Event outcomes – Building real food and farming networks in northern cities

This event explored the challenges and opportunities of developing sustainable food production and distribution systems and networks in our northern cities. We heard from four cities in the process of developing urban farming in partnership with the Urban Agriculture Consortium, and from Dr Jill Edmondson from the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield. 

Watch the full event here: NRFC Building real food and farming networks in northern cities, 14 September 2021 

This virtual workshop used case studies and presentations to:

  • Explore how urban and peri-urban farms can help build links between people living in cities, and the agricultural landscapes that surround them (and connect them to food, nutrition, seasonality and health) ;  
  • Explain how urban and peri-urban farms can contribute to our food supply and food sovereignty aims, and explore the extent to which urban/peri-urban farms could feed people in cities;
  • Explore how urban and peri-urban farms could attract people to the real farming movement, as producers, consumers, citizens and advocates
  • Discuss urban farming’s vital role in the broader movement for a just and fair farming and food system.

Hosted by Suzy Russell, CSA Network UK and NRFC Advisory Group/UAC core group and Andy Goldring, Permaculture Association and NRFC Advisory Group/UAC core group, with a brief introduction from Jeremy Iles, instigator & co-coordinator of the UAC.

The following speakers had input:

Luke Justice, market gardener at Meanwood Valley Farm

Jenny Lawrence, Roger Plumtree, Kirkstall Valley Farm

Sonja Woodcock, Coordinator for FoodWise Leeds

Dr Jill Edmondson, Institute for Sustainable Food, University of Sheffield

Anna Clayton, Coordinator, FoodFutures, Lancaster

Joe Dunne, Projects Manager, Food Partnership & Food Power Alliance Coordinator, Middlesbrough

Fran Halsall, Urban Agriculture Coordinator at ShefFood, Sheffield’s Food Partnership

Key themes emerging from the discussions and presentations included:

  • the need to train new growers/farmers
  • the need for everyone to be part of growing – maybe a shorter working week would enable this for more people
  • the need for councils/policy makers to recognise that urban food growing is essential in our times
  • the (unproven) worry that much more urban food production would have the same negative effects as intensive agriculture (it wouldn’t!)
  • issues relating to land use in urban areas
  • demand for local food and the need for strategies to build that market

Watch the full event: NRFC Building real food and farming networks in northern cities, 14 September 2021 

See input from participants: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Mm8SeubhLii5PYEnehpO2KRm34E4mXAi/view 

Find links and resources mentioned in the event chat: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1G5gId8vl2bz42qEMdmPfIYKuQZS9Lk3xN8tnWHfLjVs/edit

Event outcomes – Farming in Protected Landscapes: opportunities for farmers and land managers in the North of England

The Northern Real Farming Conference team recently hosted an online workshop, chaired by Adrian Shepherd of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, to explore the new Farming in Protected Landscapes programme recently announced by Defra.

The Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL) programme is part of Defra’s Agricultural Transition Plan.  It is a dedicated funding programme for farmers and land managers in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), National Parks and the Broads. It will fund projects that support nature recovery, mitigate climate change impacts, provide opportunities for people to discover, enjoy and understand the landscape and its cultural heritage, and support nature-friendly sustainable farm businesses. The programme is now open and will run until April 2024.

The workshop was a chance to:

  • Hear from James Woodward at Sustain about the latest developments in the Agricultural Transition plan, and how the Farming in Protected Landscapes programme fits with the broader framework 

  • Understand from Kate Corfield and Allen Padua from Defra the Farming in Protected Landscape programme 

  • Hear two examples of how the FiPL scheme is being implemented in different landscapes, from Suzanne Fletcher in the Peak District National Park Authority and Chris Woodley-Steward from the North Pennines AONB Partnership

  • Explore ideas for funding with other farmers across the North of England with input from Adam Briggs from the NFU, Andrea Meanwell from the Lake District National Park Authority and from Will Rawling a farmer from West Cumbria

You can watch the full recording here

You can also access slides from James Woodward from Sustain here and Kate Corfield and Allen Padua from Defra here

The themes noted in the online discussion sessions are available here



Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL): opportunities in the North of England

Join the online briefing: 11am-1pm, Wed 21 July

Farming in Protected Landscapes (FiPL) is a Defra-funded programme for farmers and land managers in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), National Parks and the Broads. The programme is now open and will run until April 2024. Join us on 21 July to find out more:

  • Hear the latest on the Agricultural Transition Plan, and how FiPL fits in
  • Learn about the FiPL mechanism and how it’s being implemented
  • Explore funding ideas with other farmers across the North of England

Defra says the FiPL will fund projects that support nature recovery, mitigate climate change impacts, encourage people to discover, enjoy and understand the landscape and its cultural heritage, and support nature-friendly sustainable farm businesses. 

