Getting it together – structural and governance options for co-operative and community agriculture organisations.

Hosted by Mark Simmonds, Co-op Culture.

A presentation of and discussion around the scope of different ways co-operative agricultural enterprise is organised in the UK and how this relates to business model and finance.


Mark is a co-operative and community business practitioner and activist. Working through Co-op Culture, Mark specialises in co-operative models and has worked with many CSAs over the years.

Exploring the benefits of diversity in Agriculture

Hosted by researchers and artists at Newcastle University.

Our panel discussion session explored the research and experiences of people who are traditionally not seen as on the front lines of agriculture. Attendees gained insight into the work being done to expand accessibility in and to agriculture as well as perspectives from individuals who have previously been seen as ‘outsiders’. Additionally, the session highlighted the benefits of diversity to a successful agricultural sector.


Sally Shortall is the Duke of Northumberland Professor of Rural Economy, Newcastle University in the UK, and an Honorary Professor in Queen’s University Belfast. She is interested in agriculture, farm families, and the role of women in agriculture. She has carried out research on women in agriculture for the FAO, the European Parliament, the European Commission and is currently advising the European Court of Auditors on gender mainstreaming the European Agriculture Guidance Fund.

Dr Ruth McAreavey is a Reader in Sociology at Newcastle University. Ruth grew up on a farm in County Armagh. Her research is focused on migration to rural and regional places and she is also interested in wider questions of rural development and regeneration. She has recently completed research for the Scottish Government on seasonal agricultural workers and her monograph on migration was published with Routledge in 2017. She is currently co-editor of Sociologia Ruralis.

Hannah Budge is an ESRC funded PhD student at the Centre of Rural Economy, Newcastle University, UK. Her thesis will examine the role of women in agriculture in the Scottish Islands, looking at the barriers in this industry experienced between and within these communities. This project will focus on factors such as the various land tenure systems on the islands and religious differences and if these impact on agriculture communities.

Joanne Coates is an artist in residence for the Centre Rural Economy at Newcastle University and has been exploring reasons for gender bias as part of her residency. Although the Covid-19 lockdown has halted her artwork, she highlights how feminism and women’s leadership are viewed in farming and further afield.

Hannah Davis is a Lecturer in Ruminant Nutrition and Pasture Management at Newcastle University. Hannah’s research aims to understand how dairy management practices affect milk quality, animal health and environmental impact with a view to optimise sustainable farming systems. As a PhD researcher, this included studying the fat composition of cow milk produced under different management practices (conventional, organic, 100% forage-fed) and analysing data from the Low Input Breeds project ( to identify breed combinations best suited to low-input diary production. Outside of research, Hannah is a member of the LGBT+ steering group at Newcastle University as well as a Trustee of the Bill Quay Community Farming Association in Gateshead.

A blog post about the outcomes of the session is available here.

New entrant support for farmers: The Farmstart Model

Hosted by the Landworkers Alliance with the Kindling Trust, Manchester and the Lancaster FarmStart scheme.

New entrants into farming face many barriers, including access to land, high set up costs and a lack of appropriate training. This session will focus on new entrant support for farmers in the north, learning from incubator farms from across the UK.

The session will cover:
– The definition, purpose, benefit and challenges of the FarmStart approach
– An outline of the current policy landscape/campaigns for support for new entrant farmers
– An overview of schemes in the UK and their different approaches
– Two northern case studies of FarmStart training schemes – the very well established Kindling Trust programme in Greater Manchester and the new Lancaster FarmStart scheme to be run at The Plot
– A chance to discuss and explore the barriers and opportunities for creating further FarmStart programmes as a way of building local supply chains/meaningful employment/local food etc


Steph Wetherell is the Farm Start Network Coordinator for the Landworkers’ Alliance, working to build a network of farms and organisations offering farm-start opportunities. She is also the Media and Comms Coordinator for the LWA and runs the mentoring programme. She also writes about food and farming for a number of different websites and magazines, working to connect people with where their food comes from.

Helen Woodcock is a founding member of Greater Manchester’s Kindling Trust – working to create a fairer, more sustainable food system for Manchester and beyond. Over the last 13 years Helen has helped establish Kindling’s practical initiatives including our FarmStart programme, to encourage and support a new generation of organic growers; Woodbank Community Food Hub; and Kindling’s sister co-operatives Manchester Veg People and Veg Box People, to create fairer markets for organic growers and make local organic food accessible to all. Helen is currently focused on establishing the Kindling Farm, a 100+ acre organic agroforestry farm for the Northwest.

