The NRFC will bring together farmers, fishers, land managers, the food sector, researchers and activists from the North to share practical experiences with an interest in meeting global food system challenges in innovative and environmentally regenerative ways.
For the conference (17-24 November) proposals can include a range of formats, including:
discussion or co-creation sessions where a group discusses a key theme or questions
farm tours which focus on a practice or take participants on a farm tour
social sessions which aim to build connections through social activities which could include quizzes, live music, food-tasting and art
local gatherings across the North
For the gathering (2-3 December in Lancaster) proposals can include:
Celebration and project sharing
Talks and informal conversation over coffee/food
In person workshops, seminars and information sharing
The first ever Northern Real Farming Conference opened on Monday 28 September with around 400 registered participants with a stake, or interest, in regenerative farming systems in the North of England and Scotland.
Beginning with a view from Colin Tudge, co-founder of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, we explored the principles of real farming and their context within the current global economic framework. The potential benefits of systems- and place-based approaches were put forward by Anna Clayton as an example of practical ways that we can work together to achieve change. Rod Everett, organic farmer from Roeburndale (north Lancashire), then set out the scale of the challenges ahead from a farmer’s perspective, including a depressing range of statistics outlining the impact of industrial farming on our landscapes and biodiversity. While the challenges are formidable, it soon became clear how determined a collectivity there is, ready to confront them.
Twenty six sessions were programmed for week one, plus a number of social sessions and the week unfolded as a series of ongoing conversations, brimming with enthusiasm and hope.
Even though we cannot do justice to the breadth and range of topics and conversations which took place, we would like to highlight five emerging themes from the first few days.
Firstly, there was a strong emphasis on the importance of creating and being part of farming and food systems that work better – for us as farmers, conservationists, activists, communities, citizens. We heard from farmers who had set up new online shops during Covid-19, about urban opportunities and land ownership options, and about the benefits of community supported agriculture models. We explored seed saving and also looked at the urgency, and difficulties, of producing for local needs rather than commodity markets, and how questions of land ownership in particular are entangled with the viability of creating ‘small farm futures’.
Secondly, right from the opening session, we were reflecting on the question of which voices were not included in the event, and how could we bring them in. A socially just farming and food system requires us to ensure that all voices are heard and we all, collectively, need to do more to ensure that this happens throughout our processes and systems, as well as to enable new entrant farmers from a range of backgrounds.
Thirdly, one ambition of the NRFC was to create space for discussing the challenges and opportunities of the upland landscapes typical of much of Northern England and Scotland. These upland areas have become contested spaces in recent years and we had lively discussions in a number of sessions around creating a shared vision for how farming, biodiversity, ‘public goods’ (such as clean water and air), culture and tourism can co-exist in this landscape. Sessions discussed practical approaches as to how farming and biodiversity can be integrated in upland areas, including habitat restoration on common lands and agroforestry, along with a popular discussion session on upland perspectives. Throughout these sessions a common theme emerged: the need for collaboration and sharing of perspectives and knowledge, both within the farming community and beyond.
Fourthly, how to counter biodiversity loss and its impact were considered by many of the sessions, with a particularly impassioned workshop on the role of dung beetles in building soil and animal health. In this session, virtual tours with three farmers hunting for dung beetles showed how important it is to look more closely at the land we live and work in, and to manage it to support this biodiversity that in turn supports us.
And finally, it is worth reflecting on the importance of community, gratitude and hope. Despite being an online event with limited opportunities for those free flowing, often late night conversations that put the world to rights, (although some people are managing that via zoom!), the importance of the growing movement in the North is key. One session began with an invitation to consider who you can be grateful to, and this is a practice for all of us standing for a different future. The resolve we share shone through many of our interactions this week, including the chance to chat, share perspectives and inspire each other.
Thanks to everyone who is taking part in this first ever Northern Real Farming Conference; from those who have brought their sessions online to everyone taking part in their first online conference experience!
Join us for week two of the first ever Northern Real Farming Conference.
With over 60 session proposals submitted the first ever Northern Real Farming Conference promises to be a great event, combining webinars and discussions on dedicated topics, networking and social events, and co-creation sessions. Get your ticket now!
Tickets are now on-sale for the Northern Real Farming Conference 2020 which can be purchased via the Permaculture Association website.
You can read more about our ticket policy and pricing here.
You can also make an application for a bursary place at the conference via the application form.
Suzy Russell and Mick Marston from the Community Supported Agriculture Network UK share their views on why we need a Northern Real Farming Conference.
At the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Network UK we’re delighted to be supporting the NRFC. Why? Because it’s much needed. In the last few years we’ve been putting time, energy and resource into encouraging and supporting CSA in the North of England where there has, until, now, been little activity. And it’s paying off. In the last ten months our Northern membership has more than doubled with the increase across both rural and urban areas. Urban CSAs are taking off and forming part of wider sustainable food ecosystems being developed in many of our big post-industrial cities.
With this growth has come the need to be talking more to the needs and particularities of the north. CSA has, until now, been more prevalent in the south of England, and as a result much of our knowledge and resource has been developed in an environment which differs significantly from the north.
The climate is different. Farming systems and traditions are different. Land ownership is different, politics are different and demographics are different.
The desire to produce good local food is the same though as is the desire to get together and talk about what we are doing, how we are doing it and how we can persuade others to do it too. COVID has exposed seismic faults in our food system and chasms of inequality amongst our people all of which call for radical change, and change which is adapted to local environments. NRFC will provide a much needed and valuable space to come together in enacting this change and unlocking the door to CSA Up North.
