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

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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.

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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.


 
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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.

 



 

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THE ABSOLUTE IMPORTANCE OF ENLIGHTENED AGRICULTURE

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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.




 

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Meet the inspiring women who are transforming food and farming for good

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Meet the inspiring women who are transforming food and farming for good

 

A collaborative piece written by Abby Rose - Farmerama, Robert Reed - A Team Foundation, and twelve inspiring women.


The A Team Foundation are celebrating International Women’s Day in collaboration with Farmerama Radio who share the voices of the regenerative agriculture movement. Today, Friday the 8th March, is a day to celebrate all the women in our lives; those that are close to us and also, those who are working to shift paradigms not only in food and farming but in the wider world.

Abby: Farmerama is truly grassroots radio. We have always been focused on sharing the voices of the people on the front line of food and farming, those getting stuck into the nitty gritty of what it really means to be a food producer and how that relates to the wider world. We also have a strong focus on featuring under-represented voices as we will only build a regenerative food and farming system if we work with diversity being a fundamental ideal.

As co-host of Farmerama, I was at a women farmers conference in California, and one grazier told us about her experiences with holistic grazing cows across vast areas in order to rebuild ecosystems and regenerate soils. As a female rancher, she was in the minority amongst graziers and she shared how her way of handling animals was different to those of her male counterparts and teachers. When she decided to embrace her approach as equally valid, it started a journey of exploration. What does a ‘feminine land ethic’ look like? Ever since hearing that, I too have been asking that same question. And what about a feminine food system?  

Part of this exploration is enacted through Farmerama, sharing the voices and experiences of the amazing women out there defining this daily – the women on the front lines nurturing, campaigning, activating and not just believing in a better future but enacting it. So on International Women’s Day 2019 we are here to celebrate the brilliant work of all the women out there, and in particular to share a glimpse into the lives of these 12 awesome women all lighting the way and being a powerful force for change.

(You can also tune into Farmerama Radio to hear many more stories like this - find us at farmerama.co or on any podcasting platform).

Rob: Everywhere I turn within our Movement, there are always powerful and inspiring women leading the foray to transform our broken food system. I am honoured to work with many visionaries who are striving to give our society and the Earth, the peace, safety and sustainability that it so urgently needs.  

You have to be a certain type of person to work within the food sector and you have to be prepared to work hard. Nourishing a seed (be it literal or metaphorical) requires giving it the protection and care it requires to grow. And meanwhile, all of which, is done knowing that the efforts may not guarantee a harvest, but regardless and with love, the risk is worth it anyway. For me, this is a fundamental and inspiring trait of womanliness.

The inspiring ladies below epitomise this sentiment. Each work in their own field across the food and farming spectrum and each endeavour to nourish others in one form or another.   


 
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Alexandra Cruz Welch
Founder, Harvester City

📷: @harvester_city

I believe in a world where we create the story behind our food. I am on a mission to transform the way we produce and consume, by sharing the stories of unconventional thinkers and doers transforming food and agriculture around the globe.

Harvester City is a publication for passionate foodies, plant pioneers and sustainability champions. A place for individuals and businesses to connect & collaborate through the sharing of ideas, experiences, knowledge, and resources from different functions within the supply chain.

What are you committed to in the world?

I am committed to enabling others to achieve greatness. I believe we live in a world filled with way too much negativity and stress. It is easy for people to feel hopeless. I think that the key to a fulfilling life starts with your health. So many of us are prisoners to our body due to illness and disease. I want to educate people about food from all sides of the story. There are a vast amount of people dedicating their time to creating initiatives that promote sustainability, innovation, education, and health within the food space. I see these fantastic individuals as harvesters of knowledge and innovation. This is why I have created Harvester City, a place both offline and online for people to connect & collaborate through the sharing of ideas, experience, knowledge, and resources.

What do you do day-to-day to this end?

The majority of my time is split between traveling, reading, writing and talking to amazing people. Most of my work for Harvester involves me researching and gathering knowledge on the food and healthcare scene around the world. The best way I have found to do this is by actually going to these places to meet these people and hear about their innovations in person. That means most months I am traveling between 3-4 different cities.

Who or what inspires you?

I take all my inspiration from the food & agriculture community. I feel so privileged to be able to connect with some many amazing people. The majority of people working in food genuinely care about what they do and how they do it. Caring and being value driven is something scarce nowadays in the world of business. Every new story I hear inspires me to do what I do. I never for a minute question the importance of showcasing these individuals; without them, we would have no food on our plate and no future to look forward to when it comes to the health and wellbeing of our planet.


