From rewilding to incubator farms at 10th anniversary Oxford Real Farming Conference 2019

Among national chaos and frustration, 2019 actually started for us in celebration, of the 10th Anniversary of the Oxford Real Farming Conference. Over 10 years ORFC has grown from 3 pioneers in a café wanting to bring people together to ‘talk seriously about food and farming’ to 1000 farmers, scientists campaigners and anyone serious about food, taking over Oxford town hall and surrounding buildings! Chris and Helen had the honour of attending this seminal food and farming conference (their 7th) in early January.

The 2019 programme was a heady mix of the practical, theoretical and the inspirational. From Agroforestry to Scaling up Box Schemes; from Whole Health Agriculture to Bio Fertilisers. A range of campaign focused sessions sat happily alongside discussions about the practicalities, joys and challenges of Team Crop Trials (during this session - and various conversations with arable farmers - Helen got very enthused about introducing cereals and pulses into the fruit and vegetable focused Agroforestry system on the Kindling Farm – so watch this space for more on that).

In the meantime Chris joined several hundred people at a Rewilding session hosted by the Rewilding UK network, with presentations from two farmers each taking different approaches to wildlife friendly farming. An interesting conversation followed on the term 'Rewilding' and the hostility from conventional farmers and the term being a barrier to dialogue with existing farmers who see it as undoing hundreds of years of taming and cultivating the land. As well as all the things we learn, ORFC is a unique opportunity for Kindling, as all our farming friends and sustainable food heroes are all in one place enabling us to catch up, consult and plan. This year was no exception with us, organising a very productive 'fringe' event to look at developing an accredited training programme for ourselves and our FarmStart Partners.

In partnership with the Land Workers Alliance, Organic Lea, Tamar Grow Local and Ecological Land Co-op, we are establishing a network of incubator farms for new entrants into agro-ecological farming. Kindling set up the UK’s first organic FarmStart 7 years ago, so it was exciting to sit round a table with a growing number of groups who have, or are looking for, incubator farm sites (in a range of sizes and forms). We were also lucky to have some fantastic organisations around the table wanting to share the training and resources that they have developed, to encourage more people into commercial organic growing and farming. The session was a great start and we look forward to working on this over the next 2 years (watch this space for more on this too!).

The conference has also taken on an additional meaning for Chris, as he recently became a trustee of the Real Farming Trust which organises the conference (as well as doing many other amazing things). Chris is honoured to have been invited to play this role and is gaining lots of useful experience for the development of Kindling Farm, including a growing understanding of what’s involved in organising a one thousand person conference (with additional issues of the Secretary of State for the Environment attending and national media scrutiny).

So yet again an inspiring and enriching start to 2019 for us – but what’s great is that you don’t have to live the ORFC experience vicariously through us, all the presentations will be available in the coming months on the ORFC website. We highly recommend a listen and look forward to chatting to you about the themes that interest you over a session with the Land Army!