The Oxford REAL Farming Conference
This year’s Oxford REAL Farming Conference was a humdinger. More sessions than ever, sell out attendance, a visit from The Secretary of State, Rt Hon Michael Gove - meant two days packed with over 100 sessions and 200 speakers.
Garden Organic attempted to cover as much as possible. Highlights included sessions on use of plastic, the challenges of organic cut flower growing, a debate on veganism, access to land, local food system clusters, how to form an organic herb co-operative, bio fertilisers, rewilding, nitrogen dependency, agropoly (the future multi-national agrichemical corporations), weed management, the RSA report on the future of farming – and of course, Brexit.
For those new to the event - the REAL farming conference was set up 10 years ago as an alternative voice to the powerful NFU conference, just up the road. It has become the meeting point for all those who care about sustainable agriculture, to share ideas and learn from each other. For instance, this year the UK herb growers shared the practicalities of creating an organic herb co-operative, working together to build a consistent supply of homegrown herbs. There was a fascinating report on biofertilisers (fermented compost feeds), which can produce not just larger but healthier plants, whether it is used on bananas or an English apple orchard. Rewilding - a hot topic this year due to the popular book 'Rewilding' by Isabella Tree - if created on marginal land can build vital wildlife corridors. There was discussion on what is regenerative farming – and how does it differ from sustainable principles? And discussion on how do individuals (farmers, growers and consumers) safeguard against the power of the multinational agri corporations?
The conference also provides the chance to debate issues: Is it really possible to cut down on the use of plastic at the farm gate - despite the constraints of health and safety, and the demand of supermarkets? Does the vegan desire to cut meat out of the farming system pose problems? Why do conventional farmers use so much nitrogen, and is it possible to wean them off it?
And of course there is the opportunity to network. An ideal chance for Garden Organic to have a presence in these interesting discussions, and to speak up for our members. We may not be farmers, but no matter how small or domestic the growing area, it gives us a chance to remind growers of the importance of the organic way.