Viewing entries in
Agroecology

Supporting the next generation of farmers: developing an agroecology training network

Comment

Supporting the next generation of farmers: developing an agroecology training network

 

Written by Dee Butterly. Farmer at Southern Roots Organics CSA and Project Development and Outreach Coordinator with the Landworkers’ Alliance.

The article was originally published in printed form tin the Organic Growers Alliance membership magazine.


Whenever I meet a fellow farmer, be if the first time, or countless times – I feel an immediate curiosity, connection and respect. I feel a shared sense of excitement, and an implicit knowing, seldom expressed through words, that we both love what we do, and take a huge amount of passion in it. For me, it is in the welcoming of the growing season, marked by the arrival of the swallows over head in springtime and the chattering of the goldfinches in the hedgerows, that I feel I am truly home. It is in the morning sunlight that pierces through a carpet of clover playing in the breeze that I remember to take a moment of gratitude for being able to do what I do. It is in the power of seeds and the social stories they carry with them that the true magic of farming comes alive for me. And it is in the deep, dense smell of the soil on the first planting, or the arrival of the first lambs, that I feel a harmonious resonance with the earth and my place within it. This sense of knowing landscapes and their ecologies, the seasons and the soils beneath my feet has evolved as an experiential and embodied knowledge over my years in farming, and despite my efforts, was something I could never truly or fully learn from a book.

a-team-foundation-letters-to-a-young-farmer.jpg

Reflecting on this to a friend and farmer one summer on a golden sunny evening as we rested our bodies and our minds after a long days work in the field, she shared with me a beautiful and poignant saying ‘I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand’. As we sat together, older generation and younger, she spoke with me about the power of embodied knowledge and the crucial importance of the wise elders of the farming community, the custodians of land based knowledge, to support and guide the next generation of farmers.

Barbara Damrosch who farms with her partner Eliot Coleman at Four Seasons Farm in Maine, USA also spoke about the importance of this intergenerational knowledge exchange in a book of letters that came out recently Letters to a Young Farmer, saying ‘fewer people are born into farming now than they once were, and even if there is arable land in the family, it doesn’t always come with parents or grandparents who can guide you. In that sense, we have a generation of orphan farmers’. (www.letterstoayoungfarmer.org)

As part of a growing movement of young and new entrant farmers (or the ‘returning generation of farmers’ as a Canadian farmer friend in La Via Campesina likes to call us) trying to find ways to go back to land based work and make a meaningful and dignified livelihood from it, these two encounters in the past year have stayed with me deeply, and a reminder that we are not alone. The path can so often seem long, lonely and uncertain and the obstacles immense. New entrants looking to make a start in farming are facing huge costs, low financial returns, social isolation and little in the way of policy support.

Dee Butterly @ Southern Roots Organics, photographed by    Sian Davey    for    We Feed The World.

Dee Butterly @ Southern Roots Organics, photographed by Sian Davey for We Feed The World.

We know the grim facts and figures of the state of food and farming in the UK today and the multiple crises we are facing from climate breakdown to the highest levels of food insecurity the UK has experienced in decades, with an estimated over eight million people across Scotland, Wales and England living in food poverty and struggling to eat even one meal a day. We hear that over the past 20 years over 33 500 small scale farms have been either closed down or consolidated, the average age of a farmer is 58 years and over 30% of farmers are over 65. Less than 3% of farmers are under 35 years and there is little public support for anyone farming on less than 5 hectares or seeking to make a start in agriculture. There is a chronic lack of holistic agroecological programmes supporting and training new entrant farmers to get into the field of small scale, ecological farming and land based work -  this widespread lack of opportunities and training effects both new entrants and established farmers looking to transition into more sustainable agroecological production techniques.

However despite this, and increasingly in response to it, there is this rising tide of new entrant farmers finding ways to transform our food systems, returning to both rural and urban land to produce good nutritious food on a small scale for their local communities. In recent years we have seen thousands of people trying to make a start in farming, focusing on agroecological production and direct sales models. And grassroots organisations such as the Landworkers’ Alliance, the Organic Growers Alliance, the Community Supported Agriculture Network, the Soil Association, The Biodynamic Agriculture College, The Community Food Growers Network, The Kindling Trust, Organiclea, Nourish Scotland, the Scottish Crofters Association and many others are working hard to facilitate, organise and support this growing movement to thrive against the odds to ensure the next generation of farmers get into farming.

Rita @ Southern Roots Organics

Rita @ Southern Roots Organics

In addition to the tireless campaigning for an Agriculture Bill that supports local food and agroecology, these grassroots organisations mentioned and many more have been working increasingly to address this education deficit by developing concrete and practical solutions. Within the memberships of our organisations we have an incredible pool of resources, knowledge and skills that land based workers are very keen and willing to share, offer and exchange; and we have many new entrant farmers in our memberships looking for support, training and mentoring. In order to develop a coherent learning pathway for prospective and new entrant farmers that offers a holistic agroecological pedagogy and embodied experiential learning processes various programmes and initiatives have emerged the last couple of years or are currently getting started include:

(1) Farmer to Farmer exchange groups

Such as the Growers Group in South West England where farmers in the area meet once a month for an evening on each others farms. Hosts lead a farm tour and discussion on a certain seasonal topic ranging from propagation and seed saving, field scale growing, hand tools and mechanical weeding, to crop planning to bookkeeping. This model is very similar to the campesino a campesino model that has been used by La Via Campesina in Latin and Central America for years based on the traditions and experiences of popular education. A group in Scotland called ‘Market Gardeners of Scotland’ have also set up under a similar structure, and groups in Wales and various parts of England are also getting going. The Landworkers’ Alliance is currently writing a handbook for guidelines on establishing and running a ‘farmer-to-farmer’ group.

