Last week we went along to the much-loved Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC17), the annual food and farming event set up as an alternative to the Oxford Farming Conference..

Firstly a bit of background for those of you who haven’t been before – ORFC is a unique gathering of the UK’s sustainable and organic food and farming movements and offers a practical mix of on-farm advice, showcasing new techniques for best practice in agroecological farming, and discussion of global food system, including economic and trade policies that affect British farming. It’s also a chance for young (and some older farmers) to get together for a bit of a knees up and to find out what everyone has planned for the year ahead.

The conference now in it’s eighth year attracts a sellout crowd of 850 delegates – bringing together practicing, mud-on-the-boots farmers and growers with scientists and economists and activists and lawyers and everyone else with a serious interest in food and agriculture. We discovered ORFC back in 2014 before it made the jump to the Town Hall and have been coming every year since.

Last year we got given a small Indie Farmer exhibitor stand to help spread the word and were delighted to be invited to exhibit again. Being online it’s always handy to get face to face feedback from readers and newsletter subscribers – helping shape decisions for the year ahead. One of the areas we’re keen to explore this year is introducing a print journal – a topic we spent quite a bit of time discussing with our friends Stir to Action magazine on the neighbouring stand to us (who were doing a roaring trade in current and back issues of their print magazine!).

Sessions, interviewing delegates, videos and some #ORFC17 tweets that caught our eye..

With over 50 sessions with expert speakers on topics such as changing the productionist narrative, the power of storytelling, a community farm for every community to agroforestry, do you dig it? scaling up permaculture to farm scale and the future of livestock farming post Brexit – deciding what to attend over the two days isn’t easy. For the most part I stayed close to our stand in the main hall – which gave me more time to do some mini interviews and portraits of fellow delegates (scroll down to see these). Also tune into the upcoming episode of Farmerama Radio podcast later this month to hear from from the show.

I also captured some short video snippets from Q&As in various sessions I attended – one from Guy Watson from Riverford – who suggests we could all ask restaurant staff about provenance and welfare claims on menu, and to not to be fobbed off by bizarre claims like ‘all our chickens are wild and from inside the M25’. First up here are a few #ORFC17 tweets that caught our eye…

ORFC17 Faces..

Ellen Rignell – Apprentice Grower at Trill Farm Garden

Nigel: Can you tell us about your highlights of the conference so far?

Ellen: My favourite session was the do you dig it session with Charles Dowding and Ian TolHurst – some really great conversation happening there and also the Brexit session in the old library, I felt really hopeful we could re-write a lot of policy and heard some really exciting ideas which I hadn’t heard before.

Nigel: Any New Year’s resolutions?

Peter Lundgren – Lincolnshire Farmer and Peter Kindersley – Sheepdrove Organic Farm

Nigel: What are your big take aways from the event so far?

Peter Lundgren: The really great thing about this event is the energy – when you meet Lincolnshire farmers they are often very down, they’ve only got 2000 acres, they’ve only got one quad track (I had to look up what a quad trac is) and you come here and you meet young people desperate to get into farming. I was talking to one young couple last night they’ve got seven goats living in a converted bus desperate to get into farming and that level of energy and enthusiasm is what will take farming forward.

Nigel: What have been your highlights so far?

Peter Kindersley: It’s an amazing buzz – it’s really looking into the future and what we can do to help our farming systems fit in with nature, and supply quality food

Nigel: What’s stood out for you this year?

Peter Kindersley: The big big debate this year is Brexit, the other is nutritional differences between organic and conventional food of which there is no doubt, because we do a lot of funding over here and over in San Francisco, Newcastle and Argentina is really coming home to say organic is better

Hywel Lewis – Beef Farmer and Forrester at Lower Mount Farm

Nigel: What have been your take aways from the conference?

Hywel: My biggest take away from the conference is being very inspired by other farmers telling their story and how they are making their farms work in a sustainable and viable way

Nigel: Any New Year’s resolutions?

Hywel: I have a New Year resolution every month! Not just in January! My main one is improving the systems on the farm so I can do less work to achieve what I need

Gala Bailey-Barker – First generation Farmer at Plaw Hatch Biodynamic Farm and regular contributor to Indie Farmer

Nigel: What have been the highlights of the conference so far?

