After an incredible and thought-provoking 3 day conference, we were inspired to write a blog about our experience of bringing the GREAT project to ORFC!
From the 4th to the 6th of January, the Oxford Real Farming Conference (orfc.org.uk) took place as a physical gathering of people with an active, engaged interest in transforming our food and farming system. For the two previous years, this conference went entirely online, so 2023 was always going to a special event as farmers, growers, activists, policymakers and researchers all gathered in Oxford to share ideas, address big questions, and offer inspiration. At a critical time for environmental policy – with rising living costs, widespread industrial action, local authorities declaring a Climate Change Emergency, and a drastic, continuing loss of biodiversity, there is an urgent need for informed, collective action on a landscape-scale. We are also now in the second year of delivering the GREAT Project (greatglos.co.uk), which stands for Gloucester Regenerative Environment and Agriculture Transition. This is a three-year project, funded by Thirty Percy, to boost the transition to farming methods that restore the soil, weather and air. The GREAT project is being delivered by a close network of project partners who are working together to facilitate this significant change in farming methods that will ensure a resilient future for farms, nature and the earth. Several of these partners were also actively engaged in the 2023 Oxford Real Farming Conference, with its aim to transform our food and farming system also being delivered by the GREAT project by engaging farmers, growers, land managers and new entrants to agriculture.
What follows is an expression of how these partners engaged with, and contributed to, this year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference. As the ORFC’s website clearly declares, this event is made by its participants, who delivered an incredible diversity of sessions and workshops over 3 days. From the perspective of GREAT’s project partners, these sessions ranged from exploring the vital role of complex herbal leys in building soil health to demonstrating how the integrated local delivery framework can deliver incredible environmental gains, whilst also connecting communities and building their resilience.
To begin with FarmED, the team were busy with two sessions on Thursday 5th Jan. It was a full house with standing & floor-sitting room only for our Herbal Ley session, it was great to see so many farmers and growers interested in these complex mixtures of grasses, legumes and herbs which when well-managed can offer such benefits for wildlife, livestock, emissions and soil. In this session, led by FarmED and Cotswold Seeds, we discussed the benefits of multi-species herbal leys, seed mix selection and how to establish and manage new swards.
Importantly, we considered the need for diversity within our mixtures if we want fully functional leys & the optimum suite of benefits. Oversimplified leys, as prescribed by some, don’t offer this. There was time for questions from the floor, group discussions and knowledge sharing. If you were not able to come along or want to delve deeper, the FarmED & Cotswold Seeds teams will be running more herbal ley days at FarmED in 2023, with subsidised tickets for existing and aspiring farmers, growers and advisers in Gloucestershire to the suite of regenerative agriculture and agroecological transition courses at FarmED. Check the http://farm-ed.co.uk website for more information.
Thursday also saw a wonderful coming together of young people from Emergent Generation, a network that FarmED is helping to build. We met with new and familiar faces both at our ORFC session and at our evening pub social. A few people came over from the Oxford Farming Conference, and we reconnected with our pals at LWA Flame too! It was a coming together of young minds from throughout the food system, as well as those who simply have an interest in helping to build sustainable farming & food systems that nourish people and regenerate the planet. During the afternoon session, Emergent Generation members talked about why they got involved, what their first event held back in September has done for them, and what they are doing with their new network, knowledge and connections. We then built on this by setting goals together around the regenerative things we’re going to do in 2023. We explored our individual needs and what we might do to support each other. A key theme was working on intergenerational family relationships to further agroecological and regenerative on-farm practice. Emergent Generation is open to all 18-30 year olds - if you’d like to sign up or find out more, please contact email@example.com You can also read more about the Emergent Generation here Emergent Generation 2022 | FarmED (farm-ed.co.uk), as its new ecosystem of young champions develops, to build those sustainable farming & food systems that nourish people and regenerate the planet.
As well as FarmED, Fiona Galbraith of Ruralink introduced delegates to the GREAT Rural Facilitator course and was delighted to receive several expressions of interest. RurRALink will continue to deliver central course through 2023 but is also keen to work in partnership with organisations to tailor the course to their needs. For example, RuRALink and FarmED are collaborating on an enhanced version of the course which emphasises the leadership aspects of the programme and adds in a great deal of contextual material through guest speaker and farm walks.
Also at ORFC, Jenny Phelps, Senior Farm Environment Advisor in the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group’s Gloucestershire Team delivered a session on Integrated Local Delivery (ILD), demonstrating its incredible impact on delivering for the environment and local communities. ILD enables farmers and communities to come together to build resilience, supported by an all-inclusive partnership of organisations working together at a local level. The room was full, with a few people sitting on the floor after all the chairs had been taken. One of the listeners stated that it was “one of the best sessions of the conference…practical, urgent, well-conceived.”
For more information about ILD and to find out more, feel free to visit these links: Integrated Local Delivery | Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SW (fwagsw.org.uk) and Integrated Local Delivery Framework | Agricology
To wrap this blog up, all sessions from the 2023 ORFC conference can also be watched online, and we invite you to take a look via the following link. We also hope you’ve been inspired by this blog post and the diverse range of workshops delivered by ORFC’s participants.
Oxford Real Farming Conference (orfc.org.uk) If you are interested in taking this momentum forward and are looking for opportunities to do so, the GREAT project has an incredible range of resources to help you to do so. From regular newsletters to subsidised workshops by FarmED or structured facilitator training from RuRALink and a new entrant programme to encourage new participants with an active interest in delivering regenerative agriculture, we can help. Please subscribe to our mailing list or email GREAT@fwagsw.org.uk
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