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Anastasia Emmanuel
Chief Growth Officer, Foodchain

🖥: https://www.joinfoodchain.com/
📷: @foodchain__

I have been in the startup world for a good decade and am obsessed with how technology and community can drive change and solve real world problems.  The problem I am consumed by now is the industrialised food system and how broken it is for people's health, the global economy and our environment. Together with a bunch of incredible people, we are trying to build a better system: one that is open, collaborative, transparent, and where everyone benefits from its growth. A food system that is economically and environmentally sustainable. For everyone.

What are you celebrating right now?

I am celebrating the achievements of women around the world, women far away and women right in front of me; my peers, women in my industry and in my team. I surround myself with smart, powerful, insightful women who know better than me, who can teach me and help me grow. I think it's really important to have mentors, women who are just in front of you and also miles in front of you. Who can help you navigate the short term challenges as well as inspire you to chase your big vision.

Today I am celebrating my peers who breastfeed in the boardroom and, normalise what it looks like to be a mother whilst building a business, the non-glamorous, bare naked truth of trying to balance family and a career. Companies have a choice if they want to retain great talent and build great companies and it may not be the easiest choice short term but it will serve companies better in the future.

I am celebrating not only women on International Women’s Day, but the men who support women, who fight for gender equality and women's rights. This can't be achieved with 50% of the population. We need men and women to work together effect real change globally and you can start in our own immediate sphere.

What are you feeling uneasy about?

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have done a huge amount for raising awareness and stopping men in their tracks when it comes to sexual harassment, abuse and inappropriate behaviour in and out of the workplace. One thing I feel uneasy about is whether this is just a moment in history, or whether the learnings we have painfully gleaned over the past couple of years, exposing this type of systemic behaviour is going to genuinely change for the better long-term or once the focus eases, whether the impact won't be long-lasting. One of the reasons for my concern is that the power dynamic is not changing quick enough. The leaders, the decisions makers, the people deciding what gets funded and what doesn't are still overwhelmingly white men. Diversity as well as gender inequality is just as large an issue.

What's amusing is that there is myriad research to prove that having women on your board, in your team and across the company increases your profitability. The bottom line is that women make your company better, not that there needs to be a reason to enforce gender equality in companies, but it's fiscally irresponsible of you not to. And shocker...having a team that represents the world and society enables you to make better products, better decisions and serve your customers best. I want an equal number of women in our company not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it makes business sense.

What gives you solace?

It gives me solace speaking to the great women in the food and tech industry. The restaurant owners like Laura Harper Hinton who are actively trying to effect change in the boardroom and at the exec level. The amazing head chefs that we work with;  Chantelle Nicholson, Sally Abe, Rose Ashby, Jane Alty to name just a few! Women who are trying to showcase other women and lift them up like Ravneet Gill who created Countertalk to give women chefs a platform, Ladies Of Restaurants who are promoting women in all areas of hospitality and of course my team.


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Anna Van Der Hurd
Director, A Team Foundation

🖥: https://www.ateamfoundation.org/
📷: @ateamfoundation

I am a Soul currently living a human experience. I am a mother. I love and live on this planet Earth we all call our home. I care deeply and perhaps obsessively about food, it’s production and consumption, how it nourishes or not. I am in awe of Life.

What are you celebrating right now?

A hot shower, the spring blooms, a meal shared with family and friends, laughter. The incredible diversity being grown and the radical farmers near me. I’ve recently moved to Durham, North Carolina and I am blown away each Saturday by what I see and taste at my local market and the deep sense of community the market brings to the town.

What are you feeling uneasy about?

The next generation of genetic modification. Call them what you will - Gene drives, CRISPR - these new technologies are no safer than their predecessors and likely far less so. The first generation of genetic modification has been a tremendous failure, causing massive increases in the use of toxic herbicides. We continue to risk altering genes other than the ones originally targeted with untold consequences and then setting these altered species loose into the environment. Once out of the lab and into the fields, water, and air, it is an unstoppable experiment, which frankly I wish would be put to bed. 

What are you committed to in the world?

I am committed to living a life of gratitude, harmlessness and love for all Life.

What do you do day-to-day to this end?  

Well hopefully some things as a commitment without action is a bit sad. It hurts me to harm. I am reminded of this if ever I lose my patience with anyone, especially a little person. I feel the ripples of every decision I make when it comes to consumption. What am I supporting behind the product when buying, eating, reading, watching? Does it bring love or harm? These are the questions I ask myself. I don’t always get it right and sometimes I want the convenience, or the superfluous, but when astray I am brought back to centre by a deeply felt interconnectivity to all and a wish for us to live with equality and harmony on this planet.  