Gala: When farming is largely considered to be environmentally destructive it is a gift to be reminded that, as farmers, we care for a huge percent of our island and that we therefore have the power to do a great deal of good in looking after it. Not only caring for our individual farms and the flora and fauna they do and can encompass but also for the larger environment. It was inspiring to see what others have achieved on their own farms in the session on Nurturing Nature within Farming and the positive impacts a different approach has had environmentally, agriculturally, financially and aesthetically.

Nigel: Any New Year’s Resolutions?

Gala: Read more – starting with Soil Sisters: A toolkit for women farmers by Lisa Kivirist and moving onto The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. Write more, learn to shear, get my chainsaw ticket, stretch more/do yoga – sheep, tractors and milking are bad for your back! Do the Homeopathy at Wellie Level Course. Holistic Management® Introduction, Financial and Grazing Planning Course

Christine Page – Smiling Tree Farm

Simon Fairlie – Micro Dairy Farmer and Co-Editor of The Land Magazine

Nigel: Any thoughts on this years conference – what’s your thinking on Brexit?

Simon: Best I’ve heard is some murmurings on creating a common front on post brexit Agriculture.

Nigel: Any New Year’s resolutions?

Simon: Yes – I’m giving up nicotine lozenges – just Cuban Cigars now (once every 6 months or so!)

Sophia Campbell – Landworkers Alliance and Natalie Lamb – Nutritional Therapist

Emma Oliver from Cliff Veg and Rebecca AKA the Wild Shepherd from Village Farm

Nigel: What have been your biggest takeaways?

Emma: My take away from here is a lot of talk about soil science which is amazing, I’m really really pleased that it’s getting into more what I consider organic mainstream farming, because it’s amazing to see how many ways there are two fixed the soil and nice to see lots of people doing it

Nigel: How has the conference been for you so far?

Rebecca: it’s my first year at Oxford I’ve really enjoyed it (though there needs to be more talks about sheep)! It’s so lovely to meet the sustainable farming community – everyone is so lovely and I really loved how many no plough and soil carbon themes there are.

Dale Webb – Royal Agricultural University

Dale Webb

Nigel: What have been the highlights of the event so far?

Dale: The variety of different people and how more conventional farmers are coming over – they are desperate for solutions and looking at the alternative side.

Nigel: Any New Year’s resolutions?

Dale: I’m not from a farming background but I’m trying to increase my knowledge and practical experience – I’m starting to work with a beef suckler herd tomorrow!

Alexandra Sexton – Kings College London & Annie Landless – Food Assembly

Nigel: What have been your take aways from the conference so far?

Alex: My biggest take away is hope – which is quite nice at the start of the year – a lot of the stuff I’ve heard about the future of organic is really positive and a lot of other approaches too – how the evidence is mounting that the way a lot of conventional farming is done can’t continue so yeh so it’s one of hope rather than doom and gloom.

Nigel: Any New Year’s resolutions?

Alex: My new year’s resolution is to try and think more about the food I eat and have more conversations about it with people who maybe don’t think about it but not in a preachy way

Alice Holden and daughter  – Head Grower at Dagenham Starter Farm

Alice Holden

Lucas Ihlein – University of Wollongong

Nigel:  What have been your take aways from the conference so far?

Lucas: The sessions on Agroforestry – the growing of trees amongst arable systems – have been a standout for me. I’m working with sugar cane farmers in Queensland at the moment, who are experimenting with intercropping diverse species in that monoculture.

I was also keen to attend the ORFC17 discussion about the importance of Storytelling in progressive agriculture. It’s not just about what we do, it’s about how we communicate about it beyond our small groups.

Nigel:  Any New Year’s resolutions?

Lucas: ​I want to explore the viability of soil carbon sequestration through regenerative agriculture systems – and whether it’s financially viable for farmers to be paid for this service. I met a few experts at ORFC17 who I’ll be conversing with about this over the coming year.

Camilla Ker – Cheese Maker

Louise and Matthew MacDonald – New MacDonald Farm

Nigel: What have been the highlights this year?

Matthew: The highlight has been meeting like minded farmers!

Nigel: Any New Year’s Resolutions?

Matthew: To get certified organic and to take better care of our soil – to introduce some different leys

Veronica Burke – Scotland The Bread

ORFC17 Videos

Some pointed questions from the audience in the Real Food from Real Farmers session

Some more great questions targeted at the expert panel such as…when can organic growers and producers put organic is healthier on their packaging?

A passionate case from Simon Fairlie re the debate around what will happen to the money we currently pay into the CAP for food and the environment post Brexit…

That’s it folks. Please feel free to share far and wide and leave a comment in the box below 🙂