(2) Traineeship network

Farms in the South West England and South West Wales running various traineeship programmes are currently working to develop a traineeship network where trainers and trainees can be supported throughout the season. There are currently plans to develop training hubs, a best practice guidelines and a traineeship curriculum, and a programme of specialised training days shared out and delivered by the trainers available to all trainees in the network.

(3) Mentoring programmes

The average age of a farmer in the UK is almost 60 years old - and while this is often cited in a problematic way it also means there are loads of farmers in the UK with an incredible experience, wealth and history of farming! As more and more people try to get into the field of farming there is a higher demand for mentoring and intergenerational knowledge exchanges between farmers of all ages. These programmes pair up experienced farmers with new-entrant farmers in their first five years of establishing a business to offer guidance and support. Nourish Scotland has already been running a mentoring programme with great results for over three years now, the Community Supported Agriculture developed a program last year and both the Landworkers’ Alliance and the Organic Growers Alliance are in the process of developing mentoring schemes for members to connect new entrant and more experienced farmers together both sectorally and regionally.

(4) Farm start network

One has been established this year to bring together organisations that are working to support new entrants farmers by setting up ‘incubator’ sites where people can trial land based enterprises with a degree of support in accessing land, training, markets and equipment.  This initiative is being developed in response to the needs and obstacles that many new entrant farmers face when trying to set up a new farm business and looking at what role existing and established farms with additional land and infrastructure can offer to support them.

(5) Accredited on farm training

There are hardly any recognised on farm accrediting training programs for new entrant small scale farmers in the UK. Initiatives such as Organiclea and Biodynamic Agriculture College have designed and developed accredited training schemes for on farm learning programmes. Other organisations and initiatives are currently also trying to look into how to develop accreditation for on farm training and develop a farmer led model for appropriate accredited training that can support the development of the agroecological sector.

(6) Farm hacks, teaching days and skill shares

A lot of tools, tech and machinery these days are no longer appropriate for small-scale farming methods, and it’s harder and harder to find the right kind of farm kit. A Farm Hack is where a community of farmers and growers who are developing DIY appropriate tools and technology for small scale farming get together to share ideas, ‘hacks’, innovative designs and tools they have made and how. Several farm hacks have been run in the past few years and more are being organised this year across England, Scotland and Wales. Teaching days and skill shares are also being regularly organised covering a wide range of sectoral topics.

(7) Seed sovereignty

With more and more F1s and derogated non-organic seeds replacing open pollinated heritage seeds and an ever increasing decline in seed diversity and seed production knowledge The Gaia Foundation have been developing a seed sovereignty programme over the past two years in England, Wales, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. One of the projects main emphasis is to train farmers to become seed producers (a lost art in farming today) so as to ensure the resilience of our farming systems.  To name a few Real Seeds in Wales along with Vital Seeds, Trill Farm and the Seed Co-operative in England have been collaborating with the Gaia Foundation regional coordinators on the project and are continuing to host and deliver training for seed growers.

(8) Political training, facilitation training and movement buildinG

In order to support this kind of grassroots organising to evolve, the Landworkers’ Alliance is in the process of developing a ‘facilitating training and movement building’ course for farmers that are working to self organise collectively and develop farmer led education, training and exchange programmes as well as political organising at the local level.  

It’s an exciting time to be getting into farming as these self-organised and autonomos plethora of initiatives, programmes, exchanges and training opportunities are being developed and made more widely available. What is so empowering about this training network being developed is the rich biodiversity of knowledge and experience it embodies and the huge potential for transformative learning processes - which is one the key principles of agroecology. In the Agroecology Declaration written by farmers from all over the world at the Nyeleni Forum in Mali in 2015, one of the key principles is ‘knowledge sharing’. It advocates for ‘horizontal exchanges and intergenerational exchanges between generations and across different traditions’. This philosophical and pedagogical approach to agroecological training is that rather than valuing  and emphasizing top-down ‘expert’ knowledge, it puts the community of practitioners - farmers, growers and land based workers organising for a better food system - at its heart.

Raising Seedlings

Raising Seedlings

In agroecology there is a strong emphasis on diálogo de saberes (wisdom dialogues or dialogue between ways of knowing), and is one of the key organising principles of La Via Campesina in building alliances between farming networks and social movements across the world. It holds the biosphere of ways of knowing and learning approaches that peasants, indigenous communities and farmers have developed and passed down throughout history in a dialogue that promotes mutual understanding, collective learning and joint action rather than one approach dominating another.  

