Oxford Real Farming Conference, or ORFC for short, was started in 2010. Unlike the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC), it provides a space for alternatives to our current industrial agricultural techniques. These are often regarded as environmentally exploitative and extractive rather than contributing to regenerating our landscapes. Farmers, scientists, activists, and others gather in Oxford for the 14th time to discuss how we can sustainably produce good food for everyone within a flourishing environment.
The OFC labels itself as a conference for agribusiness. While speaking with a journalist who attended both conferences, he discussed the huge corporate presence at OFC, including 10 Mcdonald's representatives. While companies like this claim to champion sustainability and animal welfare, their efforts seem futile toward a truly sustainable world. Yes, free-range eggs, organic milk, and phasing out plastic straws in the UK are steps in the right direction, but we need more radical solutions than this. Within our consumption-driven society, these are mere plasters on the metaphorical grazed knee that is our struggling planet.
Our global economic systems have created abundant financial wealth. But is it as rosy as it sounds? We live in an exceedingly unequal society teetering on the edge of extinction. While this view may seem anthropocentric, mine and many others at the ORFC's ideal is to live in harmony with nature so we can flourish together. With farmland accounting for just under half of all habitable land globally, our current methods need to adapt to the challenges of the time, namely worsening soil health, biodiversity loss, and poor-quality food.
Gone are the days of industrial agriculture as we must embrace the indigenous knowledge modern humans our slowly forgetting. Regenerative agriculture focuses on improving our natural environment. Instead of extractive and exploitative farming, research shows it is possible to feed everyone globally while farming in harmony with nature.
As my first time at the conference, ORFC23 has undoubtedly exceeded my expectations. The gathering of farmers and non-farmers with the shared vision of nourishing both people and planet has been inspirational. There is an apparent demand for a change in the current system. With political inaction, we must take power into our own hands. This can be done in a number of ways, including grassroots action, but also advocating for policy change.
I believe the most revolutionary thing we can do is to become more connected to our food in whatever form possible. On a personal level, I'd like to see flower gardens turned into vegetable gardens, more people joining allotments, or conversing over a meal at your local community food hub. However, alongside this, there needs to be better agricultural policy to help farmers to adopt these essential regenerative practices.
The Environmental and Land Management Scheme (ELMS) proposed includes the below three schemes.
Sustainable Farming Incentive
Local Nature Recovery
While this seems monumental, the government has backtracked yet again. They are now considering returning to giving payments according to farm size, which generally benefits environmentally destructive farming methods. With agribusinesses in bed with big oil and their widespread chemical use, it is difficult to see how they will transition away from this while we witness climate inaction from both the UK government and big oil companies alike.
The ORFC was a breath of fresh air. With nearly 2,000 people in person and a further 3,000 watching online from around the world, there is a growing demand for change. I have a renewed sense of optimism after ORFC23 and look forward to seeing what we can do in 2023 ❤️