Monday, 13 January 2020

Oxford Real Farming Conference - Shut it, George - The Elders.

The tail end of last week, we spent two full days at the Oxford Real Farming Conference.
I've wanted to go for years, but have either not had the time or not had the money, or not booked tickets in time, or any combination of the above.
This year I got it all lined up in time, and off we duly went via Seacourt Park and Ride to the impressive Town Hall building, across which and with various forays into St Aldates Church, St Aldates Centre, and the Tavern, the conference runs. Like clockwork, as it turns out.

It did not disappoint, and the thought provoking, engaging, sometimes enlightening sessions we attended filled us with hope and optimism.

The afternoon of the second day may not have been the greatest time for a session on environmental land management schemes - the ongoing discussion about what happens to subsidy and support post Brexit - and though the content and discussion were both very useful, I did struggle to stay awake! Other than that there were sessions of which I wished there could have been very much more - notably Lauriston Farm's presentation on integrating raised beds for market gardening into a mixed, biodynamic, system. I felt Andre Kleinjan was slightly chucked in at the deep end, having expected to be presenting with his wife and business partner, both of whom for different reasons were unable to be there. I could have listened to him for another hour or two, and I'm sure he would have hit his stride!

Another top session closed out the first day for us - Exploring Rural Enterprise and Regenerative Entrepreneurship - which also gave us a chance to tighten up our business plan for the forthcoming year.

We did not attend the Sustainable and Healthy Diets session featuring George Monbiot, but in some ways I wish we had. From all I heard, it was a good discussion, but of course George instantly took to social media to claim he had been booed to the rafters - I was in the next room and I can absolutely guarantee that's not true.  He came to a farming conference to urge the end of farming, to insist that we should all live on factory produced foods? I heard he got a fair hearing, but he was never going to be favourite, was he? 

Factory produced food, of whatever kind, will put our very means of survival in the hands of corporate giants, big pharma, and not only that, it will deplete all our food of actual nutrition. The soil is what gives us health. Nutrient dense food needs to be grown and reared on healthy soil. Soylent Green is not the way forward. George Monbiot is a skilled and sure footed self promoter. He does what he does to make a name for himself, and pad out his bank balance.  Think carefully before you drink the artificial, lab created Kool Aid.

We came away inspired and refreshed. I did at one point make my voice heard about the oft repeated cry that all we can do now to get regenerative agriculture into the mainstream is seek out and assist young new entrants, that the average age of a UK Farmer is over 60 ... well OK, but 60 isn't old, is it?

Our population is ageing, our health is (or was, but lets not get into that just now) improving, we are living longer and some of us better, so the average age of EVERYTHING is greater. 

Whilst I agree that young new entrants are wonderful, and to be encouraged, I do rather object to being written off at 60! I farmed the land with my bare hands, running a market garden while my kids grew up, and I home-schooled them alongside the plot. I was 40+ then, so to hear some talk, already over the hill. 

I've taken a bit of a break in a way, for the last five or six years, due to family circumstances and stuff that had to be done, but I fully intend to be back, and I'm full of ideas!  So let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, eh? The wisdom and experience of elders is a valuable asset.  If we were talking about indigenous elders in another culture, we'd be all about respect for their traditions, their wisdom, and what they could teach us. So don't let's just chuck out what we old 'uns have learned in a rush to hark to the young. 

Let's hand over the baton the right way.

Our Young New Entrants

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