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.