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Agroecology

USING CREATIVITY TO COMMUNICATE A CRITICAL MESSAGE WITH WE FEED THE WORLD

USING CREATIVITY TO COMMUNICATE A CRITICAL MESSAGE WITH WE FEED THE WORLD

Written by Fran Price, Gaia Foundation.

It’s been just over month since we closed the doors on the We Feed the World exhibition at the Bargehouse Gallery on London’s Southbank and packed away the 350 iconic images of small-scale farmers, that told the extraordinary and very moving stories of 52 incredible communities around the world.

This flagship exhibition was the culmination of three and a half years of work for The Gaia Foundation and many other  groups, organisations and businesses who collaborated with farming communities and 47 celebrated photographers to create a body of work that would tell the global story of an agroecological food system in action. 

The vision was to bring to life the statistics that we seldom read about in the mainstream press – that 70 percent of our food is produced by small scale farmers – and to challenge the myth created by the big food corporations – that we need an industrial food system or quick fix technologies like GM to feed a growing global population.

 The images of the men, women and their families who provide the majority of the worlds were photographed in locations as diverse as the deepest Amazon to the icy fishing waters of Northern Sweden, and told a very different story; of resilience, traditional knowledge, community cohesion and the celebration of diversity in all its many forms. It was a unique opportunity for people everywhere to understand the complexities of the global food system, the many issues it currently faces and their own role in its future.

ZIMBABWE, PIETER HUGO, THE MUONDE TRUSTE

ZIMBABWE, PIETER HUGO, THE MUONDE TRUSTE

INDONESIA, MARTIN WESTLAKE, EAST FLORES

INDONESIA, MARTIN WESTLAKE, EAST FLORES

 We Feed the World was a ground-breaking project which brought together the arts and environmental movements in order to a use a different way of communicating critical messages about our food system. As well as the exhibition in London, 47 simultaneous exhibitions were launched in many of the farming communities we worked with, giving each of them the opportunity to celebrate their successes as well as draw attention to the challenges they face. 

 It was a project that required great faith from all who supported it as nothing had been attempted on this scale before.  There were many challenges along the way but when it was opened in London on October 11th by environmental activist, Vandana Shiva, it was hailed as  the largest simultaneous photographic exhibition ever launched.   In her opening speech Vandana said “Agriculture is the one of the most creative acts that human beings can be engaged in. And the fact that the creativity of the photographers and the creativity of the small farmers has come together in this exhibition makes for a very powerful story.”

This enormous level of enthusiasm continued to reverberate throughout the ten days the exhibition was at the Bargehouse with nearly 7000 visitors flooding in to see the images as well as to participate in the 50 + talks and workshops about everything from agricultural policy to foraging to veganism.  Many of the farmers, photographers, NGO’s, organisations and businesses, who had taken part in the project hosted their own sessions, from Austrian farmer and bread-maker, Roswitha Huber to US activist Anna Lappe who came with a stark warning from the US.  Delivering the key note address she said “We don’t have to guess where the industrial path, if pursued globally, would take us. We don’t have to imagine that future; in the United States where I come from, we’re living it. In the United States, industrial agriculture and processed diets have dominated for the last half a century, we’re experiencing record rates of diet-related illnesses and water and air pollution driven by petrochemicals and synthetic fertiliser.” 

As well as the many visitors the exhibition welcomed at the Bargehouse, the images and stories from We Feed the World reached out to a global audience of nearly ten million people through the phenomenal press coverage it generated. Within the first few days of opening, the exhibition had been featured in articles in the GuardianIndependentTelegraph, National Geographic and the British Journal of Photography.  At the same time, the community exhibitions were welcomed by farming and fishing communities around the world.  We were delighted to get feedback from Slovakia, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Kenya and many other countries letting us know how images were being received. In some communities like Shashe in Zimbabwe or Chagford in Devon, the images were shown as part of their annual ceremonies to celebrate the rain or harvest.

The We Feed the World team is now taking stock before it launches into the New Year with plans to take the exhibition on tour and to produce a beautiful photographic book of all the images and their stories, as well as recipes by celebrated chefs which reflect the diet of each community.  As well as communicating a critical message about our food system to a large, global audience, the triumph of We Feed the World has also been to demonstrate how important creativity and collaboration are to navigating our future. Rational thought and competition may have led to some of mankind’s greatest achievements but unless we now embrace a new way of working, we could end up destroying it all. It is worth reflecting on wise words of Albert Einstein when he said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them”. 

SOMERSET, KATE PETERS, GLEBE FARM

SOMERSET, KATE PETERS, GLEBE FARM

ZIMBABWE, PIETER HUGO, THE MUONDE TRUSTE

ZIMBABWE, PIETER HUGO, THE MUONDE TRUSTE

PERU, NIALL O’BRIEN, HUADQUIÑA CO-OPERATIVE

PERU, NIALL O’BRIEN, HUADQUIÑA CO-OPERATIVE

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AUSTRALIA, KATRIN KOENNING, NEW SOUTH WALES


AUSTRALIA, KATRIN KOENNING, NEW SOUTH WALES




Creating change with the Ecological Land Cooperative

Creating change with the Ecological Land Cooperative

by Phil Moore, Ecological Land Cooperative

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead’s oft-cited quote has a certain mileage in the underpinnings of the Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) — the only organisation in England and Wales to fight for affordable residential smallholdings for ecological agriculture.

Changing the world has to start somewhere, and so the ELC have focused their energies on land in the U.K. According to Kevin Cahill, author of ‘Who Owns Britain’ (2001), nearly half of the UK’s land is owned by just 40,000 people — 0.06% of the population.

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For many of those wishing to lead a land-based livelihood, such dreams are stymied by two distinct, but not entirely insurmountable, obstacles — the high cost of land and getting planning consent to live as an agriculture worker on your small-scale mixed farm. Between 2000 and 2010 new farm entrants accounted for just 4% of agricultural land purchasers. The average age of the British farmer is now 59.

This is where the ELC come in.

