ORFC 2017 Reflection: No ordinary conference
ORFC 2017 Reflection
As I sit here recently returned from ORFC 2017 all cosy back in my north London warehouse drinking tea, wearing my comfy slacks and slippers I reflect on the last few days.
I've been to a number conferences in my short academic career so far, and I have to admit ORFC opened my mind to what a conference can be, and again blew my previous 'farmer' stereotype out of the water (which has happened a lot lately!).
I think we all have a stereotypical farmer framed in our minds, but actually the folk here were men, woman, younger, older, academics, artists, scientists, campaigners. A bloody amazing eclectic mix if I say so myself.
And most conferences are formed of academics showcasing their most recent research or companies parading their newest gadget or product, but OFRC was more....inclusive. The theme was community, sharing of knowledge and power to the people. You don't have to have a doctorate to take centre stage or be a company selling new innovation, you just had to be passionate and want to share. There is a movement steering away from doing things just to make money and producing just for yield (the productionist paradigm). The element that united the attendees was how they work and live in the food and farming sector for the love of it DESPITE the current difficulties, and really want to produce food nutritious for us and the environment.
Don't get me wrong the participants didn't shy away from science or from policy (very much the opposite, there is a rally for people policy). There was no ignoring that yields are important and must be quantified and you have to be economically sustainable, but also that they are not the only considerations in food systems. There is a balance to be struck between intuition and experience, and scientific reasoning and quantification.
Each day was packed with talks, panels and discussions. The sessions ranged from using tech in agroecological farming and understanding GM techniques to the viability of small scale farming and building organic matter in the soil. I was running around like a blue arsed fly! So….much….information! :D
But it was apparent that ORFC is not only a place to sit in lectures and listen, but an incredible social experience and highlight of the alternative farming movement calendar. Whether this is ‘networking’, catching up with old friends, meeting new acquaintances or just being surrounded by an incredible optimistic energy.
What was especially bloody lovely was the bluegrass dancing in the evenings and the folk singling in the closing ceremony. The Landworkers Alliance are an amazing south-west based farming and campaigning voice which really cemented this community aspect within the conference, as well as bringing social, political and scientific aspects.
It was great to see a good spread of men and women presenting throughout, although it would have be lovely to hear the views and learnings of a few more young members of the agricultural community. Having said that I couldn’t attend all the sessions!
What I took away from it all is a passion and drive to continue in the face of adversity. That things are changing (from the certification of pasture fed animal products to people writing policy) and if we continue to untitled as one voice it will and is being heard. For example it was the first pubic event where all the milk was certified Pasture-For-Life, which is pretty incredible.
And we can face this with enthusiasm, joy and fun. Because at the end of the day, is it a life worth living without that?
Overall it was bloody good fun, and I learnt so my I left with my brain more saturated than a sponge filled with orange juice (as all fine sponges are).
So stayed tunes throughout January for some follow up blog posts, we'll be demystifying some stories around 'Is organic actually good for you?’ and 'What has happened to the British loaf?', and also looking at 'Hodmedods: The revival of the great British pulse' and 'The future of food and farming: A voice from the UKs young farmers'