Who or what inspires you?

There is so much in this world to be inspired by. Life itself and the myriad forms that it takes. A smile from a passing stranger. The agroecological, organic, biodynamic farmers that feed us and nourish the earth with their regenerative practice. The bravery of many in all disciplines that dedicate their life in service for a better future for all.


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Calixta Killander
Farmer, Flourish Produce

🖥: https://www.flourishproduce.co.uk/
📷: @flourishproduce

After spending some time studying and farming in the USA I moved back to the UK to start Flourish Produce, a small farm in South Cambridgeshire. We grow a large array of specialty produce, with a focus on unusual varieties. We work with heavy horses rather than tractors and are committed to this way of farming due to its reduced impact on the soil, our most precious growing medium. The horses are integrated into our fertility cycle and along with other practices, we strive to produce all of our own fertility on the farm whilst growing delicious nutrient dense produce for our customers.

What are you celebrating right now?

Spring is here and it’s always such a thrilling time on the farm. The winter lull is over and we are rushing to prepare the land and plant our crops. We are seeding a huge array of plants in the greenhouse, each year I am always amazed to watch such beautiful plants grow from something as tiny as a seed.

What are you feeling uneasy about?

As a grower so dependent on many variables, I always worry about what challenges we will face in terms of pests, disease and weather in the year ahead. I hope that we are creating a resilient farm system through our land management practices but of course there are always struggles and we make mistakes. As a grower with tight margins, crop loss can be really devastating.

What gives you solace?

The understanding that we are doing our very best here at Flourish and that each challenge is an opportunity to learn from one’s mistakes. I look to the mentors I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and work for, who have been growing and farming for decades, and cherish the fact that their thriving businesses are a testament to doing things the right way rather than cutting corners.

What are you committed to in the world?

I am committed to growing the best  food that I possibly can whilst enhancing the ecology both above and below ground on the farm. I want to build a good business that can provide a decent livelihood to those who are involved in it and one that can illustrate the benefits of regenerative/sustainable farming techniques and the use of working horses in a commercially viable farm.


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Fidelity Weston
Farmer, Romshed Farm & Vice-Chair, Pasture for Life

🖥: http://www.romshedfarm.co.uk/
🖥: https://www.pastureforlife.org/
📷: @pastureforlife

I farm near Sevenoaks in Kent, UK.  We rear beef and lamb on our wildflower rich pastures. Moving them regularly to rest the fields, allows the wildflowers to set seed and give the stock fresh grass on a regular basis.  We sell our meat directly to the public who come to the farm to pick up their orders. We have open days and I love talking to our customers about food and meat, exchanging recipes and building each others knowledge on farming and cooking.  I am also Vice Chairman of the Pasture Fed Livestock Association, a membership organisation of around 400 farmers who are all trying new ways of farming to ensure wildlife is respected, soils are rejuvenated and the animals are healthy and happy.  They are an inspirational group of people and through each other we have learned an enormous amount.

What are you feeling uneasy about?  

A change in the weather as we approach lambing, but we will manage.  Last year was horrendous with snow, sleet and no grass, so whatever we get this year, it will be better.  On the bigger picture, I feel uneasy about the future of the environment for our children. They have not seen the loss that I have seen in my generation and so each generation has lower and lower expectations; we somehow need to turn the tide.

What gives you solace?  

I love walking out in the morning, hearing the birds and feeling the fields move from cold to cool to warm.  Ending the day in the same way on a beautiful day gives just as much solace.

What are you committed to in the world?  

Regenerative agriculture could do so much to bring back natural life on the earth.  It seems to me, it would provide the answer and if we can get that going on a large-scale that would be wonderful.  I am committed to achieving this in the UK.

What do you do day-to-day to this end?

I farm regeneratively but spend far more time working away for the PFLA as a volunteer Director.  That is how I feel I am influencing Government policy and helping to engender change. I spend too much time in front of my computer but feel it is all worthwhile when I am working alongside others trying to achieve the same ends.


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Janie Bickersteth
Chair, Incredible Edible Lambeth

🖥: https://www.incredibleediblelambeth.org/
📷: @incredibleediblelambeth

From a young age, I have realised the importance of growing food, having helped my dad in the veg patch in my first decade of life. He taught me to appreciate how hard it is to grow food but how much tastier it is once  you've grown something yourself, harvested and eaten it on the same day. Today, I am Chair of Incredible Edible Lambeth - I first came across Incredible Edible in 2012 and set one up in a large school in Singapore - from there, one of my students has set up an Incredible Edible in Goa and has planted thousands of moringa trees! I am very proud of her achievements.