We’ll be joined by speakers from Sustain, Peak District National Park Authority, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Lake District National Park Authority, North Pennines AONB Partnership and the NFU. Join online briefing on 21 July

Photo: Hill Top Farm, Malham, North Yorkshire. Courtesy of Stephen Garnett

Are you part of a farmer network in the North of England?

Then we’d love to hear more from you.

The Northern Real Farming conference held its inaugural event in October 2020 with over 65 online sessions and 500 participants. A high proportion of participants are actively farming in the North of England and Scotland. You can access last year’s sessions on our website here.

The Northern Real Farming Conference brings farmers together to share challenges and opportunities and to share practical experiences. If you have an interest in meeting global food system challenges in innovative and environmentally regenerative ways, join our network.

We want to ensure that we are connected with as many formal/information farmer networks as possible so that our events meet your needs, and as such are asking you to complete a short survey particularly if you are part of a network in the North of England. Please let us know your priorities and how you would like to be involved in the Northern Real Farming Conference and wider movement building for an agro-ecological farming vision.

We are hosting a networks meeting for farmer networks in the North on 19 May, 11.30-1pm, and planning an online briefing session for Northern farmers in July. Sign up and indicate interest via the survey.

Our aims are to amplify the voices of northern farmers in policy discussions, to connect better the northern networks to share practice and experiences, and to highlight and showcase examples from the North.

The Northern Real Farming Conference 2022 will take place in the second half of November, online and (is the situation allows) in-person.

Please let us know how we can best work with you.

Complete the survey by clicking here.

Rod Everett highlights the challenges and opportunities for the Northern Real Farming Conference

Rod Everett shares his opening talk at the Northern Real Farming Conference this year. You can also listen watch the recording of the opening session here.

Northern farmers are very hard working, trying to do their best for their livestock and the land to leave for the next generation. It’s important to take a minute to remember special moments that you would like your grandchildren to experience.

We face huge challenges. If climate change leads to a 7.4 degree warming, we’ll have both warmer summers and 59% more rainfall by 2050. We will see more floods and fires around the world. 1

On my farm we’ve had six times more bank full floods since 2014. Some streams now dry up which never have before. Ten mature oak trees and some apple trees collapsed due to the very dry spring and wet late summer. The collapse of biodiversity and species loss on farm is significant and includes bull head, brown trout and eels lost from the River Roeburn. 2 

What is behind this? NPK (Nitrogen (N) Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) chemicals and fertilizers are having a big impact, which leads to stream eutrophication, damage to micro organisms, and, latest research from Rothamstead suggests a loss of soil structure also due to NPK. 3  Nitrogen causes thin cell walls in plants which makes them more vulnerable to insect attack, which in turn leads to needing more chemicals. When consumed, nitrogen mixes in the mouth with proteins and converts to carcinogenic nitroso-amines. 4, 5

Agrochemicals are also to blame. The average UK potato is sprayed a huge 32 times. In an Austrian study of apple microbiomes it showed organic apples had a greater diversity of microbiome. Chemical treated apples had lower diversity and more potentially pathogenic chemicals.6

Pharmaceuticals are another issue. Synthetic pyrethroids are very damaging to water and they effect the soil microbiome. 25 There are natural alternatives. For example, dung beetles take parasitic worm eggs into soil and destroy them. Ivermectin, an anthelminthic and in the dung if given to animals is attractive to dung beetles but it damages their reproductive success destroying the natural processes. 7 There is work in Scotland looking at heather and a fungi as potential anthelminthics as an alternative! 8

Animal feed includes around 85% genetically modified content and  uses half of all cereals grown. 9 JBS provides 30% of the UK pig and poultry feed which is largely sourced from Amazon and is destroying habitat. 10

Glyphosate, a key component of Round up is sprayed on the equivalent of 30% of UK agricultural land. 11  Glyphosate is N (nitrogen) attached to glycine (an essential amino acid). It is mistaken for glycine and gets incorporated into cells. Glycine helps make other amino acids that produce serotonin and dopamine.  A lack of these disrupts the gut brain link. 12  For example we don’t know when we have eaten enough so it leads to obesity.

