ORFC co-founder Ruth West calls for proposals
ORFC has, some might think, by dint of existing for 14 years and attracting ever larger numbers (farmers, growers, researchers, farming organisations and other NGOs) become an established event in the farming calendar. An established event, maybe. Though the last couple of years has shown how quickly things can be shaken up, with opportunities for new beginnings. But part of the establishment, as some have suggested, joining with the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC)? Never!
The OFC is the establishment conference in Oxford. In existence since 1936, it was our reason for coming into being. ORFC was to be its antidote. A fringe event, we thought, that rather like the Edinburgh Fringe might take over in terms of popularity, relevance and impact. Ousting OFC maybe; but never wanting to take its place.
OFC then, and indeed now, is very much the voice of the status quo. Held at Oxford University’s Examination Schools, with champagne reception, corporate sponsorship and official government presence. The Defra Secretary of State (SoS) takes part, delivering the government’s plans for agriculture for the year: business as usual for industrial, high tech farming and whatever’s deemed to increase GDP (high-tech innovations that can be exported including biotech – gene editing; and oh, something to reduce methane from cattle, so no need to change diets because of climate change). All of which means the national media will be there, ready to report.
The government and media presence provide a great opportunity for radical protest. And so it was that by our second year, advocates of “real” farming (agroecology, food sovereignty, economic democracy) gathered outside the Exam School led by an as yet unknown Jyoti Fernandes, whose natural talent for oratory caught the attention of the media and ensured a slot on prime time TV news.
Those first years saw the emergence of two farming organisations: Landworkers’ Alliance and Pasture Fed Livestock Association. They joined the organisations already significantly contributing to the programme, including the Soil Association and CIWF.
It became clear early on that there was no one organisation running ORFC. Rather the Real Farming Trust was providing the platform, and importantly upholding the vision and values of “real” farming ensuring we kept true to our original intention.
Three different streams emerged from the mix of organisations and individual supporters: one on farm practice, one that we called “new generation; new ideas”; and the third, “digging deep”, taking a radical look at all the changes that need to be made.
As Naomi Klein put it at ORFC Global (2021), we are indeed part of a much wider social movement. To be able to make the changes – to bring about the transformation that our food and farming system so desperately needs for our planetary survival, ORFC has to be a collective endeavour – to which everyone contributes, and everyone matters.