What are you celebrating right now?
I'm celebrating the growing global awareness that both our planet and our people need nurturing; the dawning realisation that our soils need protecting and that eating processed food is never going to be good for you. In short - I feel that there is a groundswell of people taking control of their own situations and not having the expectation that someone else will 'fix it'

What are you feeling uneasy about?
I'm concerned that our Governments are not recognising how urgently we need to change direction - that unfettered 'Growth'  is the primary driver, despite the knowledge that our globe cannot sustain it.

What do you do day-to-day?
I work to raise awareness of the difficult issues of our time - both in my work with Incredible Edible Lambeth, in the street I live in (I'm a street champion) and my work in my church on all areas of sustainability and faith. With IEL I work to encourage food growing (in community gardens, on balconies, in public spaces, in schools), food businesses, food knowledge (in education) and food campaigning (presently we have a pesticide-free Lambeth campaign). In church, we have achieved the A Rocha EcoChurch Gold status - the only urban city in the UK. Right now, I am spending time prepping for Earth Hour (30th March) when I am working with my church (St James' Piccadilly) and WWF to get all the lights turned off around Piccadilly Circus - we will be standing vigil for an hour that night to remind the world that we are running out of time to bring down our CO2 levels and to save so much of our world from extinction. I also campaign with Extinction Rebellion, with Greenpeace and have been engaged with Friends of the Earth in the past. Financially, I support children in Vietnam, people being reskilled to get back into work (in the Northeast of UK), Christian Aid, Oxfam, MSF...


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Jenny Costa
Founder, Rubies in the Rubble

🖥: https://rubiesintherubble.com/  
📷: @rubiesintherubble


I am the founder of Rubies in the Rubble, a sustainable condiments company. Having been brought up on an organic farm before working in the city, I am passionate about making positive change through business.

What are you celebrating right now?

Our new ketchup!! We just won a Gold Award for it and are super proud. It tastes banging but is BETTER for you and the planet - being 100% natural and surplus pears replacing half the added sugar.

What are you feeling uneasy about?

I have a mixture of terror and excitement for some of our targets and growth that we have this year and next. It is so exciting to see the interest and demand and now just down to us to make sure we deliver! We are running a crowdfunding campaign in April and are excited to include people in our journey.

What gives you solace?

Our Rubies Team! We have such an amazing team which feels more like a family than a company. Everyone is incredibly supportive of each other and focused on creating more impact.

What are you committed to in the world?

I am committed to creating a more sustainable food supply chain. Food has a huge carbon footprint and we need to value it better. We have the food to feed our growing demand and population, we just need to better manage it.

What do you do day-to-day to this end?

Run Rubies in the Rubble! We make delicious condiments from fruit and veg that would otherwise be discarded as a way of raising awareness about the need to value our food supply chain.


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Jyoti Fernandes
Farmer, Campaigner & Activist, Landworkers’ Alliance

🖥: https://landworkersalliance.org.uk/
📷: @landworkersalliance


I am a farmer in Dorset. I am running a mixed agroecological farm with my husband and four daughters. We have vegetables and orchards with Jacob sheep under the apples, pears and plums and chickens to eat the scraps which lay rich yellow yolked eggs. My favourite are my four cows. My father was from India and I think I have a real love for cows that runs through my blood. I sell raw milk and cheese, jams, apple juice, cider and herbal remedies.

I started farming because I wanted to raise my children in a job where they could help, have plenty of fresh air and good food while they were to learn about nature. Now two of them have left home. One is a scientist studying how to reduce climate change with better farming systems and another is a doctor studying how good food improves our well-being. I feel strongly that all the time they helped me plant seeds, feed baby lambs and pull up GM crops was worthwhile because I see them contributing back to our world and it makes me proud. I think my proudest personal achievement is having washed four kids worth of nappies by hand!

I also campaign for a better fairer food system that can feed the world without destroying it. I have always been a campaigner alongside farming, working to help smallholders get access to land and working with the Landworkers' Alliance a union for small farms which is a part of La Via Campesina an international movement of peasant farmers. The majority of farmers in the world are women of colour, providing nearly 70% of the worlds food. We campaign to support their livelihoods and make sure that everyone has access to health affordable food that is produced in a way that regenerates our earth.  

What are you celebrating right now?