Zoe Wangler, former ELC Executive Director, and who remains a close ally, was inspired to help start the ELC through the example of others:

“I met a lot of people who wanted a land-based livelihood and wanted to contribute to a better world but just couldn’t access land. When I came across this idea for the ELC - using community finance to buy land and then getting planning permission for people to live on the land so more people could do such projects - I thought I’d absolutely love to get behind that.”

The origins of the Ecological Land Cooperative lie in spirited discussions in the spring of 2005 between members of Chapter 7, the ecological planning consultancy, Radical Routes, a co-operative working for social change, Somerset Co-operative Services, a co-op development body, and a smallholdings like Landmatters, Lammas, Highbury Farm and Five Penny Farm.

The desire for many to inhabit a living countryside in which humans flourish alongside the natural world, and centred around small-scale land-based enterprises providing meaningful employment, is vital for creating food and energy sovereignty.

Re-vitalising rural communities, improving ecological literacy and providing decent and honest food are lofty desires demanded by the passionate.

The Ecological Land Cooperative is the midwife to such breathy ideals, giving the doers and dreamers a practical hand in making small-scale agroecological farming a reality.

The ELC model and core business is simple: the creation of small clusters of three or more affordable residential smallholdings. As well as land, we provide smallholders with permission to build their own sustainable home, with utilities and road access. Our model allows us to keep costs as low as possible, both through buying larger sites at a lower price per acre and through distributing the cost of infrastructure, planning applications and subsequent site monitoring across a number of smallholdings.

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The ELC model of new starter farms is protected for farming, for affordability, and for sustainability. Small-scale agriculture presupposes an ethic of care for the land and a desire to feed people good food. This runs counter to the dominant food production system we see in the U.K. and globally.

The ELC has the skills and expertise necessary to show planning authorities why such small-scale farms make sense financially and culturally. As a cooperative, retaining the acquired knowledge around planning and policy is crucial as a way of both replicating the small clusters of farms model and in dealing with planning law to allow future farmers to focus their energies on growing their business.

More recently we’ve been awarded a temporary planning permission by Wealdon District Council for the creation of three smallholdings on our second site in Arlington, East Sussex.

The application process to lease one of our three smallholdings in Arlington opens in mid-September. Please visit our website to apply and to find out more about our work here: www.ecologicalland.coop/arlington

Our first site in mid Devon has been established for five years with three smallholder families running successful farm-based businesses benefiting the local area in a variety of ways, from providing excellent quality fruit, vegetables, meat, flowers, herbs and other organic produce, to creating volunteer and training opportunities and an environment in which the local ecology is thriving. We also have a third site on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales which is being farmed by a well established local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) scheme, and a fourth (and possibly fifth) site in the pipeline in the south west of England.

The ELC is part of a movement recognising the value to local communities and the economic viability of small-scale farming -- as well as responding to the desire of young farmers wishing to get on the land.

The changes we are making are slow, but progress is steady and sure and we have big ambitions. Our approach isn’t flashy or loud, but rooted in a deeper rhythm of change and in a firm conviction that change is not only possible but desirable.

More about the ELC and our work: www.ecologicalland.coop

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A FOOD REVOLUTION STARTS WITH SEED

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A FOOD REVOLUTION STARTS WITH SEED

The Seed Sovereignty UK & Ireland Programme goes online

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by Rowan Phillimore, Gaia Foundation;  www.seedsovereignty.info

It’s been almost four years since The Gaia Foundation organised The Great Seed Festival in London, to celebrate the seeds that feed us. It was here, as activists, foodies and farmers gathered together at the Garden Museum on the Southbank, that an idea took root which has the potential to change the face of seed production in the UK and Ireland. Inspired by a Canada-wide programme on seed security, the Seed Sovereignty Programme was born. The aim is simple: increase the amount of agro-ecological (organic and open-pollinated) seed being grown and sold here in the UK and Ireland.

It’s estimated that just 3% of the seed produced in the UK is organic, that is, produced without chemicals and fertilisers. That means that the vast majority of products stacked on shelves and in markets labelled ‘organic’ are not grown from organic seed in the first place. There is a glaring break in the cycle from soil to gut and we are embarking on a journey to close it. What’s more, with five experienced regional coordinators based across Wales, Scotland, Ireland and east and west England, we are working closely with farmers, seed producers, horticulturists and trained and commercial growers in order to conserve threatened varieties and to breed more varieties for future resilience. We believe that a food revolution starts with seed.

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On the new dedicated Seed Sovereignty website visitors will find a growing library of resources relating to all things seed. Whether looking for a local supplier of organic seed, for training in seed saving or information about current seed legislation, the website provides a useful stepping-stone to support you in your journey.

The site is also the home of first-hand accounts from the programme’s five dedicated regional coordinators. Katie Hastings, Coordinator for Wales talks here about her first few months in the role as she travelled across the country to meet farmers and growers. You can read her full blog here.

“One of the first things the growers told me is that despite knowing a great deal about land management and vegetable production, many of them didn’t have the skills to produce seed. The art of completing the growing cycle on farm by producing the seed for the next crop is somehow being lost, and the growers I was meeting wanted to change that.

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I started by working with the inspirational seed company Real Seeds. Kate, Ben and their team have been producing high quality open pollinated seed for sale for over 20 years. Their passion for seed sovereignty has informed the way they run their business and has led them to encourage their customers to save their own seed. But what has been striking is the discovery that they cannot produce enough seed in their fields in Newport to satisfy demand. The Real Seeds shopping carts have overflowed numerous times as they process orders for a growing appetite for ecological seed.

With a strong market for Welsh grown seed and a burst of energy from growers keen to learn, my work has been centred on bringing these two worlds together.”

Find out more about the aims of the programme and how you can get involved or connect with your regional coordinator by visiting www.seedsovereignty.info




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The A Team's consultation response to Defra's 'Health and Harmony'

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The A Team's consultation response to Defra's 'Health and Harmony'

 

 

It has been announced that Defra has received over 44,000 consultation responses from various institutions, businesses and individuals. Each, has critiqued the Government's vision; Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit. The consequences of which, are going to influence the forward trajectory of agriculture, food, public wellbeing and the environment in the UK.

