Ruth’s Corner: A personal pick of what’s currently online

By Ruth West

Fred Price’s pigs, Gothelney Farm

Co-founder of the ORFC, Ruth West, has spent lockdown watching many of the talks and webinars that have been taken online.  Here she cherry-picks the best of what’s out there…so you don’t have to!

With so much of our lives transferred online I can’t be the only one feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the wealth of what’s on offer.  I’m sure everyone has their own favourites, but here, for what it’s worth, is my pick of the online – and a brief look at a new series of webinars to add to the diary!

Top of my list are two contrasting webinars. One from the Pasture Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) on how to feed pigs and the other from Greener UK on whether we should extend the Brexit transition period for the sake of the environment

Pastured pigs: maximising forage feeding (May 29 2020)

This has to go top of my list as it’s all about my favourite farm animal, pigs:  how best to care for them and their rightful place in the farm ecosystem.  The panel of three farmers had been asked to address whether pigs can be included in Pasture for Life standards i.e. can they be fed on pasture and forage and to what extent. One of the farmers (not though a member of the PFLA) describes how his pigs have been elevated to centre stage – farmed “in rotation with arable”.

Should we extend the Brexit transition period for the sake of the environment? (June 2 2020).  

A must watch for all concerned that we’re going to be leaving the EU with no deal, let alone a good deal signed and sealed.  A panel of experts deliberated on the current state of EU negotiations and what needs be done before the end of the transition period to “ensure the environment remains protected”. It was chaired by Shaun Spiers, chair of Greener UK, with panellists Jill Rutter (senior research fellow, UK in a Changing Europe)

David Baldock (senior fellow, Institute for European Environmental Policy) and Maria Lee, professor of law, University College London.

Here are two podcasts from two very different sources:  The Klosters Forum, which is a Swiss-based collaboration of international female professionals set up in 2017 to address the urgency of preserving our natural environment; and the Oxford Real Farming Conference

Ben Goldsmith interviewed as part of The Klosters Forum 2020 “Feed & Flourish” series

Food production of the Future to become a “by-product of nature restoration”

An interesting 30 minute interview with a powerful figure in Conservative environmental policy-making circles, Ben describes his green investment and philanthropy work including setting up the Environmental Funders’ Network and more recently The Conservative Collective. He expresses support for the localisation of the food economy, going so far as to suggest government should support farmers’ markets and public procurement of local food – putting locally produced over price considerations; and that supply chains need to be fairer – that imported food should only be allowed if farmed to the same standards as the UK.  But it’s his mantra for land use that I would want to query: he sees food production as a by-product of nature restoration, based on his statement that 80% of UK food comes from less than a quarter of the land.  His solution is land sparing:  stop trying to farm in the uplands, and on land like his in Somerset; instead use it for public goods – all to be paid for under the new ELMS and practice wilder farming, attracting additional income by building tree houses and so on.  But he doesn’t ask whether this 80% is enough for the UK to be self-reliant, let alone whether it’s the right kind (huge monoculture beet, maize, and so on). And he doesn’t say what research he’s basing his assumptions on that this will be good for biodiversity and climate change.  So the real change that’s needed – that of land ownership – doesn’t get addressed.  Rather I was left with the vision of our countryside becoming just another playground for the rich (albeit with some nice birds and beasts roaming around it).

Farmerama at the Oxford Real Farming Conference 2020

We were delighted to welcome Farmerama as media partner at ORFC this year. If like me you didn’t get to all the sessions you had marked out, then these podcasts are not only a great way to catch up but a wonderful way to explore connecting themes.

Conference episode: #52: Social justice and land, new forms of land ownership.

We hear from black farmers and growers who are working with the land to bring social justice and connection to their communities. We also hear from a long time landowner in the UK about building new ownership structures to bring the land back into community. Throughout the episode there are songs and themes that weave the conference together.

Featuring:

  • Leah Penniman, Soul Fire Farm
  • Ian Solomon-Kawall, May Trust Gardens
  • Miriam Rose, Hardwick Estate
  • Josina Calliste, LION

Feature episodes:

#53: Storytelling, Nutrient Density, Fashion Connections & Community Farms

Fresh from the conference, we hear about the role of myth-making and storytelling in building the regenerative farming movement and we learn about a new initiative to put nutrient density at the heart of good food and farming. Then, we hear from a young fashion designer about her innovative accessory collections re-awakening our connections between fashion and farming. And we have an urgent call for councils across the UK to recognise the value of real farming.

