Organic at the heart: Developing an agroecological food and farming network in Northern England: session outcomes

We believe that one of the key components of a transition to agroecological food and farming systems is the need to move away from input-intensive systems and towards knowledge-intensive systems. Agroecology must cover everything from food production to the protection of healthy socioeconomic relationships. We aimed to bring together interested parties from across the food and farming sector who are already practicing forms of agroecology. We felt that the timing was opportune to open dialogue on what is happening, what is needed, and how networking is important, but also to facilitate action: to address challenges as a collective and build the movement.

We structured the discussion around three questions:

  1. How are you already working as part of a food and farming network and what do you find to be the highs and lows of this? 
  2. Is there a specific challenge that is of interest to your business experience that you feel could be addressed better by being part of a larger network?
  3. How might you see a collaborative network around the organic principles working?

The discussion was fruitful and varied. It was great to hear from a range of people engaged in different food and farming businesses, some of whom have been working as part of organic networks for some time and others who are exploring innovative ways to engage with their customers and share experiences of food production from field to fork. 

Headline ideas to take forward:

  • Reflecting on our experiences to make sure we ‘catch the wave’ – that is, the momentum building behind finding alternatives to the current system, and the desire to build transparent, direct connections and relationships in food and farming in the North. Providing support through the risky and tough times (including financial). Learning from the fortunes and misfortunes of the past to create a brighter future. 
  • Bringing communities together (within the movement) across the region (mapping out current state of play) – creating an alliance that enables learning between the local level alternative food/farming network initiatives. Widening networks and pooling resources helps everybody. 
  • Communicating a common cause and expanding beyond our existing communities (e.g. different cultural landscapes) – including the notion of consumers identifying with the role that they play in developing a healthy, resilient food system. This includes directly communicating on values so to overcome any myths or prejudice, and to rally around accepted values be that earth care or regional identity and often around both. This can lead to de-mystifying labels and making the fruits of an agroecological food and farming system accessible and not something ‘elite’ – and also, beyond / encompassing organic, exploring how consumer – farmer networks can support farmers to be able to transition to a truly agroecological food and farming system (potentially building from the soil up) that delivers delicious, local, healthy food.

The session organisers will review the recording and notes then create a summary to share with all those that registered an interest in network building. We have promised to host a follow-up discussion via Agricology. We will also discuss this with the NRFC team as network building, learning from one another, reaching out to diverse communities, and inspirational communications seem to be common themes to build on from for the conference as a whole.

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

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