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Sara's Inspiring Start to 2013

By Sara Novakovic, Jan 21 2013 10:24PM


That’s quite a slogan. It’s the banner of the Real Farming Conference in Oxford (www.oxfordrealfarmingconference.org). There is a new movement happening in this country of people who want to farm, produce and eat sustainably and think organic is only part of the solution as its definition is too narrow. The aim is to feed people good food without wrecking the planet. The conference gathers people with varied interests and backgrounds but a very focused and driven common vision. Duchesses and landowners mix with young folk living in caravans without planning permission on smallholdings. It’s always the friendliest conference I go to. It’s held over 2 days, and there are 3 or 4 choices of what session to attend every hour or two.

The conference was founded by Colin Tudge, one of whose accolades is that he used to edit the New Scientist, and Graham Harvey who used to be the agricultural editor of The Archers. Lots happened, much discussion and thrashing (no pun intended) out, sharing and learning as always. It’s an extremely young conference, only 4 years old and there is palpable excitement in the air.

Launched this year at the conference is the PASTORIAL - Pasture Feed For Life Standard. Take a look at www.pasturefed.org. Our farm animals, even if organic, may be fed an unnatural diet of far too much grain. Did you know a third of the world’s grain goes to feed livestock? Or that while there were famines in Ethiopia, corn and soy were exported to feed American livestock? Feeding animals grass and hay, their original intended food, is healthier for the animal, produces healthier dairy products and meats and is also better for our countryside and environment. Grass is rich in chlorophyll and omega 3 and is alkaline. There is 40% more omega 3 in organic pasture-fed milk than conventionally produced milk and the same goes for meat. The meat we stock at Oliver’s from Rhug Farm is all pasture-fed as much as possible. For a month or two in the winter they have to bring the animals in but they are fed hay, not grain. Pasture feeding animals also sequates carbon in land, meaning the land captures carbon and sinks it in the soil. Graham Harvey says in his book The Carbon Fields that if all animals in the UK were pasture-fed, the UK would be totally carbon neutral. Mind blowing isn’t it. Organisations that share these pasture-fed values are the RSPB, the British Grassland Association and the National Trust. It’s the way forward.

Also launched at the conference was Via Campesina UK, which started in Mexico and is now more or less a Europe-wide peasant movement that campaigns for the rights of small producers and a better food system. The first AGM of the UK branch is on March 3rd at Ruskin Mill is Gloucestershire (http://viacampesina.org.uk).

I find it easy to understand why people under 30, having seen how ‘the elders’ have dealt with our economy, trade and land, and how house prices ensure it’s impossible to get on the housing ladder, would want a life that is more meaningful for them. A few acres, a few cows, a few fruit trees, chickens and a caravan, cheese to make, apples to barter, eggs to boil. I’m proud of them. There were also plenty of polished old-timer traditionalists. The conference was a steaming cauldron of ideas, meetings and networking.

In another paradigm, the National Union of Farmers Conference was literally across the road in Oxford at the same time. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and I hope this will increase as the conferences continue.

So my start to the year was inspiring and uplifting. I always learn a lot and I always come back knowing exactly why I sell food. I’m part of the food chain, just like you.

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