Adam @ Southern Roots Organics

Adam @ Southern Roots Organics

As young and new entrant farmers we are all facing a huge struggle and a deeply unknown future ahead. We cannot build the alternative we desperately need alone. There are generations of our elders before us who have been and are still farming and we seek their friendship, council and wisdom. It is in the power of listening to each other’s stories and sharing our lived experiences on the land that enables us to have far more than just solidarity with each other, it is a way of connecting that lays common foundations from which to take seriously the need to galvanise the energy and momentum that we all have into building alliances and a strong coordinated food and farming movement together over this coming year. It is in these grassroots networks we are all part of, our intergenerational farming communities, and our experiences and intimate knowledge of working that land that gives us strength and power in our actions, organising, learning and campaigning. It is through this embodied knowing that we strengthen our support and solidarity with each other as a movement that, in these times of political chaos and climate breakdown. It is through this that we are more than just sowing the seeds of resistance, but in our everyday actions already producing the solution we need - a food system based on community, solidarity, agroecology, food sovereignty, and environmental and social justice.


 
a-team-foundation-dee-butterly-young-farmer-agroecology

Author : DEE BUTTERLY

Dee Butterly is Farmer at Southern Roots Organics CSA in Dorset and Project Development and Outreach Coordinator with the Landworkers’ Alliance. In 2018, Dee was a key figure in the creation of A People’s Food Policy. Prior to working with the LWA, Dee co-ordinated The Hermitage Community Vegetable Garden and was a founding member of The New Leaf Co-operative. She holds an MA in Social Anthropology with Sustainable Development from the University of Edinburgh.

 



 

Comment

Farming The Future : A Collaborative and Funded Vision

Comment

Farming The Future : A Collaborative and Funded Vision

 

We stand upon the precipice of great change for food and farming in the UK. It is time to act anew and work together to replace our outdated industrial food system for one built on equity, harmony and compassion, while renewing our relationship with the land and those that feed us. The only way this will happen is if we work together, in unison, as a movement.

The A Team Foundation and the Roddick Foundation have teamed up to fund and support a culture of collaboration between key organisations and individuals working to create a better food system within the UK. With the system’s thinking expertise of The Point People, invitations were sent to 40 NGOs and individuals to workshop systemic change.

We want to understand the Movement’s current needs and dreams and foster co-creative solutions from those involved. We see this as a vital step to bring into manifestation a system which is fully inclusive of all life and is built from the ground up. 

In April, we arranged the workshop so that participants from the regenerative food and farming sector’s ecosystem could meet and share each other’s work. The outcome of this day was for the organisations to submit a grant proposal to the fund with a caveat that it is in collaboration with three or more organisations.

The workshop was a hive, rich with impassioned visionaries and intellectual fertility. The task for the day was to harvest prominent narratives from the group’s collective consciousness in order to mirror it back and say “hey this is what’s needed”. With so many stories already existing, combined with specific needs and wants, this was no mean feat.

We were very fortunate to have Vandana Shiva as our guest of honour. Vandana gave a sterling and rousing presentation of her vision for the future of food and farming, which you can watch below.

Vandana Shiva speaking in London on the challenges of the globalised food system and the need for an enlightened and compassioned agrarian renaissance.

The prominent narratives of the day look at how the Movement is to be more cohesive and thereafter amplified. To achieve this there are several areas that we need to target and barriers to overcome. The greatest narrative was around the need and power of storytelling. The fund has sidelined a budget for PR and creative work to push the work of the grant recipients further.

Additionally, Building the Movement (grassroots and public mobilisation) was spoken about in depth along with Policy, Distribution and Alternative Routes to Market, Consciousness and Connection, New Entrants, Leveraging Finance, and Land Reform.

The proposals are to be received in June - watch this space.

Farming the Future Workshop - Photo Diary

(click to enlarge)




 

Comment

THE ABSOLUTE IMPORTANCE OF ENLIGHTENED AGRICULTURE

Comment

THE ABSOLUTE IMPORTANCE OF ENLIGHTENED AGRICULTURE

 

Written by Colin Tudge, Real Farming Trust, who calls for an Agrarian Renaissance.

 

Almost a billion people go to bed hungry; more than a billion eat too much of the wrong things  (the world population of diet-related diabetics far exceeds the total population of the United States); everywhere there is unrest; we’re in the throes of a mass extinction;  and climate change threatens to make nonsense of all our aspirations. Everybody knows all this (don’t they?) although many feel there’s nothing they can do about it and many alas in high places are in denial – or at least, if they do acknowledge the facts, they assure us that they are on the case, and we should put our trust in their good offices. 

And yet: if only we, humanity, did simple things well, then even at this late hour, much of the pending disaster could be averted. Right now, as Pope Francis, several archbishops, a great many scientists, and writers and activists of all kinds line up to warn us, we are heading for Armageddon – perhaps in 30 years or less; certainly, within the lifetimes of our grandchildren. Yet we could and should be looking forward, with reasonable optimism, to at least another million years on this Earth, and our far distant descendants could be living far more contentedly than most of us do now, with real, personal fulfilment, and in harmony with the creatures that we are now destroying. The difference between what is, and what could be, is that stark.