Our movement -of people working for a sustainable and just world- is growing stronger and gaining a voice. La Via Campesina, our peasant farmers movement, represents over 200 million small scale farmers. All the people I work with are powerful, strong, dedicated people who are creating and alternative to the destructive path we are on. For a long time our political voice has been marginalised, but I witness daily how we have influenced how the people in power view agriculture. Last year we persuaded the UN to adopt the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants, which is groundbreaking.

Recently, the campaign that I have been working on to shift agriculture in this country towards Agroecology has gained a lot of momentum and I get to meet with loads of politicians and civil servants who are interested in change. It is exciting and gives me a sense of purpose in my daily work as a farmer. Lots of people are realising that intensive, corporate agriculture hasn’t solved hunger. So now we have an opportunity to present a very real way forward.

What do you do day-to-day?

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I milk my cows on the days that I am not heading to Westminster to talk to politicians (on those days my neighbour comes to milk for me). I cook food for my family from what we have grown and try to get them to put down their phones so we can eat together and chat about the state of the world. Next week they are going to strike for the climate so I have been preparing a leaflet for them to pass out about how agroecology can combat climate change and why people should try not to eat food, especially meat, from industrial farms. I juggle planting and cheese making with writing policy briefings and meetings with men in suits. Last year I got to talk to our secretary of State, Michael Gove, about farming and I noticed a big clump of mud on my shoe so I stuck it under the table. He didn’t seem to notice….

Who or what inspires you?

My mom. She was an activist working for the rights of disabled people and juggled raising 5 children with her campaigning work. I saw her over her lifetime build up a movement from scratch to over 20,000 blind people who fought for equal opportunities. I remember running around at the back of endless meetings while she was organising. I somehow absorbed all of my campaigning skills from her. And my optimism. Raising your voice while raising your kids works.  


 
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Kimberley Bell
Baker & Founder, Small Food Bakery

🖥: http://www.smallfoodbakery.com/  
📷:@smallfoodbakery

What are you celebrating right now?

Pancake day of course! More specifically, I’m delighted by the wheat, eggs, milk and lemons that I currently have in front of me, because they all represent much bigger narratives – special people and places that nourish me and I’m so grateful to be connected to.

What are you committed to in the world?

Advocating for change in the way we grow, produce, trade, cook, eat, think about food.  

What do you do day-to-day to this end?

Feed people in the best way I can.

Who or what inspires you?

Something/ someone different everyday. Today I’ve been reading and learning about a book called ‘Letters to Nature’ by artist John Newling. I’m inspired by how concisely the book expresses some huge ideas, and how crafting something with such intent – a letter, a book, an artwork can help organise overwhelming thoughts/ be an expression of truth. I like to imagine a loaf of bread could be as beautiful/ truthful.


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Lynne Davis
CEO, Open Food Network UK

🖥: https://openfoodnetwork.org.uk/
📷: @openfoodnetworkUK

I’ve spent the last decade working on transformative projects in food and agriculture.

What are you celebrating right now?

I’m trying really hard to celebrate what feels like a new wave of environmental activism. Extinction Rebellion and the School Strikes are giving a new generation a feeling of the power of collective action. The Blue Planet effect (on single-use plastics), increasing popularity of Slow Fashion and veganism are engaging people in behaviour change. There is definitely a rising tide of willingness to take action.

What are you feeling uneasy about?

I fear that we don’t really have a point of reference for a sustainable future. The global economy is a living, complex beast - out of control and the beast-tamers all declared ‘laissez faire’ long ago. For those that can envisage a sustainable future, their vision is not shared and is often fiercely debated. Divisive debate is more entertaining than constructive discourse and being right is more celebrated than being accommodating and inclusive. For the rest of our lives it is unlikely that the big, societal, collective decisions we need to make will be easy or obvious - driven by climate meltdown, economic degrowth, mass migration and social upheaval. It will not be easy for our current governing structures to navigate these decisions. I fear that representative democracy is ill-equipped and I fear that while disagreement is rewarded populism will trump alternate, more deliberative forms of democracy.

What gives you solace?

I find solace in stories of ‘cosmo-visions’ that are entirely different to mine. I love that people of different cultures, contexts and landscapes hold vastly different views on what the universe is, what humans are, how we should interact with each other and our lands. These spiritual perspectives are all equally valid and all offer different gifts of perspective. It reminds me that my own ideas are just one way of looking at things - that there is a limit to objective truth and that I shouldn’t be too invested in my own version of reality. I find a huge amount of solace in this as it reminds me that I’m probably wrong about so many things and thus my own ideas aren’t that important. It reminds me to stay present and open.

What do you do day-to-day?