The A Team Foundation are grateful to have our views heard by Government.  Our advice echoes the sentiments of many other voices, it has been formulated by the experience of our grantees on the ground, and from the knowledge of the wider food movement at large. 

Firstly, we champion agroecology and have expressed with great care its many benefits. And so too, we have flagged the holes that appear in the Government's vision.

But furthermore, we have given emphasis upon how we are in the flux of an agricultural revolution. One that envisions an enlightened food system where food is diverse, nutritiously complete, locally sourced, sustainably produced, and access to it is equal. 

 

"The agricultural bill is evidence that there is no longer a status quo, the time to create a brave new world is upon us. One built on humanitarian, and ecological ideals .... Solutions that we develop now are the bedrock, on which, our future generations will thrive."

 
 

Please take the time to read our consultation response in full (by clicking here or on the image below).  However, If you are short on time, our key messages are below. 

 

Our key messages

  • Agroecology is the answer. We advise Defra to make the UK a world-leading example of the enlightened agricultural practice. When aligned with local supply chains, the rights for worker’s and technological innovation, it is the panacea for our paradigm shift.
     
  • The A Team Foundation requests official recognition that food is not a commodity but a basic human right.
     
  • Apply the four easy-to-implement schemes as proposed by the Land Worker’s Alliance; 1) A Sustainable Farming Transition Scheme. 2) A Local Food Fund. 3) A New Entrants Scheme. 4) Horticulture Livelihoods Payments
     
  • Reinvigorate the Horticulture Sector to make easy gains on healthy and accessible food, healthy food, behaviour change, community integration, strengthening local livelihoods and development of our nutritionally complete food security.
     
  • Diverse, culturally appropriate and nutritionally complete food, should take precedence over establishing export markets for commodities.
     
  • Create short supply chains through supporting horticulture farms in urban and peri-urban locations. This would provide a multitude of benefits for urban society, such as education, engagement, health, urban biodiversity and community cohesion.
     
  • Implement simplified Environmental Land Management Schemes for agroforestry, orchards, and particularly; Community Supported Agriculture.
     
  • To talk about ‘Public Goods’ and resilience is at its most fundamental is to talk about seed and agrobiodiversity. This is a vital area that is not acknowledged through Health and Harmony. 
     
  • We strongly request a reverse of the decisions by BEIS and DEFRA not to extend the role of the groceries code Adjudicator to cover more of the food supply chain beyond direct supermarket suppliers.
     
  • Food labelling must be reformed to a mandatory and uniformed system that champions our high food standards, the nutritional quality, the Public Goods they create, and the method of production.
     
  • Public health is a Public Good, and one that should be delivered by farming and food policy. Although inherently interconnected, there isn’t a focus on how agricultural policy will change the course of diet-related illness in the UK and ease the burden on the NHS.
     
  • All Public Procurement should run through a food assurance scheme, we propose the Soil Association’s ‘Food for Life’.
 

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Why is the Precautionary Principle so vital?

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Why is the Precautionary Principle so vital?

By Robert Reed, A Team Foundation

Sustainable food production is the apex between human and environmental health. Being good custodians of our planet gives the inherent benefit to one’s self also. Clean soil, air, and water should create clean food, diets, and overall wellbeing. This is true even if you reverse the chain; wholesome nutrition requires eating healthy and cooking with clean ingredients.

However, this interconnected perspective is still lost amongst the conditioning from the past. Throughout the world, industries and people, work with a silo mentality; a perspective that sees and works within the parameters of only one self-defined area, and everything external of that is considered void. This is an outdated ‘reductionist’ thinking method, ill-suited for the challenges of the 21st century. 

We, as a species, are at a point in our evolution where holistic thinking is the only way forward. Necessity is the mother of all innovation, and from which, new systems are emerging.

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The natural environment works in a multidimensional continuum (it all arises simultaneously at once, everywhere), and this patchwork of beings all relate to one another – ourselves included (A wonderful video about interconnectivity in nature: How the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park changed the rivers).

Imagine a wing of an aeroplane, there are many rivets holding it together. If the wing lost one or two rivets during a flight, it will be more-or-less secure and its function in-tact. However, there is a threshold, if enough rivets are removed, the wing (and the plane) loses its functionality. This is the basic premise of environmental collapse. The environment we are a part of.

The environment is a network of innumerable species. This network, the ecosystem, is resilient to all the shocks that we humans place upon it. There are many scientists who claim our actions have brought us to the tipping point of the planetary boundaries; potentially driving Earth into a new state of existence.

Rén - The Chinese symbol for Man

Rén - The Chinese symbol for Man

The Chinese symbol for Man has many entertaining interpretations with unity and interconnectedness as a common theme. Created by two lines, the first is propped up by the latter. I see it as Man being propped upwards by the Earth. Others found meaning in how we as humans should treat each other. Either way, it’s a symbol, but for me, it is one that shows the underlining connection to all.

What we do is what happens to us. If we disregard another (be it the environment or another human), the effects return to the source (dressed in a different form).

Thinking in this manner (holism) is one thing, applying it, however, is most definitely a challenge. The reasons why holistic systems are so beneficial is that they are diverse and complex; ironically, the same reasons why there is such resistance to adopt them.

We cannot say that we know with absolute accuracy, what consequences occur from our individual actions. Impacts go beyond our field of vision and our feedback loops, they are external, eternally rippling outwards.

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Imagine, therefore, a new product - for ease, let’s say a pesticide - is developed and about to be released, one that has a “successful” potency against certain crop-munching insects. As users, neighbours or customers, we cannot personally guarantee its safety and thus, we place our trust in organisations, certifying bodies and national law so that this product doesn’t cause detrimental harm.