To make the necessary changes, however, we need truly to be radical; to get right down to the roots of the world’s problems and, in effect, start again. We need transformation; metamorphosis; metanoia – nothing short of Renaissance, meaning re-birth, at least as deep-rooted and far-reaching as the “Italian” Renaissance that began in the 15th century and (more or less) brought the European Middle Ages to a close. 

The key, though, to all the world’s problems, human and inhuman, lies with agriculture; and so too therefore does the key to their solution. Agriculture is, very obviously, by far the greatest source of human food: 99 per cent of us would not be here without it. Less obviously, it is also the world’s biggest employer – by far. It occupies a third of all land – including most of the world’s most fertile land. Other terrestrial creatures have mostly been pushed to the margins. But in its modern industrial form agriculture is also the greatest of all polluters of the land, the oceans, and the atmosphere – source of a hundred toxins, and a major and critical contributor to global warming. It destroys soils (a third of all land is now degraded according to the FAO); it is the main drain (by far) on the world’s fresh water. Taken all in all, “modern” high-tech farming is very obviously the prime cause of mass extinction. Indeed, unless we develop wildlife-friendly farming then the cause of wildlife conservation is more or less dead in the water, or at least severely holed below the water-line.

In short, the grand Renaissance, the great re-think that the world now needs, should begin with an Agrarian Renaissance: a complete re-think and re-structuring of the world’s farming – together with a new, complementary food culture. One more thing: the Italian Renaissance was driven by bankers and led by artists and intellectuals but the Renaissance we need now, beginning with the Agrarian Renaissance, must be driven by us: people at large. It must be a giant exercise in democracy. 

Prolific and traditional food cultures, like the diets of the Mediterranean (example pictured above), use meat but sparingly and celebrate local diversity.

Prolific and traditional food cultures, like the diets of the Mediterranean (example pictured above), use meat but sparingly and celebrate local diversity.

The task may seem daunting – not least because the world’s food network seems sewn up: every stage from plant breeding and seed production through the agrochemical industry to processing and retail is controlled by a handful of corporates, all supported by big governments like those of Britain and the US for whom the corporates are their natural partners.

Yet there is serendipity. Most (by far) of the world’s farmers are still small-scale and craft-based (artisanal); many millions of people worldwide and many thousands (literally) of non-government organizations (NGOs) are working on projects that are leading the world in the right directions; and various communities in Britain and the world at large are acquiring farmland or at least the use of it and are beginning to do things differently. Indeed, despite appearances, the giant, globalized, integrated food and farming industry may be the most amenable or vulnerable of all to a people’s takeover.

So what’s gone wrong and what do we need to do?

What we have and what we need

The kind of agriculture that is now promoted by the nexus of big governments, big finance, and corporates, with their chosen expert and intellectual advisers, is anomalously called “conventional”. This, though, is yet another example of language hi-jacked – for it should, rather, be called “Neoliberal-Industrial” or NI agriculture. It is driven, after all, by the (neoliberal) conceit that we, human beings, need above all to maximize wealth. Agriculture is now conceived as “a business like any other” (a chill phrase I first heard in the 1970s) and “business” these past few decades has been re-conceived not as the natural underpinning of democratic society as it was at its best until the 1970s but simply as another way of making money – for personal enrichment and to contribute to GDP.

The way to maximize wealth, so the neoliberal doctrine has it, is to compete in the maximally-competitive global market with other enterprises of all kinds to maximize profit and grab the biggest market share. Profit in turn is maximized in three ways. First: by producing as much as possible. The more there is to sell, the greater the potential returns. Productionism still rules. Second: by cutting costs to the bone and then cutting a bit more. This generally means replacing labour with machines and industrial chemistry, although if all real costs are taken into account then labour emerges as a minor contributor, and machines and chemistry are cheaper only so long as oil is still available and is made affordable. The third route to profit is by “adding value” – which of course is good when it means turning grain into bread and pastries, or dead animals into highly nutritious delicacies, but it also means extravagant packaging and out-of-season strawberries and all the rest.

A bird’s eye view of the neo-liberal monoculture that prioritises the maximisation of yield.

A bird’s eye view of the neo-liberal monoculture that prioritises the maximisation of yield.

Indeed the whole industrial food chain is immensely profligate. Modern arable farming, which is the chief agricultural enterprise, is in effect an offshoot of the agrochemical industry -- the agrochemical industry al fresco. Modern livestock farming especially in vast modern CAFOs (“concentrated animal feeding operations”) is an offshoot of arable farming -- designed, primarily, not to meet (spurious) public need or “demand” in the spirit of democracy, but to mop up arable surpluses. Supermarkets in general sell only the prime cuts, and what cannot reasonably be made into sausages and pies (and a lot that can), the rest supports the petfood industry. The profligacy is not an accident. The food chain is designed to be profligate. It is more profitable that way.

At the same time, FAO tells us that at least a third of all food is simply wasted. In the poor world, a third is lost to pests and predators in the field or in storage. In the rich world, a third is thrown away after it has reached the kitchen. In addition – and worse! -- about half the world’s cereal and most of the soya is grown for and fed to livestock. Yet all the world’s greatest cuisines, like those of Italy and China, use meat sparingly. We could produce enough to support the world’s best cooking just by feeding animals on pasture and/or swill, as is of course traditional. 