Day to day I try to build alternative models of food production and distribution that invite people to connect more deeply with food. Central to these alternative models is diversity - in produce, in communities and in business models. Day to day I work with food producers and food enterprises across the country driven by social and ecological values. I’m interested in how these enterprises can play a role in building resilient, healthy communities fed by sustainable producers in an economically viable way. It’s a difficult problem but there are hundreds of super motivated people around the country working in their local areas trying to do just this. I’m interested in how we can co-learn and collaborate to achieve our shared goal.


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Rowan Phillimore
Deputy Director, The Gaia Foundation

🖥:  https://www.gaiafoundation.org/
📷: @thegaiafoundation

I work with The Gaia Foundation, a small NGO with over thirty year’s experience supporting communities around the world to regain control of their traditional food systems. That means reviving indigenous seed varieties, rebuilding the diversity in our fields and on our plates, and adopting agro-ecological farming practices which work with the land rather than against her.

Much of our work has been with an inspiring network of grassroots partners across Africa, but in 2017 we started a programme right here in the UK and Ireland to support small-scale seed producers and increase the amount of organic seed being grown on home soil.

What gives you solace?

Local food! There’s a thriving local food sector in the UK and there seems to be a growing consciousness to want to support that. In my hometown (Frome, Somerset) there is a weekly Food Hub that brings together all the local farmers and from which you can order online in advance, so producers only supply to the exact demand, no waste. Frome is trying to do things a little bit differently, with its independent, community-focused town council and its thriving small businesses. I’m constantly inspired by the creativity here and being surrounded by that helps me stay optimistic as we navigate uncertain times globally.

What do you do day-to-day?

Much of Gaia’s work is about re-valorising roles that have been devalued and undermined by the western model of development, which favours cash crops and young male farmers. For example, Africa’s rural women, who have saved, selected and stored seed for millenia, are the true custodians of the continents genetic wealth and yet their voice has been barely recorded in the history books or given credibility even today. Alongside colleagues based in various African settings we set about capturing their stories and brought them together for the first time in “Celebrating African Rural Women – Custodians of Seed, Food and Life’.

Similarly, it is the elders of rural communities whose knowledge and eco-literacy holds the key to so many of the challenges we now face. Capturing their stories, buried deep in the communities of Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda or Zimbabwe, is a critical contribution to raising awareness of the great wealth of genetic diversity on the brink of being lost across Africa and beyond.  We’ve captured many of their voices in our Seeds of Freedom film trilogy, and are currently working on two new films to be released later this year.   

Who or what inspires you?

Last October The Gaia Foundation held a huge photography exhibition on the Southbank in London. Over five floors we displayed over 300 images celebrating 50 small-holder farming communities who were producing food in an environmentally sane way, against the odds. We Feed the World was an absolute inspiration to all who visited, and I for one was bowled over by some of the farmers featured as we researched and curated their stories. Two favourites for me were the community of Cajamarca in Colombia, who turned their back on a mega gold and instead began cultivating the indigenous arracacha, a nutrient-rich root vegetable once dismissed as peasant food. The other is Dr Debal Deb, a lone farmer and scientist who is single handedly preserving over 1000 varieties of rice in India, and protecting the genetic diversity of one of the world’s most important crops.


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Steph Wetherell
Writer, The Locavore & Co-ordinator, Bristol Food Producers

🖥: http://www.thelocavore.co.uk/
🖥: https://bristolfoodproducers.uk/
📷: @steph_wetherell

After spending a few years farming in Canada, living on an organic farm where we grew or raised much of our food, I returned to the UK and to city life. I knew I didn't want to farm myself, but I wanted to know where my food came from, so I set out to meet and tell the stories of the people whose food I was eating, and the more I learned about our food system, the more interested I became. Around the same time I began working for a local organisation, Bristol Food Producers, that supports small scale and agroecological producers in and around the city, and realised this was my passion - helping farmers to build and sustain livelihoods.

What are you celebrating right now?

I'm really inspired to see networks such as the Landworkers' Alliance growing so quickly. I think working on the land can be such an isolating job for many people, and these networks are vitally important both in being able to provide a louder voice to influence things like policy, but also in being able to create supportive connections between producers and farmers.

What are you feeling uneasy about?

The challenges facing new entrant farmers - with seemingly ever-rising land prices, high capital costs and a lack of appropriate training available, it's so difficult for people to start a career in farming, or to set up their own farm. But with the average age of farmers in this country over 60, we need a new generation of people to be able to get their hands in the soil and start producing food.

What do you do day-to-day?

Through my work with Bristol Food Producers, I support people to access land, find the relevant training they need, help them find the right routes to market, and make connections both between producers and up the food chain.