Let’s say those institutions didn’t exist, negative consequences could manifest in many forms. Perhaps when the pesticide is mixed with a different ‘on farm’ chemical it becomes a poisonous substance, or, it may obliterate a specific native population of invertebrates (with larger consequences in the ecosystem and food chain). One stat has been playing on my mind recently; we – Europe as a land mass – have lost 33% of our farmland birds. Why? -  Simply, habitat and food; a loss of hedgerows, wooded areas, insects, worms. What if the bird population falls so far that the decline goes beyond a sustainable threshold? What does that mean to the native plants dependent on seed dispersal through avian digestion? What does it mean for predators? What does it mean for other bird life? For our own pleasure in the morning, how sweet will that dawn chorus be? And in time, what does this mean for our own culture? Ad. Infinitum.

This line of thought is exactly why there is a piece of policy legislation in place called The Precautionary Principle. Where there is insufficient scientific evidence available to make an authoritative decision, the Principle suggests to not go ahead as the risk is either unknown or too high – common sense right?

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There is a chance that this piece of policy (along with other environmental protections) may be scrapped during Brexit; opening the doors for the silo thinking. The PP is a preventative against harm when we do not know the extent of the outcome.

In March, the APPG for Agroecology and Dr Rupert Read (University of East Anglia) created briefing papers that highlighted the importance of the Precautionary Principle in Government policy. The briefings inform the ongoing environmental protection debates at the House of Lords, where they are reporting on the amendments to the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill. There are two papers, one is specific to the House of Lords and the EU Withdrawal Bill, the other focus on the role that the Precautionary Principle has in the context of Climate Change and Animal Welfare.     

The Bill itself omits many environmental safeguards. Debates are already occurring in the House as the overarching dialogue continues until the deadline for reporting; May 8th. There has been an update this week that provides some sense of clarity. On Monday, the Lords defeated the Government. The proposal to make amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill (that would maintain the environmental protections and human rights) was passed. If enough MPs agree with the amendments, the consequence will mean that the Government must revise the initial EU Withdrawal Bill. 

However, there still remains a gaping hole. When the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, proposed his visions for a ‘Green Brexit’. Mr Gove and his team acknowledged a problem, the current regulator, the European Court of Justice, will not be in effect after Brexit and so, Mr Gove proposed a new watchdog to take its duties. The Government maintain the status that environmental protection will be the role of the watchdog, but what is the use of a watchdog that has no teeth?  

The issue is that the watchdog hasn't materialised due to the opposition from other members of the cabinet. They want to be free to arrange international trade deals as they please, in the name of the economy and industry. And this has the potential to leave the environment wide open to negligent practice.

While these debates are ongoing, the APPG still supplies evidence, while also working on the consultation for the Agriculture Bill; another critical piece of policy work. Meanwhile, Greener UK, (a united front by organisations such as Client Earth, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Woodland Trust to name only a few) are still spearheading the efforts to safeguard the existing environmental protections.

Earlier this month, GreenerUK released this blog post; Green Brexit? Not unless the prime minister stands up to her grey ministers, which acutely sums up that current state of play.

The need for enlightenment continues… well, at least Spring has arrived.

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Brexit and Enlightened Agriculture: who is doing what

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Brexit and Enlightened Agriculture: who is doing what

 By Robert Reed, A Team Foundation

 

 The month of January is named after Janus, the mythological Roman god of gates, beginnings and transitions. With that in mind, it seemed an appropriate time to write about the political path ahead in light of recent Brexit developments.

In the current tides of popular discourse, using Latin may be overly EU-centric: In an Anglo-Saxon tongue, January was called, “Wulf-monath”; the month of the wolves. Look into that as you will.

Recently, the A Team Foundation kicked off 2018 with the Oxford Real Farming Conference. If the year continues as it has begun, we are in line for an exciting ride. And boy, did the conference permeate with the momentum of change.

The Secretary of State, Rt Hon. Michael Gove MP gave a public Q&A with Zac Goldsmith concerning Brexit, the UK’s farming sector and forthcoming changes. Numerous sites provide an accurate account of his attendance, such as the Soil Association and this article in the Guardian.

Mr Gove’s speech was filled with Brexit and what that means for farmers. In this article, the A Team Foundation will provide you with a summary of the Brexit landscape and importantly, who is doing what for you and Enlightened Agriculture in preparation for Britain leaving the EU.

The food sovereignty movement is in the process of influencing national policy through a joined-up approach. The organisations involved are already hard at work, and a sense of urgency maintains. Everyone is taking focus; this is the opportunity that we have all been waiting for, for so very long.

Defra Ministers have welcomed the Land Worker’s Alliance and the Organic Roundtable (spearheaded by the Organic Research Centre) to work with them in supplying evidence and case studies to inform decisions for the forthcoming Agricultural Bill. On a broader political level, The Real Farming Trust, Sustain, Greener UK and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Agroecology are affecting the democratic processeses of Government. And the RSA has taken a non-political route by launching a commission to develop public engagement and education.

With regards to recent developments, it seems that the Government has adhered to the arrival of January in the same way that most people do, with a New Year’s resolution; a commitment to change oneself for the better. We hope that this New Year’s resolution will last.

 

DEFRA’s 25-year plan.

 

The Conservatives have publicly embraced the notion that they are a green party. This metamorphosis has caught many by surprise and indeed, it is most welcome news. The release, earlier this month, of the 25-year Environment Plan, was announced by Theresa May. The first major speech by a Prime Minister on the environment for 17 years.

As per every landscape of the UK, Brexit has a critical impact on food, farming and the environment. If half of the policies proposed by the 25-year environmental plan comes to fruition, then it would be one of the most significant environmental accomplishments to occur in our time. But with every victory, there’s a taste that’s bittersweet. 

The plan is not without its criticisms, and I write this today as a 30-year-old, I’ll be almost 60 by the time “avoidable” plastic waste is eliminated, which is just not good enough. Also, numerous organisations are criticising the lack of legal underpinning. A lengthy amount of time allows for the changing of the tides. No legal commitment exists to support the enforcement of the Plan’s statements and policies. 