Enlightened Agriculture

What we really need, in absolute contrast to all of the above, is what I for the past 15 years or so have been calling Enlightened Agriculture, also known as Real Farming as in the Oxford Real Farming Conference – and our new College for Real Farming and Food Culture, of which more on that later.

Behind Enlightened Agriculture lies the big idea that if we really want to solve the world’s problems, and establish the Renaissance on firm foundations, then in everything we do must be guided by the principles of –

Morality, which tells us what it is right to do; and of

Ecology, which aspires to tell us what it is necessary and possible to do.

These two – Morality and Ecology – must provide the guidelines. They alone deserve to be called principles. “Political principles” are just ideologies, which is not the same thing at all.

Many, though, suggest that a universal morality is not possible. Different individuals and different societies set their own standards.  True – but contrary to the fashionable, post-modern belief, some moral codes are better than others. Thus, moral codes in practice have been set since the beginning of history mainly by religions; and although the different religions differ in their trappings, liturgies, and customs, the moral codes that lie at their heart are all remarkably similar – in essence almost identical. All in particular emphasise the core virtues of –

Compassion

Humility

Reverence for Nature

These, then, are the guidelines of Enlightened Agriculture – which is informally but adequately defined as:

“Agriculture that is expressly designed to provide everyone, everywhere, with food of the highest quality, both nutritionally and gastronomically, without cruelty or injustice and without wrecking the rest of the world”.

Local and regeneratively grown, socially just, and economically sound are key principles to agroecology.

Local and regeneratively grown, socially just, and economically sound are key principles to agroecology.

Despite present appearances, and despite a sequence of somewhat panicky reports from governments and commerce, this should be eminently possible. But we can do what needs doing only if we farm as if we really intended to provide good food for everyone – as opposed to becoming rich and powerful – and if we treat nature with true respect, and not, as now, as raw material, to be turned into commodities, to be sold on the global market.

In practice, although the term “Enlightened Agriculture” is novel, it is based on four ideas – moral and ecological -- that are now becoming well established. They are:

Agroecology

Food Sovereignty

Green Economic Democracy

Respect for Traditional Knowledge

All are the precise opposite of the Neoliberal-Industrial approaches that now receive such zealous support from the government-corporate oligarchy. Thus: 

Agroecology requires us to treat all farms as ecosystems – diverse, low-input, synergistic, and cyclic. Accordingly, agroecological farms in general aspire to be mixed and organic; they are therefore complex; therefore they must be skills-intensive – plenty of farmers; and therefore in general they tend to be small to medium-sized. 

But NI agriculture depends on machines and industrial chemistry with minimum to zero labour – and machines prefer simplicity, so complexity gives way to monoculture; and machinery is most economical when it is big. Big machines need big fields to operate in so NI farms are as big as possible. Farmers these days are encouraged to swallow up the farms next door.  

Food Sovereignty is the idea that all societies should be in charge of their own food supply. This again pushes us towards the small-to-medium sized mixed farm that is designed primarily to serve local communities and, is ideally, community owned: or to towards cooperatives of such farms.

Again in starkest contrast, NI agriculture is designed not only to maximize wealth but also to concentrate wealth – into the hands of an irreducibly small coterie of corporates and financiers which governments like ours, faute de mieux, depend upon. This is the precise antithesis of food sovereignty.

Green Economic Democracy among other things requires a “tripartite mixed economy”: a synergy of public, private, and – the one that has been too little emphasized – community ownership, especially of land. The whole is designed to operate for the wellbeing of society and the biosphere as a whole. Again, that is not the prime motivation of the neoliberal economy.

Respect for Traditional Knowledge means just that. It is absurd to suppose that the latest wheeze dreamed up in some think tank or commercial laboratory is always innately superior to and must replace the crafts and wisdom evolved by billions of farmers in millions of locations over thousands of years.  It is absurd – yet seems to be the assumption nonetheless.

Agroecological, small-holder farmers are the torch bearers of traditional knowledge built on millions of years of experience. (Photo by    We Feed The World   )

Agroecological, small-holder farmers are the torch bearers of traditional knowledge built on millions of years of experience. (Photo by We Feed The World)

But could agroecological, small to medium-sized, mixed, low-input (organic) farms really support the present population and the 10 billion who will be with us by the end of the century? Of course. Study after study has shown that small units, preferably mixed and of course well run, are more productive per unit area than all but the most intensive high-tech kinds – and of course are far less damaging and profligate and indeed are sustainable, which the high-tech industrial kind emphatically are not. 

The powers-that-be, however, though they speak in endless reports and rhetoric of the need for change, seek in essence to perpetuate the status quo: high-tech designed to maximize and concentrate wealth, controlled by an elite. It won’t do. We have to take matters into our own hands. In Six Steps Back to the Land I try to show how people at large can get stuck in to farming; in Why Genes Are Not Selfish and People Are Nice, I sketch in some of the main ideas behind the Renaissance; and in our new College for Real Farming and Food Culture (http://collegeforrealfarming.org/ – though the website is now being re-constructed (May 2019) we are seeking to develop and promulgate the necessary ideas and to translate them into action. Our efforts are only part of what is rapidly becoming a global movement. Here and there in a thousand different ways the Agrarian Renaissance is already happening. All it needs now is a little more collaboration. Please do join in!


