Terra Madre and the Oxford Real Farming Conference

Rebecca Roberts is a freelancer in sustainable agriculture and food security, with her work ranging from international development consultancy, cooking skills training, and journalism. With a BA in Geography and a MA in Agriculture and Rural Development under her belt, she is specialised in agrarian politics, natural resource governance and livelihoods. You can check out her own personal blog here.

A global food revolution from local roots

Six years ago, the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) was founded as a means to provide answers to questions surrounding farming as a vital, but currently neglected, part of our food culture, economy, environment and livelihoods. The ethos behind the ORFC resonates strongly with an event that also started six years ago: Terra Madre Day.

On the 10th December each year, Terra Madre Day celebrates local food around the world, particularly supporting traditional, artisan and small-scale producers. As part of Slow Food, an international campaign towards ‘good, clean and fair’ food systems, Terra Madre aims to realign our agri-food system and reconnect it with fundamental values such as diversity, culture, environment, health and wellbeing, ethics and welfare 

Holistic approach for compatible, meaningful change

Both the ORFC and Terra Madre Day are at the crest of a wave of local food and agricultural campaigns. They both exemplify the importance of holistic approaches and effective collaboration, involving multiple actors, insights and stances when tackling the challenges facing our food and farming systems today.

Diversity and tradition are intertwined with marketing, trade and policy. Young farmers meet with entrepreneurs, academics and chefs. Soils, water and bees are linked to consumer choice and nutrition. By incorporating these, knowledge and skills are brought together, using food as a binding and common value to create innovative and compatible progress.

This progress is particularly important in relation to a recent surge of policy interest in systemic approaches to food and agriculture, such as the FAO’s International Symposium on Agroecology for Food Security and Nutrition and the Barilla Center’s ‘Milan Protocol’, tackling diet, diversity, agriculture and sustainability hand in hand . By having platforms such as the ORFC and Terra Madre which act as a voice for everyday citizens within farming and food sectors, we are one step closer to closing the divide between ‘top down’ and ‘grassroots’ initiatives and finding common, effective ground.

The importance of first-hand experience

Both events also indicate the significance of practical experience, rather than relying solely on rhetoric, when it comes to food and agricultural education. Terra Madre Day calls this ‘taste education’.In essence, provenance and knowing the story behind our food is of paramount importance, but to be part of the story we must combine reflection with personal emotions related to growing, cooking and tasting food.

In 2015, the ORFC is expecting 500 attendees: over half will be farmers, and all will be consumers. Their experience cooking and growing food, taking joy from eating, sharing food with friends and family is something that needs to be harnessed, and the ORFC provides a meal to do just this. Offering a seasonal, organic feast from local chefs and food producers, it will bring joy to attendees, but also stands for Oxford’s and a wider national commitment to providing good, sustainable food and supporting local agriculture.

Overall, and perhaps most importantly, both Terra Madre and the ORFC indicate the sheer power of food as a tool for positive change. Just a one or two day event each year can build vital nexus’ between sets of knowledge, encouraged experience and provenance, and have created sustainable and meaningful partnerships. All contribute to an optimistic future for our food and agricultural systems, in Britain and beyond, and here’s to another six years and more!