The plan covers a range of topics from plastics, recycling, biodiversity and habitats to climate change and air pollution. Here we have chosen a few highlights:

Soil Fertility.

First of all, the words ‘Organic Farming’ is not mentioned. However, the plan hints to techniques from the organic movement. Soil fertility is a crucial part of the project. DEFRA have rightfully understood the importance of our soil as a fundamental underpinning of food security and a resilient biosphere. The plan suggests improving soil health through the utilisation of trees and widespread application of successful techniques such as installing winter cover crops.

 

Common Agricultural Policy

Michael Gove has publicly stated that direct payments would be phased out after Brexit. In its place, agriculture support will be based on rewarding farmers who deliver “public goods” or environmental enhancements. The plan includes measures to protect water and reduce chemical use.

A transition period is in motion between now and 2024. In that space sits a replica of the existing CAP system. The removal of subsidies for land area payments begin with the higher earners first and a lot sooner than 2024. The UK’s alternative Agriculture Bill is being designed as we speak with proposals submitted through a command paper this Spring.

 

Natural Capital

The Natural Capital Committee is a considerable influence in Defra decision making.  Deiter Helm is the pioneering academic for Natural Capital in the UK. His book, Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet, is a solid piece of work. You can instantly see why policymakers want him around.

Natural Capital is a concept which gives a monetary value to every subject of the environment. It is measured through metrics based on cultural, economic and ecological values to people and the ecosystem.

It allows those who see the world through linear, numerically orientated perspectives to factor in the un-factorable within their bookkeeping. It translates the wiggly and circular world into a language they can understand and work with.

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This use of language brings environmental stewardship and the ecosystem rightfully onto tables of commercial, political and industrial discussion. It has the potential to prioritise sustainability and reward the steward.

Agroecology is an approach that balances production, sustainability, and ecology. Natural Capital will be taking it seriously as the method will benefit the bottom line in the long-term.  

However, Natural Capital will be an influencer in the increase of biodiversity and carbon offsetting.  Upon planning a new development, the ecology of an existing site is compensated by creating an equivalent elsewhere. Offsetting an area that has a substantial cost (let's say, ancient woodland) is not a problem for those with deep pockets. Offsetting cultural and atmospheric integrity, however, is different.

How far will this go? One day, will there be Japanese investor capitalists thronging money into land within The Mendips in the hope that a newly built shopping centre in Birmingham will need to offset its carbon and biodiversity? Have we honestly lost the connection to value while only knowing the cost? How does the poetic spirit of the natural world translate to numbers on an excel spreadsheet?

 

The Polluter Pays Principle.

Lastly, on a bit of a tangent from food and farming, the plan develops an appetite for a greater emphasis on the polluter pays principle (Whereby the costs of environmental pollution lie with those responsible for it). Which as a factor is helpful. Although, with the removal of the precautionary principle from the EU withdrawal bill (a policy maker’s tool to manage risk where scientific understanding is incomplete; if the unknowns are big then don’t), it seems Defra are more interested in focusing on the cure as opposed to prevention.

“The Precautionary Principle reminds us of our responsibilities as stewards for our bequeathed wondrous nature, to which we give no voice and towards which too often we turn a deaf ear. It jolts us into giving proper attention to the living worlds of all future generations, both human and natural, for whom at present there is no reliable political representation”. Rupert Read

 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology

 

The APPG on Agroecology is a group of parliamentarians that provide a voice for Agroecology in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Members range across the entire political spectrum and are co-chaired by Kerry McCarthy MP and Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer.

The group supplies a platform for agroecological experts to present their ideas and research findings to MPs, peers, the media and public on a regular basis. The group publishes parliamentary briefings and co-ordinates the actions of ministers and opposition through a range of governmental protocols.

The APPG on Agroecology for Sustainable Food and Farming conducted an inquiry in March 2017 into the way Brexit trade negotiations could impact UK agriculture and food production, with particular emphasis on areas of practice and legislation most likely to effect producers working to sustainable, agroecological standards. The conclusion is summarised in the following sentence:

Poorly handled trade deals ‘biggest peacetime threat’ to UK food security.

“There are serious concerns that if negotiators don’t value farmers enough and build poorly managed trade deals that reflect this - particularly a US - UK deal – it could trigger a race to the bottom in terms of standards and ability of our own farmers to compete. The APPG is determined that this sector should not become a bargaining chip or something that can easily be traded.” Group Chair Kerry McCarthy MP

Scary stuff.. 

In recent months, the APPG is looking deeper into what the EU Withdrawal Bill means for Enlightened Agriculture.

Kath Dalmeny's visual props fo  r her Brexit presentation at ORFC18

Kath Dalmeny's visual props for her Brexit presentation at ORFC18

The Oxford Real Farming Conference always spurs motivational energy. Kath Dalmeny from Sustain gave such a sterling visual presentation on the EU Withdrawal Bill (what can be banked as safe, promises that can be built upon, and what is going to be binned), it catalysed many conversations within the floor and behind the scenes. Sustain, and other organisations are working with the APPG on developing the 2018 program as we speak.

The APPG (like all of us) are set for a busy year. As proponents of the phrase ‘Public Money for Public Good’, they carry the duty to inform MPs and Peers with analysis of Defra’s 25-year plan, advice for the Agriculture Bill, and campaigning to pick up any dropped balls from the EU Withdrawal Bill.

Defra, with their open-door policy to new methods of thinking, has set their sights on our movement through the interconnected work of the APPG and their informants such as the Organic Research Centre and the Landworkers’ Alliance. 

 

The English Organic Forum’s Roundtable and their Organic Action Plan

 

Following the Brexit referendum, the English Organic Forum (a roundtable of organic organisations, spearheaded by Organic Research Centre), has been prolific in raising critical issues with Defra Ministers.

Defra has invited the forum to participate in formal conversations about agricultural policy and to produce and implement an industry-led action plan to develop the organic food and farming sector in England (The devolved nations have their right to build their strategy).