A-Team-Foundation-Food-Culture-Colin-Tudge-enlightened-agriculture

Author: Colin Tudge

Colin Tudge is a biologist by education, a writer by trade, and co-founder of the Oxford Real Farming Conference and the College for Real Farming and Food Culture.




 

Comment

From single crops to species rich mosaic — how Agroecology helps biodiversity

Comment

From single crops to species rich mosaic — how Agroecology helps biodiversity

 

Written by Lauren Simpson & Phil Moore, Ecological Land Cooperative 


Steepholding’s meadow at ELC’s Greenham Reach site, Devon.

Steepholding’s meadow at ELC’s Greenham Reach site, Devon.

Greenham Reach, the Ecological Land Cooperative’s first cluster of small farms, in mid Devon, is a prime example of Agroecology in action. What was once made of pasture and arable fields is now a mosaic of biodiversity and interlocking crops.

If ‘Big Ag’ can be caricatured as the big thrusting spear possessed by Goliath then allow us to think of Agroecology as made up of the David’s of the world — small in scale and generally in the position of the underdog. 

Perhaps a little crude, and like many concepts there’s more to it than a simplistic either/or binary, I think there’s much to be made of positioning Agroecology in contrast to ‘Big Ag’ (by which I mean large-scale farms designed solely for the pursuit of profit above all else). 

Agriculture is central to human society. It plays a role in our well being, the management of the land and country(side) and informs our culture. And there are many forms of agriculture. From the broad industrial scale cattle ranches to the family farms selling duck eggs at the end of the track. 

Regardless of scale, these agricultures operate in the material world. We are living in a time where we see more clearly than previous generations the interlocking threads between the use (and abuse) of natural resources and biodiversity crashes; hunger and the (mis)distribution of food; population growth and pollution all of which are entwined within the wider arc of climate breakdown. 

Ah my little lambs - April is lambing season, the species rich meadow provides a perfect nursery and lunch.

Ah my little lambs - April is lambing season, the species rich meadow provides a perfect nursery and lunch.

What this has come to mean is that agriculture — its very definition and articulation — has been contested. The post world wars narrative of hyper production is being challenged. This is partly through political choice, that is, the approach taken by farmers in the first place, but also prompted by the challenges mentioned above and the search for solutions.

Agroecology, simply put, is about reconnecting these threads in an ecological way. By restoring relationships between farming and food, ecology and the environment, and the source (e.g. the water we all share and the soil we all use) and society, Agroecology seeks to create a more sustainable foundation for agriculture.

By replacing chemical inputs with natural sources of fertility, employing natural techniques over intensive production methods; celebrating and welcoming biodiversity and stimulating interactions between plants, animals and the land — as well as taking into account human culture and sensitivity to place — Agroecology encompasses a wider view of agriculture that can mutually support long-term soil fertility, furnish healthy ecosystems and provide worthy livelihoods. Agroecology then is the application of ecology in agriculture

Any small, human-scale system such as Agroecology is by definition more supple than a lumbering Goliath. As a methodology and a practise, Agroecology is responsive to context-specific design and the needs of place. 

And the restorative potential of Agroecology can be evidenced in our first project, Greenham Reach, a cluster of three smallholdings in mid-Devon. A five year temporary planning permission was granted for the project in 2013, with permanent permission given in 2018, allowing the 22-acre greenfield site to develop shared infrastructure and three new farm businesses (each tied to an agricultural dwelling). 

An ELC tenant in their market garden at Greenham Reach, Devon.

An ELC tenant in their market garden at Greenham Reach, Devon.

The Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) works to create affordable ecological smallholdings for new entrants to farming – those who would ordinarily be unable to afford a house in the countryside yet who wish to earn a living through farming. And a large part of our ethos is informed by ecological agriculture, or, Agroecology. 

ELC tenants are legally tied to a Management Plan and an annual monitoring process which we carry out for ourselves and report back to the local authority on the site’s progress.

The monitoring report is one of the key aspects of our work in demonstrating that taking marginal agricultural land (in the context of the UK we take this to mean land that has formerly been used for single cropping or single live-stocking) and creating an ecologically oriented system which is diverse and sustainable and that directs solutions toward environmental and social benefits as well as economic ones.

Pollinators are vital for an ecosystem to thrive.

Pollinators are vital for an ecosystem to thrive.

Greenham Reach has been transformed from an area of farmland typical for south-west England (moderate but not exceptional richness for wildlife) into a cluster of diverse horticultural holdings with great potential value for biodiversity according to our ecology reports.   

In 2009 the site was composed of two intensively managed arable fields and two fields of permanent flood plain pasture with a small area of species-rich, agriculturally unimproved grassland and mature hedges. Between 2013, when the first smallholders moved in, and 2017, the diversity of habitats increased— particularly on the former arable fields. 