I also write for a variety of magazines and websites, and my writing is all about trying to create a connection between the consumer and the producer - supermarkets have disconnected us from where our food comes from and the variety and rhythm that comes from seasonal eating. I passionately believe that if you can make these connections, help people to understand how their food is produced and why it costs a certain amount, this is a key part of changing our food system for a better and more sustainable one.

Who or what inspires you?

The farmers who get up every day, rain or shine, and work incredibly hard to produce the food we eat - and all for little financial return and not enough gratitude. They are my heroes. And I'm especially inspired by the number of new entrant farmers who are women - around half of the people I work with are female, and it's amazing to see what was traditionally a male dominated field becoming a place where women can really make their mark.




 

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Seed Week raises awareness of agro-ecological seed being grown by small-scale producers across the UK & Ireland

Seed Week raises awareness of agro-ecological seed being grown by small-scale producers across the UK & Ireland

Written by Rowan Phillmore, Gaia Foundation and Seed Sovereignty Network

Last week, just as annual seed catalogues were hitting the doormats of eager gardeners, the UK and Ireland Seed Sovereignty Programme were celebrating Seed Week, designed to put the spotlight on the small-scale commercial seed producers growing for seed, right here on home soil.

By highlighting one commercial producer each day of the week, the campaign was designed to encourage gardeners and growers to change their purchasing habits and plant seed from local, organic and small-scale producers in 2019.   

 

Fred Groom from Vital Seeds talks about his passion for seed saving, and how it connects us to past and future. | www.seedsovereignty.info

 

Real Seeds in Wales, the Irish Seed Savers Association, Vital seeds in Devon, the Seed Cooperative in Lincolnshire and Brown Envelope Seeds in Ireland were all featured daily in the campaign. Through a series of beautiful short films and interviews, viewers were invited to discover where the producers’ passion from seed started and to get a behind the scenes look at the growers’ gardens and greenhouses.

Further short films captured the voices of seed savers across varying landscapes, from Moy Hill Farm, where surfers are seed saving on the coast of Ireland, to Poyntzfield Nursery, where varieties of herbs are gathered and cultivated from high alpine regions. Seed Week gave a unique glimpse into the lives of committed seed savers from the coast to the mountains. All of the films can be viewed online here: https://www.seedsovereignty.info/videos/

 

Moy Hill csa farm occupies nearly 70 diverse acres, with local access to the famed surf of Lahinch, Co Clare. | www.seedsovereignty.info

 

Regional Programme Coordinators Maria Scholten in Scotland and Ellen Rignell in Western England also shared their thoughts on why agro-ecological seed is so critical:

 “There’s so many reasons to buy local, agroecological seed. Buying this kind of seed is of course a more environmentally sustainable option, but I think the main reason to buy is because you’ll end up with a better vegetable crop. The majority of the seed available in the UK is grown in far-flung climes, much warmer and drier than the UK. This seed is often not well adapted to UK growing conditions. By buying local seed, you’ll end up with plants that are better adapted to your growing situation.” Said Ellen Rignell, Trill Farm and the UK & Ireland Seed Sovereignty Programme.

 

The Seed Co-operative is a community-owned seed company who believe passionately in breeding open pollinated and affordable seeds that everyone can grow for the coming year. | www.seedsovereignty.info

 

Wayne Frankham, Programme Coordinator for Ireland with the Irish Seed Savers, added: “Knowing where your seed is produced provides practical, transparent provenance. It means it has been adapted to successfully grow and reproduce in your environment. Building a relationship with your local grower, whether of vegetable produce or seed, also opens an essential channel for feedback and creates a richer food culture.”

We urge everyone to support and create a richer food culture by buying and planting locally produced, agro-ecological seeds in the year ahead.

Find a list of all suppliers plus links to the films and interviews featured throughout Seed Week here: https://www.seedsovereignty.info/where-to-buy-organic-seed-this-christmas/

 
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A Race Against Time for Paradigm Shifting Science

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A Race Against Time for Paradigm Shifting Science

By Robert Reed, A Team Foundation

It is a race against time as paradigm shifting science resists the encroachment of modern life upon the world’s last nomadic hunter-gatherers.

As a new article from Jeff Leach and his network of microbiologists is released (with evidence making leaps in proving the links between environment, diet and health), the existence of the very tribe who are the study’s focus is under threat.  

The Human Food Project has been working in remotest Tanzania, studying the people who truly align their lives within the flow and cycle of the seasons. Their way of life has been a magnet for researchers for 60 years, and the subject of hundreds of scholarly papers, because they may offer the closest resemblance to our ancient ancestors.  