Forming the plan has taken a joined-up industry approach. The strategic areas targeted for development, as follows; Citizen access to and engagement with organic food, Small-scale production and short supply chains; trade, national supply chains and domestic supply; Regulations and equivalency; Research, advice, training and information; and support for the public benefits from organic land management.

During the Oxford Real Farming Conference, Professor Nic Lampkin and key members of the forum (the Biodynamic Association, Land Workers’ Alliance, Organic Trade Board, Organic Farmers & Growers, and the Soil Association to name a few) hosted a workshop in a bustling room, crowd-sourcing additional ideas from the conference’s experienced attendees.

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Professor Lampkin states that participation is wholly welcome, the process is to the benefit of the industry and broader public. You can find his contact details at the Organic Research Centre.

The Roundtable met with Defra Ministers in November. The response from their initial proposals was constructive, and several issues were highlighted for further focus.  A further meeting of the Organic Roundtable is planned for March 2018, with the launch of the action plan envisaged later in the Spring.

 

The Land Workers’ Alliance

 

Come Spring, the Agricultural Bill will be released outlining the path ahead. The Bill will have a critical impact on how food is produced in this country, the natural world, and our human health. It is perhaps the most significant moment for agriculture in generations.

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The Landworkers’ Alliance is working to define our future through influencing policy. They are rallying the cause to make sure the voices of the people are heard, their livelihoods defended and a fair food system for all is guaranteed. 

Successful policy work is critical to their cause with the belief that farmers and communities must be at the heart of decision-making. They want to see power put back in the hands of producers and local communities rather than supermarkets and industrial processors.

The LWA is a tenacious group. At the closing plenary of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, Jyoti Fernandes gave a genuinely moving speech. She recalled how fourteen years ago, on a cold January morning while getting her children ready for school; she was carrying a bale of hay to feed livestock across a yard deep in mud when the inevitable happened. Falling head first, surrounded by hungry cows, she looked up and just wished it would be easier for farmers like her.

LWA Post-Brexit Agriculture Policy June 2017

This collective of strong-willed farmers and producers have been a driving force for change. Now, fourteen years later, Jyoti sat having lunch with Mr Gove, as he stated, “we’ll have our people call your people” or something of that kind.

The LWA’s publication ‘Recommendations for a post-Brexit Policy’ is a must-read for those interested in this area.

The door to Defra is open for innovative and holistic thinkers. The LWA has already gathered the research and formulated the arguments for change. Now, they are giving Defra the whistle-stop tour of it in action through Defra study tours, ‘away days’ and case studies. Politicians are on the ground, in wellies.

Now, LWA staff are being asked to join in various committees and contribute as consultants. The Conservatives Rural Action Group have invited some of LWA’s new entrants that are struggling with planning, to speak at a hearing in Parliament.

The time to make a change is really upon us and the LWA have the mandate to carry it through. They have recently completed a successful crowdfunding campaign, raising £25,000 to support their policy work and keep up with that demand. At a time to be proud of our movement, the LWA are working tirelessly to maintain momentum, but there is still a long way to go.

 

Greener UK

 

The largest and the most resourced organisation that is affecting Government’s decisions on environmental policy is Greener UK. An unprecedented coalition of environmental groups with a combined public membership of 7.9 million that are following Brexit’s every twist and turn.

Greener UK is a compound of major environmental organisations such as RSPB, National Trust, WWF, The Wildlife Trusts, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Client Earth, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Woodland Trust and with support from numerous other organisations and networks. A united front is the best way to impact the major decisions. 

An agricultural briefing policy has been designed by the coalition. It promotes the notion that interdisciplinary, cross sector approaches are needed due to the transboundary nature of the natural world. They are working alongside Food and Farming organisations to inform policymakers.

Mr Gove’s stance on environmental law is that after Brexit, the UK is better disposed to improve protections and has pledged that green standards will not be weakened.

However, Greener UK is of the belief that the current EU withdrawal bill “rips the heart out of environmental law” by omitting the principles of precaution. Greener UK is concerned that government plans do not adequately transpose all EU environmental rules into UK law.

After Brexit day, the European Commission will be unable to work alongside the European Court of Justice to hold the UK government to account. Over the past 40 years, the EU has achieved a great deal in improving environmental quality in the UK.

Therefore, it appeared that a governance gap was open for exploitation. In the summer of 2017, Greener UK highlighted the risk that could arise from this problem, and Mr Gove responded by announcing in the 25-year plan, the creation of a ‘new-commission like body’ to hold the government to account.

Greener UK analyses Defra with a sharp focus. The European Commission formulates new environmental policy proposals on the back of 500 civil servants. In principle, there is no reason that Defra is unable to handle these processes but for years it has been subject to profound staffing cuts and lacks a generation’s worth of experience in preparing legislative bills.

Greener UK is doing a comprehensive job informing Ministers, the Media and The Public about the potential issues concerning environmental policy. Environmental Policy has a rightful place on the table where larger conversations are being had. However, at points, it can be neglected or traded. Refer back to the work of the APPG and trade negotiations. Negotiations require the flexibility to compromise and having concrete laws may be a burden to those in economics. Greener UK are focused to achieve the best deal for the environment in light of the volatile and transient times.

 
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The RSA’s Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

 

The last organisation to be mentioned is a bit of an anomaly. As the others are all influencing Government, the RSA’s commission is a public based inquiry into the interrelated nexus of Food, Farming and the Countryside. The purpose of its establishment is to consider how a safe, secure food and farming system can be achieved while also providing a flourishing rural economy and sustainable and accessible countryside.

Brexit was the catalyst that inspired this commission and the opportunity that Brexit gives is an overarching rethink of the food production system. The vision spurs further questions such as, Where do we want our food to come from? How are we to support farms (and rural economies) without the Common Agricultural Policy? How can we assure public and environmental health?