These fields were conventionally farmed with a single crop and the typical inputs of fertilisers and agrochemicals. Transformed in a very short space of time into a mixture of perennial herb beds, shrubs, vegetable growing areas, tussocky grassland and mixed pasture this mosaic of habitat now offers a great source of nectar and pollen for flower-feeding invertebrates such as bees, butterflies, moths and hover flies. What was once a single crop field has now become a tapestry of life. This is Agroecology in action no matter how small or grand in scope. 

With the planting of more trees, the maintenance and enhancement of hedges have been of value to breeding and wintering birds. Although not proven to be present, these hedges also provide ideal habitat for dormice. The small area of species-rich grassland is of great importance locally and nationally. Very little of this rare habitat is recorded in the DEFRA Priority Habitat inventory within a 10km radius. The juxtaposition of agriculturally unimproved grassland and mature hedgerow is also likely to offer good feeding habitat to bats.  

According to our ecologists these improvements are based entirely on the site management and hard work of the smallholders. Committed to ecological agriculture the occupants have been informed by permaculture and inspired by Agroecology. In the very seed of the design, where diversity is valued, natural approaches favoured and wildlife celebrated, the three small farms demonstrate that environmental, economic and social benefits can sit side by side.

ELC tenants amongst the herbs.

ELC tenants amongst the herbs.




 

Comment

Community Supported Agriculture - The Brexit Proof Food Revolution

Comment

Community Supported Agriculture - The Brexit Proof Food Revolution

 

Written by Ben Raskin, Chair of Community Supported Agriculture Network UK

I write this in the run up to Brexit Dday. Whether you are remain or leave, the uncertainty of Brexit is a reality. Community Supported Agriculture has potential benefits however that apply to any uncertainty, manmade or otherwise.

A-Team-Foundation-CSA-Community-supported-agriculture-brexit (3 of 4).jpg

First some challenges facing horticultural businesses in the run up to Brexit, and in particular to the threat of a No Deal Brexit.

·      Labour –Solutions may be found in time but there are widespread fears that securing the necessary workforce when we have left the Union will be more difficult.

·      Availability of Produce – with no trade barriers, gaps in UK supplies can be easily met with imports of a wide range of products all year round. With barriers it may be harder to source the range of produce that is currently on offer.

·      Pricing – The flipside of a global supply of produce is continual downward pressure on prices. As a result, many mid-size growing businesses have disappeared. We now see a polarisation between larger and larger businesses that use scale to meet supermarket demand, and a proliferation of very small-scale operations that supply specialist high value products direct to local customers. At both ends of the scale tiny margins are a real threat to business sustainability.

Here are some thoughts on how Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) might offer a Brexit proof business model, but firstly what is the CSA model?

Direct Connection

Find out more about The different types of csa
in the UK

Consumers, often described as CSA members, are closely linked to the farm, and provide support that goes beyond a straight forward marketplace exchange of money for goods. They might have invested in the farm or business or share the costs of production. They may instead accept a share in the harvest or providing labour.  

The most common produce for CSA farms is vegetables, but anything can be produced with the CSA model for instance eggs, poultry, bread, fruit, pork, lamb, beef and dairy produce. CSA farms are even developing around woodlands for firewood and more recently fish.

Benefits for all

Farmers receive a more stable and secure income and closer connection with their community, and consumers benefit by eating fresh healthy local food, feeling more connected to the land where their food is grown and learning new skills.

CSA helps to address increasing concerns about the lack of transparency, sustainability and resilience of our food system. It is one of the most radical ways that we can re-take control and ownership of our food system.

Read more about the


benefits of csa

The proposition of consumer and producer sharing risk and reward may not seem particularly attractive in an environment where food is cheap and plentiful. Why pay money up front or commit to a long-term arrangement with a farmer when you can pop to the shops or login to your favourite online retailer and get what you want whenever you want it.

Imagine instead a situation where lorries are delayed, or tariffs are high. Prices may shoot up. Importers may seek easier markets. Having a guaranteed supply of food (weather permitting of course) begins to make a bit more sense.

Beyond the practical, being a CSA member brings a whole range of social benefits. Opportunities to join in with farming, learn more about how your food is produced and perhaps even improve your physical and mental health.

While the CSA business model is still in its infancy in this country with 100 + CSA farms, new ones are starting all the time. You can find out your nearest one here. In USA and France there are thousands of CSA farms, helped perhaps by not having a developed organic box scheme market. In these and other countries many CSA farms are even supplying into cities and feeding urban populations.

While I accept of course that the CSA model will not suit all farms or farmers, it does offer a genuine vision for transforming our relationship with food and a way of shaping a future proof food supply.

CSA NETWORK UK : https://communitysupportedagriculture.org.uk/

 



Comment

Small Farm Profits

Comment

Small Farm Profits

by the Ecological Land Cooperative

The Ecological Land Cooperative’s short publication, ‘Small Farm Profits’, demonstrates that small farms are successful.

‘Small Farm Profits’, a short booklet made up of small farm case studies, demonstrates that small-scale, ecological farms in the UK can, and do, make a profit.

 In light of the proposed Agriculture Bill which recommends supporting public goods and improving agricultural activity, it is essential that new policies support small farms which produce healthy food. These kinds of farms are exactly what this booklet showcases.

 Small Farm Profits provides proof that small-scale doesn’t mean uncompetitive and that ecological agriculture can create economically viable, highly productive and sustainable enterprises on small acreages.