 A Team Foundation Hadza Jeff Leach

Life in industrialised countries push nature to the fringes, not just in parks and reserves but also in our homes through sterilisation. What are the effects of being devoid of an authentic connection to nature, particularly to our own physical health?

The concept that everything is connected can be perceived not just a purely metaphysical level, it is grounded in physical truth. Humans are able to walk, this gives us an illusion that we are separate from the Earth, which sustains us. If we focus our perception on scales that are significantly smaller than us, unification is obvious. Our blood carries the oxygen from the trees, our guts process the nutrients from the soil.

Our bodies and specifically our guts, are formed of millions of microbiotas. Types of microbiota include bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi and viruses. They pass through life’s flow; shaking hands, eating food, going to the loo, chopping wood, drinking water. Some of these microbiotas have creative tasks to do, some have destructive tasks to do, but each have a job that in turn, creates balance.

Jeff’s previous work showcased that the more diversity in your microbiota, the more resilience your body (a fractal of the bigger ecosystems). These small microbes have a role to play in diseases such as obesity, autoimmune disease, heart disease, IBD/IBS, cognitive disorders, atopy and some cancers.

Modern life has had an impact on all ecosystems and this is particularly the case of our microbiome. Pharmaceutical antibiotics and household cleaning products are unspecific to which bacteria they wipe out. Our food offers only the limited microbes that make it through the methods of food hygiene. Even in childbirth, a cesarian baby doesn’t pass through the mother’s birthing canal where their mother’s microbes would have been transferred.  If it was a fight, microbiota would appear to be losing badly. But it is not a fight.

We are reliant on microbes for our holistic wellbeing, they effect our hormones, immune system, and metabolism. Our Homeostasis (the state of internal bodily conditions maintained by living things) is utterly dependent on them. Microorganisms outnumber human cells in our body by as much as 10 to 1. Microbes are natural and so industrialised attitudes falsely push them away as 'non-human', another manifestation from the mentality of separation and an increasing disconnect as our lifestyle spreads across the globe

 A Team Foundation Hadza Jeff Leach

Yet, in one remote corner of Tanzania, there is a tribe who are resisting being absorbed by modernisation. It is here, that the frontier of microbial science is being played out. The Hadza hunt and gather their nutrition direct from the ‘wild’ resources at their disposal. They live in synchronicity with the Earth, they hunt and butcher wild animals, they consume fruits, nuts and tubers, all grown in natural soils.  From being breastfed - until they are four or five years old - they are immersed in the richest of microbiota diversity.

The Hadza are more widely known as the people who speak in their ancient ‘click language’ and dance in tribal robes, but they now regular wear western clothes, speak Swahili and carry mobile phones.

Although change is always immanent, it is a tragic story as hunter gatherers are treated as ‘the bottom of the pile’ and are gradually being displaced by more politically and economically powerful settlers. Researchers are now warning that this tribe face a daunting convergence of threats.

Their territory is being encroached by pastoralists whose cattle drink their water and graze on their grasslands and farmers clear the woodlands to grow crops. Simultaneously, the changing climate dries up the rivers and stunts the grass. These pressures drive away the animals that the Hadza hunt such as Antelopes and Buffalo. Simply put, if the food goes, the Hadza cannot protect their way of life.  

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Ironically, the decades of research have now made the Hadza somewhat well-known and through Government efforts, tourism has increased. Coming with it are the microbes of modern life but more impactful; money. Some of the tribe have played up to tourism expectations and their way of life has become a novelty, putting on hunting shows and dancing in dress. Tourism has its impact on their livelihood, diet, residence, and nomadic patterns.

Researchers who have been studying the tribe for several decades are worried about their future. As each day progresses, the petri-dish becomes more diffused. But more importantly, the researchers have a duty of care at a humanitarian level. The work with the Hadza involves a great appreciation of ethics. Jeff and his team have joined the network of researchers who are vying to ease the pressures on this tribe and they work personally to assist in their needs where it is appropriate.   

If they are unsuccessful, there is potentially an awful lot to lose. In essence, the microbiome of a Hadza tribes-person can be considered as an endangered ecological site of great scientific interest and that needs to be preserved. Without it, we may irreversibly lose many of the microorganisms and never know how they could have helped humanity.

.........

You can read more about the Hadza tribe from the article ‘Hadza on the Brink’ in Science and the article ‘Links between environment, diet, and the hunter-gatherer microbiome’ by Jeff and his network of microbiologists.  




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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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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