Featuring:

  • Georgia Wingfield-Hayes, Storyteller
  • Matt Adams, GRFFN Alice Robinson, Fashion Designer
  • Gerald Miles, Welsh farmer

#54: Land reform, stewardship, community ownership and land justice

We hear from a former MEP about UK land reform, learn about land stewardship in Scotland, talk to a community owned family farm, and chat about land justice and the future of land ownership in the UK. We also share an exciting new opportunity for you to get involved in a shared land-ownership model.

Featuring:

  • Molly Scott Cato, former green MEP
  • Ninian Stuart, Centre for Stewardship
  • Sebastian Parsons, Stockwood Community Benefit Society
  • Leah Penniman, Soul Fire Farm Ọlá Ayòrindé, LION ELC

#55: Enlightened agriculture, sustainable economies, and regenerative businesses

This month we focus on the economic system and ask the question: what form does our economy need to take if we want to support a regenerative farming future? We hear from economics experts who help us to understand today’s dominant economic paradigm, and share their vision for an economy that supports regenerative farming. We share some of the final episode of CEREAL, the 6-part series we released at the end of last year, to illustrate how these themes are embedded in our food systems, including in our bread. We hear from a couple of regenerative businesses that produce food to nourish people, bring joy, promote healthy lifestyles and build communities.

Featuring:

  • Colin Tudge, co-founder ORFC
  • Tony Greenham, South West Mutual
  • Fred Price, Gothelney Farm
  • Kimberley Bell, Small Food Bakery

The Beginners’ Kit: a guide for setting up a land initiative and developing a land strategy

Produced by The Access to Land Network, which brings together grassroots organisations from across Europe, about 15 in all and including the Real Farming Trust (so I must declare my interest!), this new guide shares basic information and resources to help new and recent land initiatives develop their activities, think through their approaches and tools, and learn from others. The first part sets out the practical aspects which new access to land organisations may need to consider, from defining goals and objectives to business planning, legal form and governance. The second part brings more advanced information on how to develop access to land activities, buying farmland, engaging with private or public landowners, collaborating with farmers, mobilising citizens, or ensuring good land stewardship.

The guide can be accessed here.

Toxic Trade Report

Launched this month by PAN UK and co-authored with Sustain and Dr Emily Lydgate, the report compares current UK pesticide protections with that of two countries slated as major priorities for post-Brexit Free Trade Agreements – US and Australia – and a third country, India.  The report focuses on how trade deals with these countries threaten to weaken UK pesticide standards. It also looks at ways in which these deals could increase pesticide-related harms to UK citizens, wildlife and the natural environment.

The report can be accessed here.

The Future for Small Abattoirs in the UK: Report on an inquiry into small red meat abattoir provision

I think many of us having been waiting for this report hoping it has some teeth to help rescue the remaining small abattoirs.  It comes from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare and was published on June 8 – work having started on it in May last year. The inquiry included collecting data on abattoirs, and taking written and oral evidence.

The following is taken from the report’s conclusions:

“Small abattoirs are the main providers of the private kill model which is used by farmers linked to locally produced meat and rare and native breeds. Loss of this provision will be detrimental for the communities who live and work in rural areas, for animal welfare and for the rural economy.

Post Brexit it is unlikely we will be producing commodities that compete on the world market in terms of low cost, like the United States and Australia. There is a future for a section of British livestock farming in low-volume, high-value niche products that will play a part in enabling the economic sustainability of rural livestock farming.

It is hoped that this report helps in some way to bring Government together with the stakeholders to support small abattoirs firstly with access to the capital needed to modernise and then to facilitate the development of business models that enable their sustainability.

The inquiry members feel optimistic that Government recognises the huge value of small processors and that these processors are a fundamental part of a national vision to establish a greener, more economically and environmentally sustainable, prosperous farming economy that provides employment and skills as well as an end product that is valued both nationally and internationally. Above all they make a significant contribution to our food security. With that in mind we look forward to the response from those leading the way in shaping the future for UK agriculture.”

The report can be found here.

Megan Perry of the Sustainable Food Trust (who gets a special mention in the report) has summarised the key findings together with comments from various stakeholders who submitted evidence here.

SFT are also running a campaign for local abattoirs.