 The proposed Agriculture Bill, which will enforce UK policy post-Brexit, does not refer to small-scale, ecological farming or local food. This needs to change.

Vegboxes of the CSA, Cae Tan, at the ELC’s site in Wales .

Vegboxes of the CSA, Cae Tan, at the ELC’s site in Wales .

Oli Rodker, Executive Director of ELC, says: “Our booklet shows what can be done on small acreages even in today’s challenging economic climate. The new Agriculture Bill is a chance to put policy behind Michael Gove’s words and provide the financial and technical support to ensure we see thousands more of these types of businesses in the coming years.”

 Agroecological Small Farms should be supported because:

·       They produce fresh, local & healthy food free from pesticides and other chemicals

·       They have high employment figures per land area

·       More farmers means more innovation

·       Of their environmental stewardship: small farms promote biodiversity, good soil care and low carbon emissions.

·       They can adapt more easily to local conditions.

·       Of their positive Social Impact: focused on local economies and local people, small farms provide opportunities for community engagement

Busy harvest for workers and helpers at the CSA Cae Tan on the ELC’s site in Gower, Wales.

Busy harvest for workers and helpers at the CSA Cae Tan on the ELC’s site in Gower, Wales.

·       They make profitable businesses!

 The Ecological Land Cooperative works to create new opportunities for small ecological farms. For small farms to remain competitive and viable in today’s markets they need to be long-lasting and sustainable — financially as well as ecologically. Small Farm Profits illustrates that such farms are financially sound and that ecological and economic objectives can sit side by side productively.

 The Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) is a social enterprise, co-operative in structure, established to address the lack of affordable sites for ecological land-based livelihoods in England and Wales. Set up in 2009, the ELC purchases land, obtains planning permission, and installs the infrastructure to create clusters of three or more affordable smallholdings for future farmers. The ELC’s first project, Greenham Reach, in mid-Devon, was granted permanent planning permission in 2018 after five years temporary permission. Home to three thriving smallholdings, each operating as independent businesses but working co-operatively to manage the whole site. Greenham Reach is a living example of ecologically managed land providing truly sustainable land-based livelihoods. The ELC’s second site in Arlington, East Sussex has secured temporary planning permission and is the process of recruiting tenants to join the cooperative and start farming.

The ELC has also purchased land on the Gower in Wales and in Sparkford, South Somerset, both have planning applications in process.

The Booklet can be read here: https://ecologicalland.coop/small-farm-profits and for more info about the ELC please visit: http://ecologicalland.coop

 

Read More: CREATING CHANGE WITH THE ECOLOGICAL LAND COOPERATIVE

 



Comment

The Launch of LEAP: Loans for Enlightened Agriculture Programme

The Launch of LEAP: Loans for Enlightened Agriculture Programme

Loan-for-enlightened-agriculture-a-team-foundation

The Real Farming Trust have launched LEAP (Loans for Enlightened Agriculture Programme). The A Team Foundation are proud investors of this programme, along with the Esmeé Fairbairn Foundation, and CIVA. Together, we understand the inherent challenges that agroecological food and farming enterprises face in raising finance.

LEAP is designed to create a way of filling that gap between grant and commercial funding by:

  • working closely with businesses to understand the situation

  • looking at both financial performance and social impact

  • working together through every step of the application process

  • helping organisations to build long-term sustainability.

The Loans for Enlightened Agriculture Programme (LEAP) offers a mix of affordable loans and grants, side by side with a comprehensive mentoring programme and hands on approach.

LEAP is a new model for financing and supporting food and farming enterprises that puts people and the biosphere at the heart of our food system. LEAP will provide a critical next step for community based agroecological enterprises that have relied on grant funding to date and who have had nowhere to go to finance their onward development.

loans-for-enlightened-agriculture-a-team-foundation-leap

What does leap offer?

affordable loans:

  • Unsecured loans for a 5-year term

  • For amounts of between £25,000 and £100,000

  • Can be used for capital or revenue costs

LEAP offers one of the lowest interest rates in the social investment marketplace. This is currently set at 5%, and is calculated on a declining balance, equal instalments basis.

To help cover the costs of running the programme, there is a one-off chargeable fee, which will be taken from the loan when drawn down. This is currently set at 2% of the loan amount.

Grants:

Side by side with the loan, recipients will be offered a grant at 18% of the loan amount. So, for a £50,000 loan, the recipient will be awarded a grant of £9,000. By providing a grant with the loan LEAP hopes to alleviate the administrative burden on the individuals and free them up to concentrate on impact delivery and long-term sustainability. The grants have been kindly supplied by The Halleria Trust.

Business advice and support:

A key component of the LEAP is a tailored and structured mentoring package to ensure that they are ready take on a loan. This is termed ‘investment readiness’. The structure and focus of this support will vary from one organisation to another, but could be in areas such as business planning, financial modelling, governance, social impact delivery, community finance or marketing. The business mentorship is kindly funded by Power to Change.

NEXT STEPS

If this sounds like something that could help you and your business, then please head to the website using the link below. On their site, you can find out more about this game-changing programme and how to apply.