Glyphosate chelates minerals out and causes a sulphate deficiency. This leads to production of hydrogen sulphite gas in the gut that contributes to leaky gut. 13  EU glyphosate safety levels are around 0.1ppm for veg and they are considering reducing this to 0.01ppm. Yet cereals that are heavily sprayed are allowed 20ppm and they want to increase this to 30ppm. 14   WHO safety levels for animal feed is 400ppm. 15    What could possibly be safe about that? The Bayer lobbyist likely paid more than Boris Johnson. The NFU is pushing half truths about gylphosate and picking out a very small section of research results! 16  In the USA there are 125000 lawsuits over glyphosate damage including cancer. 17 Glyphosate is linked to many modern diseases- such as attention deficit disorder, obesity, autism, dysbiosis. 18

The damaged human biome from glyphosate and other agrochemicals is passed on through the generations.  30% of our gut biome is inherited from our mother in the 1st year of life.  19  If people are eating trash food during pregnancy the effects are inherited! To get a healthy biome we need healthy soil with is full of compliment of bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms etc. These work together to help protect from disease.20

We have a choice – to destroy and abolish life on earth or to nurture life on earth. The permaculture ethics are Care for the earth, Care for people, and fair shares. 21

In UK 75 million Ha treated with pesticides, 36 million Ha treated with fungicides, and 5 million Ha treated with insecticides. 22  Is this the legacy we want to leave our children?

For me, the NRFC is an important opportunity to learn how to build healthy soil. I am interested in things like mob grazing, biofertilizers (made from fresh cow manure) and compost teas. How can we build the fungal structure in the soil to get a good crumb structure aiming for up to 78% air in soil? 23   This helps with flood management, plant and animal health. We must look after nature and the soil biome.

I am part of Food Futures for North Lancashire. I came across Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative and got excited because there are 100 organic farms feeding into a CSA, hospitals, local government and school. 24 Unfortunately it is in Pennsylvania! But hopefully this model is coming to Lancaster UK soon.

I hope you enjoyed the conference and made the most of farmer to farmer links, as well as farmer to vets, national parks and agencies and help to develop a future with a future.

We can do it!  This conference was a thought a year ago, now it has taken place with an amazing line up of speakers and many hundreds of participants.

1. National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Strategy for England 2020

2. Riverroeburn.uk

4  The truth about the nitrates in your food BBC Angela Dowden 13th March 2019 +University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension, Institute of Agriculture and Natural ResourcesG1784(Revised December 2013)Drinking Water: Nitrate-Nitrogen Sharon O. Skipton

5  https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/media/document/nitrate-surveillance-programmes-report-2014-2019-updated.pdf

6 An Apple a Day: Which Bacteria Do We Eat With Organic and Conventional Apples?


7 Ivermectin residues disrupt dung beetle diversity, soil properties and ecosystem functioning: An interdisciplinary field study  J.R.Verdu et al Science of The Total Environment

Volume 618, 15 March 2018, Pages 219-228

8  Webinar from Soil Association Scotland and SRUC on using heather and a fungi Duddingtonia flagrans as anthelminthic by Spiridoula Athanasiadou a RELACs project

9 European Feed Manufacturers’ Association

10 Dr Alice Brough Vet speech outside DEFRA offices.

11  Pesticide usage statistics – Glyphosate  https://secure.fera.defra.gov.uk/pusstats/myresults.cfm

12  Glyphosate pathways to modern diseases V: Amino acid analogue of glycine in diverse proteins Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry Volume 16(June):9-46 Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff

13 Talk by Stephanie Seneff

14 Review of the existing maximum residue levels for glyphosate according to Article 12 of Regulation (EC) No 396/2005 – revised version to take into account omitted data European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.2903/j.efsa.2019.5862

15  Glyphosate pesticide detail Codexalimentarius FAO-WHO

16 How glyphosate works for us all NFU

17 The Legal Battle Against Roundup and Other Biocides Arty Mangan – Bioneers article.

18  Various talks by Dr Zach Bush

19 Human Genetics Shape the Gut Microbiome

Julia K. Goodrich et al 2014 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2014.09.053