“The work of this Commission will go to the heart of who we are and who we want to be: as individuals, households, and communities”. RSA

The steering group, involving Directors and CEOs of the National Trust, Royal Society of Public Health, Soil Association, Sustain, Tenant Farmers Association, Volac and Which?, shall chart a course, critically analysing through enquiry, the interconnected and changing spheres of agriculture, environment, rural living, dietary needs, and public health.

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 The task of the commission is this:

  1. Inspire and develop a widely-shared mandate for change.
  2. Set out a vision that is fairer, can stand the test of time, and aligns more closely with public expectations and values.
  3. Propose solutions to achieve that vision, identifying where communities and business can take the lead, and where national policy is essential

The enquiry isn’t based exclusively on those “in the know”, the work aims to extrapolate upon public knowledge and provide a platform for citizen engagement. The choices of people determine the food system; it is of vital importance that attitudes and behaviours are not only incorporated but also, understood.

Sue Pritchard, the Secretariat of the Commission, chaired a session at the ORFC based on the interconnected nature of Food, Farming and Medicine. The all-female panel was made up of organic growers, retailers, public health nutritionists, a general practitioner and nutritional chef practitioner. The importance of healthy food resonates through our movement. Here, the panel discussed the ripple effect of what a robust and healthy food system can do for us.   

The RSAs objective is epitomised by that panel: ’finding common ground using different perspectives, so to innovate solutions’. Those solutions are to be publicised in Spring 2019

 

Conclusion

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So, as you can see, there is an interconnected network that are working together with the sum greater than the whole of its parts. This synergy seems to be gaining ground in some areas (those that are politically aligned), whereas there is still cause for concern for others. 

These organisations are key players in the changing political and social landscape. In an industry where many are achieving phenomenal feats by pushing for change as well as working long hours outside growing or farming. An inspirational amount of energy and know-how is being funnelled into a movement that is making change happen.

As this Brexit journey charters an unknown path, we know that it won’t be plain sailing.  However, we can take pride in the fact that whatever happens, there are people out there giving there all for a better world. 

After all that you have read, and our energies spent, aren’t you glad that by the end of this year, it may have accounted for nothing due to a second referendum? Or not… who knows.

 



 

 

Comment

A Matter of Scale

Comment

A Matter of Scale

by Rebecca Laughton and Csilla Kiss, 
The Landworkers' Alliance and The
Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), Coventry University.

Why study small farms?

Small scale (20ha and less) farms and market gardens have long fallen below the radar in UK agricultural policy, despite attracting increasing numbers of new entrants who bring youth and innovation to the agricultural sector.  A culture of disbelief exists that such farms can be economically viable in an age when family farms of 50-200 hectares are being amalgamated into ever larger units. Despite an “inverse relationship” between farm size and productivity being proven in the Global South, little data exists about the productivity of small farms in the UK. The “A Matter of Scale” (AMOS) study set out to challenge the assumption that bigger automatically means “more productive” and “more viable”, by collecting and analysing data about the yields, financial performance and multifunctional benefits of agroecological farms of 20ha and less. The A-Team Foundation provided funding for a two year study to be undertaken by the Landworkers’ Alliance under the supervision of the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University, combining an online survey of small farmers with the creation of five short films, based on interviews with the most productive farms in the survey.

AMOS Report - Small Farm - A Team Foundation

What did the research show?

The survey and interviews revealed a number of striking findings about this little studied sector.  The most notable include:

AMOS Report - Tractor - A Team Foundation
  • The average yields (kg per square metre) of crops such as beans, salad leaves and kale, requiring high labour inputs were two to three times higher than yield data for standard non-organic systems.
     
  • Small farms provide employment, both for self-employed growers/farmers and paid employees, to the tune of 3.2 full time equivalents (FTE) per hectare.  This is significantly higher than the UK average for agriculture of 0.028 annual work units (AWU) per hectare[1] and even the average for horticulture of 0.23 AWU/ha[2].  Furthermore, employees were motivated to choose small scale agroecological farms due to the variety of work, its meaningful nature and the convivial working environment.
     
  • 78% of the sample was receiving no farm subsidies, and of those who were, for most respondents, subsidies represented a minor proportion of their income.  Although net farm incomes were low, produce sales were generating more than 60% of total income for 33% of the AMOS sample, 40-60% of income for 33% of the sample.   This contrasts with annual farm business income data for the UK, in which all farm types are obtaining more income from Pillar 1 payments and agri-environment schemes than from sales of agricultural produce[3] .

The methodology for measuring productivity on diverse, highly integrated farms, proved challenging. Apart from the horticultural data, it was difficult to calculate yield figures per area of land due to practices such as rotation, poly-cropping and the use of bought in feeds.  A detailed understanding of the full productive capacity of small farms, especially those with livestock, would require in depth quantitative case studies.  As is so often the case, the attempt to answer one question, only throws up many more!

AMOS report - Chickens - A Team Foundation

Outcomes from the AMOS study

Even before the AMOS report was published in July 2017, figures from the study were in demand.  The 2017 edition of the “Organic Farm Management  Handbook”, used AMOS horticultural yield data in a new section focussing on the performance of small organic production holdings, making it more useful for business planning for such enterprises.  Figures from the report have also been used in the Landworkers’ Alliance’s own campaign publications “Making Food Sovereignty a Reality: Recommendations for Post-Brexit Agricultural Policy”[4] and “Why We Need Small Farms[5]

AMOS report - Group Shot - A Team Foundation

Following publication, the report achieved some media coverage, including interviews with the author on Farming Today, BBC Points West (Link) and BBC Radio Somerset.  At the Via Campesina global gathering in July, great excitement was expressed about the AMOS report as a valuable campaigning tool.  In September, a delegation of Defra officers from the Organic Team took part in a two day study tour of small, agroecological farms in the Midlands, including three visits to holdings which took part in the study.  Being able to show efficient and viable small farms in action, backed up by a detailed report about their productivity, was powerful in challenging the preconceptions held by some of the delegates.  Already the report is contributing to broader dialogue about the future of agriculture and was also featured in a CPRE Food and Farming Foresight Paper, “Uncertain Harvest: does the loss of farms matter[6]?”