Ellen Pearce has been coordinating FarmStart work in Lancaster for the last 3 years, undertaking a feasibility study, pilot programme and setting up a local funding scheme for the project. She co-chairs the Food and Economy working group for FoodFutures, North Lancashire’s Sustainable Food Network and coordinates the Northern Real Farming Conference.

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

Hosted by the Organic Research Centre team.

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. This session aimed to bring together interested parties from across the food and farming sector who are already practicing forms of agroecology. Our objective was to explore the establishment of a research and knowledge exchange network in the region that could grow around testing and sharing our experiences of working towards the Organic Principles of health, ecology, fairness and care in full crop-rotation economies. At the Organic Research Centre, our work is embedded in a real-life context via engagement with farmers and other stakeholders throughout the research process. We also run a knowledge exchange programme, including the wide-reaching Agricology network and platform. Working with Organic Farmers & Growers C.I.C and Newcastle University, we hosted this session for anybody interested in being part of a collaborative network that supports the real research and development needs of the food and farming sector in the North of England.


Charlotte Bickler leads the Knowledge Exchange and Policy team at the Organic Research Centre, ensuring that ORC’s research gets out to its key stakeholders in the best format possible. She is based in West Yorkshire and has worked as a researcher at the ORC, Kew Gardens and The University of Bristol. Her research has focused on aiming to understand how ecological and evolutionary responses can be quantified to promote their successful integration in land management for agricultural productivity, sustainability, and conservation. Most recently, working on the EU project LIVESEED (, she has studied the application of evolutionary breeding within organic systems and developed an on-farm organic variety testing network (now a DEFRA funded project, LiveWheat) with her ORC Crops Team colleagues, Organic Arable ( and a group of participatory farmers. She has also coordinated Knowledge Exchange and on-farm trials of crop mixtures as part of the EU project DIVERSify ( She hopes her work contributes towards bridging the gap between knowledge development and its application and use in a practical setting.

Amelia Magistrali is a post-doctoral researcher at Newcastle University who has spent the past five years assessing the potential of and developing supply chains for alternative grain production in North East England. As a PhD researcher, Amelia studied spelt and rye variety performance with alternative fertilisers as part of the EU HealthyMinorCereals project ( and the DEFRA Sustainable Intensification Platform ( Amelia currently works with Coastal Grains Ltd (, a grain co-operative in Northumberland, on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership to develop supply chains for novel grain production. Through the project, she works with farmers to trial commercial production of spelt, buckwheat and rye varieties, which has resulted in a well-established supply chain for regional spelt production and additional avenues for buckwheat and rye in the UK.

Steven Jacobs has been working in food and farming for 30 years, starting in market gardening and moving through farming to retail via catering. Following work with the Permaculture Association, the Co-operative Wholesale Society, Fresh & Wild (now Wholefoods Market) and Essential Trading Co-operative, Steven joined Organic Farmers & Growers in 2007. Steven represents OF&G on a number of roundtables, forums and working groups: Agricology, IFOAM EU, the NFU Organic Forum and the Agriculture Working Party of Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming. Steven is the founder and coordinator of the annual organic farming conference, the OF&G National Organic Combinable Crops, also known as NOCC. Steven chairs the Welsh Grain Forum and also sits on the steering committee for the Wales Real Food and Farming Conference – WRFFC / Cynhadledd Gwir Fwyd a Ffermio Cymru – CGFFfC and Food Manifesto Wales.

Janie Caldbeck co-ordinates, creates and edits the content (ranging from a library of resources to videos, blogs, podcasts and farmer profiles) held on the Agricology website, working closely with researchers, farmers and others from within the industry to make it a valuable knowledge hub for sustainable farming practices. She holds a Masters in Creative Writing and a BSc Hons in Horticulture for which she specialised in ethnobotany (global plant use) and science communication. She has conducted research in a range of areas including CO2 emissions in relation to drainage of peatlands, the use of biochar as a soil management tool, building fertility using clover and legumes, medicinal uses of trees, and ways in which trees can be integrated into farms and farming practices. She previously worked as a technical writer alongside the ORC research and information teams (on the LegLINK and OSCAR projects), the Institute of Organic Training and Advice (IOTA), and partners on the on-line Ecofarming information hub. She works remotely for the ORC, based at her home near the infamous Barnard Castle in Teesdale, Co. Durham, on the edge of the north Pennines.

You can read a blog post about the session outcomes here.