave him the opportunity to work with native trees. In 2003, he connected with the Seed Guardians Network and was hired as a technical assistant and a farmer’s educator.

Since then, his life has turned into a permaculture adventure, becoming one of the most recognized leaders of the regenerative movement in the country and helping hundreds of farmers to develop their pathway out of poverty and into Sumak Kawsay, the Good Living philosophy of their ancestors.

Book Talk: Perilous Bounty: How the US Model of Industrial Farming Threatens the Global Food Commons (9AM – 10AM EST Sunday)

In his talk, Tom Philpott will discuss his new book The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent It. Perilous Bounty argues that the U.S. model of chemical-intensive, regionally concentrated agriculture is undermining the ecologies of the two main places where it alights: the California Central Valley and the corn belt, centered around Iowa.

Tom even puts the argument in a global context, explaining that the same set of transnational meat, grain-trading, and seed/pesticide companies that dominate US farming also are also prevalent in other global commodity-production nodes—Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine.  This is placing farmers in a cutthroat competition that can only be won by the companies themselves, at the expense of these crucial ecologies and ultimately global food security.

You can read our full review of the book here!

Workshop: Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture: The Transformative Power of Non-hierarchial Spaces ( 2 – 3:30 PM EST Sunday)

The host of this discussion and workshop was Caitlin Joseph with Women for the Land (WFL) Initiative.  Here are the shocking statistics of women in farming, according to the talk:

  • 43% of US agricultural land is farmed or co-farmed by women (2017)
  • 37% of total rented farmland in the U.S. is owned by women non-operating landowners (2017)
  • Globally, only 13% of agricultural land is owned by women. 

Virtual learning circles in 2020 have gathered women online and research shows that this is a powerful tool.  American Farmland Trust has presented a guide found on the WFL website that shows how your organization can host virtual group sessions as well (there is a tool kit and case studies that are beneficial).  The panelists and topics discussed include:

  1. Beth Holtzman Women in Agriculture Network (aims to bring more women into the industry)
  2. LaShauna AustriaKindred Seedlings Farm (started when she worked at a farmers market and there were no black agriculture women in North Carolina – indeginous women seed saving and seed sharing)
  3. Wren AlmitraWomen, Food and Agriculture Network – WFAN (works with Women in Agriculture Network – several programs, mentorships, encourages women to run for office and leadership positions in their local community) – Midwest based but nationwide and some international members
  4. Lisa KiviristRenewing the Countryside (shares stories of rural areas by championing and supporting farmers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators, activists and other people who are renewing the countryside through sustainable and innovative initiatives, businesses, and projects)
  5. Amber SmithWomen in Ranching Program (works to foster community and women’s leadership as the Women in Ranching Program Manager at Western Landowners Alliance. The WinR program at WLA has been in existence for less than a year. She and her husband steward a 53,000-acre ranch in Cohagen, Montana)

Each panelists discussed what has worked well for their organizations through the pandemic:

  • The guide mentioned that AFT & WFL contributed to shows how you can host virtual group sessions (Tool kit and case studies)
  • Amber mentions The Women in Ranching (WinR) program at WLA. WLA has hosted “Circles” online, with interested women reaching out from across the nation. They created a Google form to share contact information, and over 150 women were filling out the form at once – it was empowering 

You can watch the full discussion here on Youtube!



Discussion: Importance of Design for a small scale farm (11AM – 12PM EST Monday)

Perrine and Charles Hervé-Gruyer started La Ferme du Bec Hellouin. Described by Eliot Colman as the ‘United Nations of all the best sustainable farming ideas’, Perrine and Charles have drawn their inspiration and knowledge from so many different sources. They incorporate the modern techniques of bio-intensive ‘micro-agriculture’ into the broader context of permaculture, but also traditional learnings from the Parisian market gardeners and what they call their ‘barefoot mentors’.

In this session, Perrine shows how all of these methods and practices learned influenced the farm’s design – from the Mandala garden, the island garden, ponds, companion planting, bio-intensive planting, terraces, layering, the forest garden, raised beds, mulching, the use of perennial plants and an abundance of trees. She explains how Permaculture gives us the tools we need to design productive human systems that take their inspiration from nature and living ecosystems.

Perrine and Charles’ story is heartwarming and gives us all hope for the future. It is a shining example of how farms can be places of abundance, of healing, of beauty and of harmony and how human beings can be an essential and positive force for good.


Discussion: Local Food Can Change the World (11AM -12PM EST Monday)

This discussion was lead by Helena Norberg-Hodge the director of Local Futures & author of the Economics of Happiness. Our food system is central to the most critical issues of our time. Not only is food the one thing that we produce that everyone, everywhere, needs every day, but its production – as well as its consumption – connects us intimately with the natural world. But the globalized food system has separated us from the sources of our food, thereby severing the land-based relationships that informed our species’ entire evolution. This system has become the biggest contributor to climate chaos and ecocide, as well as to the ill-health of humanity.

Transforming our food systems 

We need to start transitioning away from large-scale, industrial mono-culture farming for centralized markets. And move towards diversified, smaller-scale place-based food production. We really can maximize productivity and feed the world, while simultaneously minimizing resource use, healing ecosystems, and increasing the number of livelihoods. Recognizing this truth is the doorway into a new paradigm, one that empowers us to support human flourishing even as we begin to solve our ecological crises at their systemic root cause.

Helena explains that the truth is… small-scale diversified farms can do so much more than the dominant system in place. We can diversify our land by incorporating medicinal plants, woodlands, pasture for animals, seasonal fruits and vegetables; and feed our people on a local scale. How can it be – that governments are continuing to support the movement of large grocery chains and industrial agriculture? Helena explains that this is due to referencing an outdated model of growth. A model based on continuously supporting global finance and trade – at the expense of local economies.


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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