At the 2019 Oxford Real Farming Conference…

… I gave away as many warm hugs as I received. Hanging around the permaculture stall has that perk.

… after the first day lunch walked around with a loudly rumbling tummy, after having a delicious portion of spicy food made in 90% of pulses 😀

… I learned that:

  • there are species of earthworms that burrow horizontally, but also separate ones that burrow vertically, and the latter take much longer to develop, and they live up to a decade.
  • in Palestine there are farmers who choose to grow organically, and that they face the same challenges as organic farmers here, in addition to the terrible political situation they have to contend with. Watch the video about the work of Vivien Sansour on Al Jazeera
Vivien Sansour. Image stolen from Village Voice. Thank you.
  • elements that have been promoted through permaculture for over four decades have now been thoroughly tested by UK farmers, and now are being advocated as part of their future. Agroforestry, silvopasture, water management, connecting elements for creating something that is more than their sum. Hashtag UndercoverPermaculture 😉
  • details matter, and the “small” touches like metal cups for tea and coffee, and beautiful plywood tags with our names lasered into them, are desirable and achievable.
  • there are many people who, like myself had never been farmers, but are excited about fixing this world, and creating a good livelihood for their families, and they may become those who provide succession to the ageing farming community (at least in part)
  • uncertainty of brexit is scareing european WWOOFers from coming to the UK. How will it affect our farms? How will it affect WWOOF UK?
Scarlett Penn, UK WWOOF Coordinator.
  • there is a bank that is truly interested in helping you buy that farm, or finance your business venture, and that they will do it with integrity towards their account holders, and the environment. Triodos has been a sponsor at ORFC for a number of years now.
  • a little known (in the UK) sales model has taken Scandinavia by storm. It’s called REKO, and it combines online sales with local pickup. Local farmers form a group of producers. They advertise on a special facebook store, where they sell their produce. They then show up in an agreed location together, where the customers pick up the produce. The benefit is time saving for the farmer. It’s a farmers market feel, but instead of standing and waiting for clients for he whole day, with no guarantee of sales, they meet up just to pass the produce.
  • not going to see a politician speak makes for a very peaceful experience (although I did look up the conversation later. I can’t claim ignorance). The fact that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs has now made his second trip to the conference only validates it as the leading force on the national field. The sad part is his wishy-washy approach to the matter. His words are grand, but the vision they paint are not being put into hard legislation. You can read the full ORFC press release on the matter here.
  • herbs as simple as parsley, but also medicinal, even including that horrible weed despised by town lawn lovers (and included in every Roundup commercial ever) – the humble dandelion are in great demand, and fetch a good return.

… an interesting collection of people have been assembled under one roof. Elliot Coleman – an organic market garden legend from the states was invited to speak. Charles Dowding, who is now of worldwide fame, made his usual appearance, and Richard Perkins, who draws from both of their experience to run his successful farm venture was also there to present. This intergenerational, and international connection of action and thought paints a vivid picture of a bright future in this space.

Richard showcasing his chicken tractors

… a “secret” meetup took place on the second day at 7pm in the Mitre pub, round the corner from the conference. This was a chance for the members of the National Forest Gardening Scheme to sit down and chat about the goals and the future of this very fresh endeavor. You can learn more on their website here.

… there were a thousand people present, and six hundred more people wanted to go, but couldn’t due to lack of space. At the end it was debated as to whether the numbers should grow, but the suggested solution was to organise a number of thematic events throughout the year, rather than take over Oxford for two days… 😉

…there is a real family atmosphere at this conference, with mums walking around with toddlers strapped to their breasts, and Colin Tudge, who himself looks like Santa Claus, with his partner – Ruth West, are like the grandparents, who have built a beautiful house, and every year, open their doors, inviting all of their children, and friends alike, to come, warm themselves with a hot cup of tea or coffee, reflect on the year past, and dream of the future. See you next year.

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