The scope of the project stretched far beyond the delivery of a report, however.  Encouraged by the team at the CAWR, respondents for the survey were recruited in part by a series of six regional Landworkers’ Alliance meetings across England.  These meetings, held in early 2015, formed the foundation for an evolving regionalisation process which is enabling far flung members of the LWA to benefit from training events, farm tours and the solidarity of regional meetings.  In October 2016, people who took part in the survey and other LWA members were invited to a Skill Share day to hear about the results of the research, and take part in enterprise themed workshops to explore how they could increase productivity using agroecological ideas.  The five films were premiered at the Skill Share day, which gave an opportunity for feedback and discussion and contributed to the final report.  The films will now make the findings of the report accessible to a wider audience and will, we hope, encourage more people to read the report.

At a time when the future of UK agriculture hangs in the balance, the AMOS report will continue to be a valuable piece of the LWA’s campaign toolkit as we argue the case for better support for small farmers post Brexit. 

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You can read the full AMOS report here

 

[1] Defra (2015) Agriculture in the UK, p8

[2] Devlin, S. (2016) Agricultural Labour in the UK. New Economics Foundation and Food Research Collaboration. 

[3] Defra (2015/16) Farm business income by type of farm, p8

[4] LWA (2017) Making Food Sovereignty a Reality: Recommendations for Post-Brexit Agricultural Policy.  

[5] LWA (2017) Why we need small farms: Farming in Post-Brexit Britain.

[6] Willis, G. (2017). Uncertain Harvest: Does the loss of small farms matter? Food and Farming Foresight Paper 2, the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

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Comment

Land and Deliver : Erasmus

Land and Deliver : Erasmus

Written by Tom Carman and Ruth West, Real Farming Trust.

Land is what we use to grow the food we eat. For years in the UK many new entrants to farming, as in the rest of Europe, have been facing increasing difficulties accessing affordable and secure land.  There were and still are a mixture of reasons contributing to these difficulties, which have been identified as part of an Erasmus partnership and learning programme working across Europe called Access to Land.  This project is pooling knowledge and experience from organisations in France, Romania, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany and the UK.

The starting point for this work was looking at the barriers and hurdles facing new entrants to farming. The demand for land is high as there are competing interests for its use – farming, housing, woodland enterprise, industrial developments etc.  Planning systems across Europe are regulated to different degrees, and whilst planning systems can help to bring different stakeholders together to discuss land use, they don’t align with the timing needs for farmers to make a living. In addition to this, there is scepticism amongst the status quo in UK farming about the viability of alternative approaches to food production and land management such as agro-ecology, organic and bio-dynamic farming or permaculture.  This is despite increasing evidence that these approaches can provide a living and the increasingly obvious need for land to be managed in a way that is good for the planet.  There is also competition amongst entrant farmers, as when scare land does become available there are many people who apply to use it.

Difficult land access has had strategic, structural and operational effects on countries.  For instance the UK is not producing enough food: around 60% is imported, with many horticultural products coming from Spain.  The effect of this has been to decrease the pool of entrant farmers in the UK leaving an increasingly aging farming population. The result has been a loss of farming skills and a lack of innovation – new entrant farmers bring with them the desire and knowledge to practice agro-ecologial farming, but without the ability to access land, they cannot build experience or share agro-ecological credibility.

The exciting part to this work though, is learning about innovative approaches that are helping agro-ecologial farmers to access land better. For example, Terre de Liens in France has successfully brought together key stakeholders across France including local authorities, conventional farming regulators, citizens and new entrants to open up 3,000 hectares of French farmland to organic food production.  In Germany, a network of land access co-operatives has started to emerge that work from a national to local level, opening up land for agro-ecological farmers. And in the UK, the Community Supported Agriculture network is supporting the growth of local communities wanting to share the risks of food production with the farmer. 

As part of the Erasmus programme, The A-Team Foundation sponsored a film exploring the shared challenges facing new entrants from the participating countries in their search for land. 


The Beacon Farms Journey

The Beacon Farms Journey

Written by Steph Wetherall, Beacon Farms Report co-author. 

In 2012 a group of people gathered together to look at how best to safeguard some of Bristol’s best agricultural land, while supporting and encouraging new entrants to farming by facilitating access to land and enterprise support. Beacon Farms was created, and the search for a piece of land for our first Farm Hub began. 

Beacon Farms - A Team Foundation

Almost four years later, Beacon Farms has tried four different methods of securing land for this purpose; we tried buying from a private owner, leasing from the council, buying at auction and a community asset transfer, and each fell through for a different reason. 

We decided to take the time to reflect on our journey, and this resulted in a report called The Beacon Farms Journey. The document details the approaches and the challenges that we faced in each attempt, including the reason for the failure of that attempt. But more importantly, it includes reflections on what we’ve learnt along the way. 

The 'blue finger' is the long blue strip in the top right of Bristol (the solid red block), above Frenchay.   

The 'blue finger' is the long blue strip in the top right of Bristol (the solid red block), above Frenchay.  

We take the time to look at why acquiring land is so hard; why high land prices have pushed agricultural land out of the price range of farmers, and the challenges facing local authorities in making land available. We observe that our agricultural land is not sufficiently protected, that our best and most versatile soils are slowly being built on, or are the subject of land grabs in the hope of future development opportunities. We reflect on the slow moving nature of projects like this, and the problems this can pose for momentum and funding.

And finally, we look to the future and our determination not to give up. While we may not have managed to secure a piece of land, we have achieved many other things during this time, including being able to raise the profile of the ‘Blue Finger’ soils around Bristol and carry out in-depth research into land seekers’ needs through a detailed survey. We’ve learnt that projects such as this require a combination of the right people and the right opportunity, and we’re hopeful that our time will come.

We hope that our story helps inspire, encourage and support other similar projects in their journeys. You can read the full report by clicking here.

Beacon Farms - A Team Foundation
Beacon Farms - A Team Foundation