The Role of Gut Microbiota Biomodulators on Mucosal Immunity and Intestinal Inflammation

Chiara Amoroso at al Cells May 2020 

20 Gut Microbiome and Its Impact on Health and Diseases A. Muthaiyan 2020

21 Permaculture ethics permaculture.org.uk

22 Expert Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food 

Apples  Pesticide Residues Monitoring Report 2015 + PAN – Pesticide database  (pesticideinfo.org)

22 The truth about pesticide use in the UK https://www.pan-uk.org/pesticides-agriculture-uk/

23 For the Love of the Soil. Nicole Masters 2019

24  Lancaster Farm Fresh Food Cooperative  https://lancasterfarmfresh.com


Jean-Pierre Lumaret et al International UBA Workshop “Pharmaceuticals in Soil, Sludge and Slurry” Dessau, 18-19 June 2013

Reforming land ownership, and potential for change of land use: session outcomes

Inequity of land ownership is a common theme across the British Isles, but no more stark is the situation than in Scotland. This is perhaps why the movement towards land reform in Scotland has much more momentum than in other parts of the UK, but in this session we wanted to make clear that Scotland need not be an exceptional case in Britain – land ownership and management can be reformed in England and Wales, too!

We first heard from two members of Scottish Land Commission, an agency set up by the Holyrood government in an act of law that passed in 2016, to describe the overarching narrative of land reform in Scotland: where it’s come from, where it’s already been and where it’s going next. They summarised what they do on a daily basis, as well as some of their recent work – such as the world’s first Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement. Following on, we heard from two representatives from the Falkland Estate in Fife, where land reform has been a very alive and kicking process underway for many years now. Ninian, the hereditary owner of the estate, shone a light on his perspective of ancestral land ownership and his willingness to transition the whole estate into community ownership, whilst Adele, a collaborator and resident of the village, described her involvement and her vision for a regeneratively-designed culture shift in Falkland.

The central theme that seemed to arise was “What can I do?”. The SLC affirmed that whilst their work directly applies specifically to Scotland and that is the limit of their remit, they have come up with some principles, protocols and frameworks which could be directly applicable to any part of the UK, perhaps any Land Commission in the world. It was also highlighted that the Labour party under its previous leadership with Jeremy Corbyn seemed to have a keen interest in Land Reform, whilst it seems a new Land Commission has recently emerged in Liverpool. We also discussed the degree to which Ninian’s story could be seen as exceptional to the mainstream narrative and, whilst that may currently be true, it is undoubtedly part of the SLC’s agenda to make the story of reforming the Falkland Estate closer to the new normal than any story of land ownership that has gone before. Many folks left feeling very inspired, and some even wanted to make a film about it!

You will be able to watch the recording of the session here.

Scotland’s Changing Landscape – exploring the tensions between farming, forestry and rewilding in the uplands: session outcomes

Whether you’re a farmer or a conservationist (or both!), tensions abound in the rural – and particularly upland – landscape at the moment with multiple pressures on land use. In the context of a rapidly and radically changing economic and political landscape, we wanted to hold a space for land managers from all walks to voice their concerns about the changing landscape in Scotland. 

The panel comprised of a conservation manager from a rewilding charity based near Loch Ness, in the heart of the Highlands; a forester-cum-farmer based on the southern edge of the Highlands; and a moorland conservation consultant and farmer in the Southern Uplands of Galloway. This diversity of perspectives from the panel, which was only enlargened by our wonderful and highly engaged participants, led to a well-rounded discussion that broached the issues of community empowerment in local land management, food and fibre production, ecosystem services and a lot more.

The central theme was around integrated land management, but not simply as a nice term to put in policy papers but as a practical approach that is being trialled on the ground in farms, woodlands, moors…wherever! Rewilding and agroforestry besides, particular interest was taken in the example of Galloway where huge changes are taking place at an unfathomable and largely irreversible rate. It served as an example of what happens when one policy (in this instance, Sitka spruce planting) overrides all others to the detriment of all stakeholders concerned in the short, medium and long term. One of the main takeaways seemed to be to look at what is happening in Galloway, really scrutinise the situation and try and learn the lessons before the mistakes are repeated elsewhere. As one panelist said, “It’s no surprise that the conversation opened more doors than it closed (did it close any?!).”

