One afternoon in January 2010, some 50 farmers and others gathered in a mediaeval library in Oxford to debate the future of food and farming. Meeting at the same time as the prestigious Oxford Farming Conference, they were interested in a new approach to food and farming, one which puts food producers at the centre, and challenges the establishment approach of high tech methods for global markets. The idea caught on, and so the Oxford Real Farming Conference began.
This conference, now in its tenth year, is centred around farmers and growers, and draws in scientists, caterers, nutritionists, economists, artists and policy-makers, with the aim of exploring together how we can develop a better food system. The result is a highly energizing and inspiring brew which gives an annual boost to a growing movement of food activists from all walks of life. This year’s event attracted 1000 delegates to Oxford Town Hall, half of them farmers, with dozens of workshops, fringe events and informal gatherings, all leavened with art, poetry and good food.
In the words of Colin Tudge, co-founder with Ruth West of the ORFC and of the Campaign for Real Farming, the purpose of the event is to promote ‘enlightened agriculture’, that is, ‘farming that is expressly designed to provide everyone, everywhere, forever, with food of the highest quality, without cruelty or injustice, and without wrecking the rest of the world’. It’s based on the four principles of agroecology, food sovereignty, economic democracy and respect for traditional knowledge, and by drawing together different elements of the food system it presents a vision of a new relationship between food and society.
There has always been a strong contingent from Wales, and this year we had our very own session centred on the Wales Food Manifesto. Chaired by Alicia Miller of Troed-y-Rhiw Organics, it covered nutrition (Pamela Mason, author of Sustainable Diets), small-scale growing (Nathan Richards, grower at Troed-y-Rhiw), Welsh language and rural culture (Dr Eifiona Thomas-Lane of Bangor University). schools and education (Jane Powell of LEAF Education), environment (Arfon Williams of the RSPB) and how to encourage a new generation into farming (Gerald Miles, Caerhys Organic Community Association and the Landworkers Alliance).
Together with delegates from Wales who were in the audience and added in ideas to do with fisheries, gardening at home, school meals and other areas, we explored some of the possibilities for bringing farming and the public closer together in Wales, and encouraging new approaches to food production. We also aired the idea of doing our own version of the Oxford conference in Wales and found enthusiastic support – so that’s what we’re doing.
The Wales Real Food and Farming Conference (or in Welsh, Cynhadledd Gwir Fwyd a Ffermio Cymru) will take place at Aberystwyth University on 11 and 12 November 2019. We inserted food into the title because food is what brings us together, and we don’t want to suggest that there is anything unreal about the excellent Wales Farming Conference. The conference will welcome anyone who is interested in a fresh approach to farming and growing in Wales.
We want farmers and growers to thrive, to be appreciated by their local communities, to be rewarded for what they do, and get the support they need to produce healthy food for everyone, in a fair and responsible way that builds biodiversity and human culture. We invite anyone with an interest in that to join us – suggest a workshop or a speaker, join the organizing team, and of course buy a ticket and come along for a whole new event in Welsh food and farming.