• Norwich Farmshare

The Oxford Real Farming Conference rolling blog by Sabine

FarmShare has been celebrating the wonderful contents of the 2021 Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) by sharing snippets of some of the most relevant and 'groundbreaking' talks through our weekly newsletter. Sabine, FarmShare's member, attended the ORFC and wanted to share the talks she felt the FarmShare community would enjoy, so after a quick chat about it with the FarmShare team, that's exactly what she began to do! We're ever so grateful for the time and effort Sabine has been putting into this, and we're looking forward to the coming weeks of this knowledge-share. If you're a newsletter subscriber, we hope you have been enjoying the ORFC features (we definitely have!). Over the coming weeks, as well as being able to access the content in the newsletter, we're going to be posting them on here so that you can revisit them at your leisure. This page will will be a rolling blog of the ORFC snippets Sabine has been sharing.

We always welcome contributions to the newsletter, so if you have any interesting articles, videos, films or something you think the FarmShare community would enjoy, please get in touch with us - we'd love to hear about it! Simply email news@norwichfarmshare.co.uk.

The 2021 ORFC rolling blog

19th January 2021

'I had the privilege of attending the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) earlier this month. In this – its twelfth – year, ORFC grew from a weekend to a whole week, going online and global for the first time, with some 500 speakers and over 5,000 participants from 80 countries learning the latest about agroecology, food sovereignty, fungi and microbes and so much more. I was inspired by so many sessions, and over the coming weeks and months, I’m going to share some of my favourites with the FarmShare community in this email.

As well as being a FarmShare member, I’m also a volunteer with Green New Deal Norwich, a local hub of Green New Deal UK, where we're working toward an economy that puts people and planet first. Some of us in the Norwich hub are exploring how to establish a food strategy for Norwich, one with social, environmental and economic justice at its core. The conference was full of ideas and people who can help us create such a strategy. As more of the conference sessions get uploaded to YouTube, I’ll be sharing links to sessions with interesting nuggets, visionary practices and messages of hope and possibility. There are some real gems to come. Watch this space!

26th January 2021 As promised last week, I’m back to share an inspiring session from the 2021 Oxford Real Farming Conference. In “How Farms Can Soak up the Rain, author and educator Didi Pershouse focuses on the importance and power of the soil as a sponge. Though I thoroughly recommend putting on the kettle and settling down for the whole hour and a half, I’ll share where you can find some of the highlights.

Formerly a healthcare professional, Pershouse turned her attention to climate change after flooding near her Vermont home destroyed hundreds of miles of roads and hundreds of bridges (watch from about 7 minutes). The damage occurred primarily where there was no vegetation. Around 13 minutes in, she gives three different simulations of rain falling onto dirt versus onto living soil. Well worth watching, for the novice and those in the know.

She explains how the soil sponge relates directly to transpiration, which has a cooling effect on the land. From 26-30 minutes in, she builds the case for the soil sponge’s ability to reverse climate change, arguing that a 23% increase in transpiration on agricultural land (in the USA, achievable by the addition of winter cover crops alone) could offset the 0.6°C degrees increase we’ve had over the past 70 years.

For those interested in creating change, the framework she shares from about 42 minutes in is great food for thought. Overall, it’s a gem-packed session, and I could say much more. But I hope instead I’ve whet your appetite to watch it yourself.

p.s. Worth noting that Pershouse offers a free-to-download manual for teaching these concepts.

9th February 2021

I’m back with another highlight from the 2021 Oxford Real Farming Conference: musician, activist and scholar Lyla June. Speaking from the US, Lyla June gave a moving and eye-opening talk about Indigenous Food Systems from pre-Colombian times. In it, she asks the question: how can we procure food that is not intensive or domesticated, but rather in ways that invite the life of the planet to thrive?

One answer is from the Heiltsuk nation on island of Bella Bella, British Columbia, who hand plant kelp forests on the shoreline. This expands the habitat for herring, who come to lay eggs in these forests. The eggs provide food not just for humans, but for salmon, killer whales, wolves, bears, and others, thus supporting the whole food web of the entire island. “We create a home and our food comes to us.”

She gives other examples, like ancient clam gardens and forest gardens, illustrating her argument that indigenous peoples didn’t so much farm the land as tend it. Through managed fires that increase soil nutrients and microbes, they built and cared for living soil systems thus feeding the buffalo and cultivating biodiversity. Lyla June describes the relationship as not so much taking from the earth, but receiving. “By the time we are fed, the system actually is not at a loss. In many cases, we’ve actually increased the caloric base by feeding ourselves. It’s not extractive… it’s actually additive.” And above all, she speaks of not breaking what the creator has made, but facilitating life.

In short, Lyla June suggests that humanity is meant to be a keystone species, and she lays out principles for being good stewards of the earth. After the Q&A, she ends with a powerful, beautiful song, calling us to rise up to this challenge.

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