Rod Everett, a farmer from Roeburndale in North Lancashire and member of the Northern Real Farming Conference team talks about the importance of ‘real farming’ in the North and Scotland.
In the North we have hard working and dedicated farmers who care for their animals, look after the countryside and aim to leave a productive and economically viable farm to their children. They take pleasure at hearing the lapwings and curlews calling, heralding in the spring. They observe the livestock and detect unusual behaviour patterns. They work long and hard hours in all weathers for little return. Most are born and bred farmers and will be till the day they die. We need to give gratitude for their efforts in supplying our food system.
Yet our farming system has been largely designed by the agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries. Our government is easily persuaded by the lobbyists to accept unsafe levels of pesticides and high levels of fertilizer in the run off from farms. At the Oxford Real Farming Conference, Henry Dimbleby stated that 18 of the largest food and drink companies rely on portfolios of food and drink of which 85% are so unhealthy as to be regarded unsuitable for marketing to children under World Health Organisation guidelines.
Our soils are losing their rich soil biology and no longer provide the rich nutrient soup on which are crops used to grow. Glyphosate in Roundup, a widely used weed-killer, has been linked to cancer and can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteria at doses considered safe. This disruption of the microbiome has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, such as obesity, diabetes and immunological problems.
Our sheep and cattle rely on a barrage of anthelmintics to kill stomach worms and insecticides to keep them healthy. One of them, ivermectin, is slowly killing our dung beetles. In a rich ecological system, the dung beetles would normally help to reduce stomach worms by destroying them in the pasture.
Our winter feeding relies on high protein GM soya, (with around 85% of all EU animal feeds containing GM derived products) often imported from damaged rainforest areas. This has implications on global climate change.
Our fields no longer absorb our increasingly heavy rainfall. The fast run off leads to flooding downstream. Two thirds of our rivers showed samples of over 10 pesticides.
We all notice the decline in the diversity of wildlife. There was a 46% decline in butterflies between 1976 and 2017. Some fields are overloaded with slurry and the soil underneath is now devoid of earthworms and other beneficial microbiology.
Yet in the North of England and Scotland there are an increasing number of farmers who have said to themselves that things must change on their farms if they are to produce healthy food and look after the soil. The realisation that a living biologically active soil is key to a resilient food and farming system has led many to experiment with new ways of farming. The Northern Real Farming Conference will bring together these pioneer farmers who are successfully altering their farming systems to create ecologically and economically viable farms which bring joy to their families and local community. They are creating a legacy of regenerative farms for our children and future generations.
This conference will be online (due to Covid) from 28th Sept to October 10th and will bring together farmers, researchers and food specialists. This will be an opportunity to connect with other farmers, discuss ideas, explore innovative research, tell stories and be part of an important movement for change. Don’t feel alone any more, become part of the family.
We expect that there will be a wide range of topics included such as pasture fed livestock; holistic management; alternative livestock feeds and different ways to manage grazing livestock such as mob grazing to help the pastures grow deep roots and build natural fertility; and marketing and butchering of meats rich in omega 3 fats.
Sessions may include how to invigorate the soil biology with bio-fertilizers, compost teas and effective microbes; how to grow vegetables and cereals with minimum tillage techniques; growing vegetables with disadvantaged communities such as refugees and asylum seekers in urban situations both in the UK and abroad; and developing procurement systems that support local and resilient food as part of the sustainable food cities network.
Other farmers may share about small micro-farms that provide local employment and help build local community; farm caring and farm sharing; succession planning and community ownership; rewilding projects and natural flood management techniques; agroforestry and its multiple benefits to farms; and how we will need to adjust to the extremes expected with climate change and how this is affecting other people throughout the world.
We will also learn about the new ELM’s Environmental Land Management Scheme and how it will fund farmers for providing public benefits such as wildlife diversity, flood management, restoring our soils and education.
There will be some speakers bringing their relevant expertise from other parts of the world and of course the strength and learning will be in the important stories and life experience that every participant brings with them.
This event was stimulated and is being supported by the successful Oxford Real Farming Conference which now attracts over 1000 people each year. For many farmers it is the highlight of their year where they can refresh their enthusiasm and courage to look forward to another year creating a new path for farming, supported by the new friends and contacts they made.
Please join us at the Northern Real Farming Conference to make this an important moment in your life where a change in farming habits becomes both a joy and a commitment to a future of farming with a future.
Deadline for submitting proposals for sessions is 26 July.
By Rod Everett, member of the core team for the Northern Real Farming Conference and a farmer from Roeburndale in the Forest of Bowland (North Lancashire), producing apples and cider vinegar on a diverse wildlife rich farm.
We are delighted to announce that the call for proposals for the inaugural Northern Real Farming Conference is now open
In the midst of multiple crises (climate chaos, ecological breakdown, mass extinction, social unrest and Covid-19), it is crucial that we re-think and share practical experiences of innovative and environmentally sustainable ways to farm and bring food to our markets and ultimately our kitchen tables.
Having been overwhelmed with interest, the first ever Northern Real Farming Conference (NRFC) will run from 28 September – 10 October 2020, in a mostly online format (though we have some ideas up our sleeve if social distancing rules permit!).
The NRFC is inspired and supported by the long-running Oxford Real Farming Conference. ‘Real Farming’ events explore transformative strategies, theories, approaches, and practical and progressive actions for just and sustainable agriculture and food systems. At the NRFC we will be focussing primarily on Real Farming in the northern parts of England and Scotland.
It’s the first of hopefully many NRFCs, and we are looking forward to building the northern real farming community in the years to come.