You will be able to watch the recording of the session here.

Promoting veterinary engagement with the principles and practices of regenerative agriculture: session outcomes

Vet Sustain are a recently formed organisation championing sustainability in the veterinary profession: our mission being to enable and inspire veterinary professionals and members of the vet-led team to help secure the wellbeing of animals, people and the natural world – through our own operations and in the sectors we influence.

Our session was chaired by Laura Higham, founder of Vet Sustain, and facilitated by Neil Heseltine, regenerative Yorkshire Dales farmer and much more besides!

We had three speakers. We started with Simon Doherty presenting the breadth and depth of Vet Sustain’s work, shaped by our six Veterinary Sustainability Goals. Our second speaker, Alex Tomlinson, spoke about the central role of ecological complexity, and how managing for greater complexity can be used as a framework for ecological restoration and food production, while caring for people, livestock and wildlife. Our final speaker, Rob Howe, took us to the farm – discussing his work on engaging farmers with the principles of regenerative agriculture though integrated parasite control planning – dung beetles being the star of the show. Rob ended his presentation with a light-hearted, but really powerful film starring several dung beetles – a very fitting end to the presentations. 

There was terrific engagement on the chat from the session participants. Discussion points included: environmental impacts of parasiticides; intervention practices such as calf disbudding; immune responses to parasites; the importance of ‘words’ and terminology in engaging both vets and farmers; and liver fluke (which could have gone on for hours! 😊).

We were delighted with the engagement in the session. Our aim going forwards is to develop toolkits for farm vets to support sustainable and regenerative farming, and find innovative ways to engage with practising vets to maximise uptake of these ideas and principles. 

Thanks NRFC for giving us this opportunity, which has not only allowed us to present our work, but has helped us formulate our own ideas about how to progress. 

You will be able to watch the recording of the session here.

Growing real food for nutrition: measuring nutrient density to improve citizen and planetary health – Session Outcomes

Background summary

Five panellists each delivered a short presentation covering the global perspective on the double burden of malnutrition; how to measure nutrient density using a hand held refractometer and results of a mini study on UK Brix testing (2019); the concept of paying farmers for nutrition per acre; making your own biofertilisers using woodland leaf litter as a starter; and the increased production of essential omega 3 fatty acids in meat and milk from cows fed on pasture. A sixth presentation by Dan Kittredge of the Real Food Campaign (USA), which had to be cancelled at short notice, would have covered the Bionutrient meter and results from 2019 on the testing of over 4,000 food samples for nutrient density, along with the soils they were grown in. 

Summary of discussion points

Conversations around nutrient density have been increasing in the UK over the past couple of years. The current method of assessing nutrient density uses Brix values (a measure of the total solids in a liquid) and many questions were asked about the science behind this. Brix values are only intended as a crude indicator of nutrient density relating to ‘poor’, ‘average’, ‘good‘ and ‘excellent’ levels on the Brix Table, which are associated with favourable qualities in healthy food/soil, namely: better taste, higher yields, absence of pests and diseases, and longer shelf life. Taste was described by Patrick Holden as perhaps ‘the best technology we have to assess food quality’, and this observation was corroborated by Matthew Adams’ mini study of Brix testing in England and Wales from 2019 which showed an association of Brix values with taste. There was also a lot of interest in Matt Dunwell’s presentation on biofertilisers and soil health, Gillian Butlers’ research on pasture-fed cows producing better quality (healthier) meat and milk, and the role of sustainable healthy diets in transforming food systems, presented by Elizabeth Westaway. Additionally, Dan Kittredge’s work in the USA to develop a Bionutrient Meter will help generate more interest in nutrient density, as wide nutrient variation is obtained for the same foods and scientists are beginning to ask why? 

Actions, themes, ideas to take forward
All agreed there is a need to know more about nutrient density, to disseminate the research findings on pasture-fed meat and dairy, share updates on the Environmental Land Management System (ELMS) trial, provide training courses on soil health, increase awareness of all actors in the food system on nutrition and health, and to continue speaking at conferences. In addition, Growing Real Food for Nutrition will commence a nutrient density growing trial in 2021 and contribute samples to help develop the Bionutrient Meter. 

It was suggested that a panel is formed to bring together areas of interest on nutrient density, including farming regeneratively, true costs of production, assessment and measurement, science and policy-related work.  

You can watch the recording of the session here.