Oxford Real Farming Conference – Day 1 Report!

Posted on: 04/01/2024

Molly Garvey (Committee Member of Community Gardens Ireland) was moderating a discussion on market gardening and keeping an eye on some of the main points at the yearly Oxford Real Farming Conference today!

If you missed the first day of the Oxford Real Farming Conference 2024, check out Molly’s report below!

Day one of the Oxford Real Farming Conference in the UK touched upon farm transition, farm policy, food pr, the role of women in feeding the world, nature-based flood management and open source technology in regenerative agriculture, to name a few topics!

The Oxford Real Farming Conference is a conference set up as a counterbalance to the Oxford Farming Conference, both taking place in Oxford, UK, every January.

The Community Growing highlight of the first day was the launch of “Horticulture across Four Nations”, a new report by the Land Workers Alliance (LWA) UK.

A panel of four market gardeners shared their experience of how agroecological horticulture can build a more resilient fresh produce sector in the UK. Rebecca Laughton, host and Horticulture Campaigns Coordinator for LWA, introduced the session focusing on how to make the most of this report in the lead up to an election year.

We then heard from Julie Brown of Growing Communities in Hackney, London. Growing Communities has worked since 1996 to build a food supply system that supports small producers while also making healthy, local food accessible. She describes a food shed, in which produce from a range of local supplier is gathered and then redistributed to markets and end users, and emphasises the need for organic and locally produced food to be demanded by institutional catering, including in schools, government buildings and prisons.

Then came Barry Ferguson of Ben Vista Cooperative in Belfast. Barry is a scientist who converted his fifth generation potato farm into market garden and launched a community co-operative alongside it. Located within a stone’s throw of Belfast, there is large potential to grow a customer base, but the set-up has been challenging and largely dependent on his own time and passion.

Jo Hunt represented the Scottish side with his tale of transitioning from a 30 hectare sheep organic croft to an 8 hectare market garden, and feeding 280 families through a vegetable box scheme at Knockfarrel Produce. He has connected with five other farms to form a collaborative trainee programme and highlights accommodation prices as a potential barrier for nature-based farms success.

Lastly came Holly Tomlinson, who farms with her partner Jono in Wales. She offered a lived example of how procurement can work for a farm’s advantage, engaging with their council to supply courgettes to local school caterers. She highlights the benefit of partnering with other farms to form a producer group so that if the harvest of one farm fails, the order can still be fulfilled by the other farms.

The biggest takeaways:

What if local food was given the same “transition industry” status as renewable energy?

There will be a need for 400 more agroeocological market gardens in Scotland in the next

five years (Jo Hunt).

The Call to Action

Make more people aware that there are farms of this size feeding large amounts of people, and generating multiple benefits for society and the environment. Every pound spent delivers three pound+ in socio-environmental benefits (NEF 2024)!

Follow Along

Check out the schedule for Day Two.

Online Tickets are still available!

Article by Molly Garvey, Picture by Oxford Real Farming Conference

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