GFO Director and Steering Group member Nicky Stanek shares the take home messages she gleaned from this year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference held in central Oxford at the beginning of January.

Having missed out on tickets for last year’s conference and with this year’s falling within the final days of my maternity leave, I was very excited to attend what has become a key national event in the sustainable food calendar. I wasn’t disappointed. It hosted a typically diverse range of attendees, 1000 strong, from farmers to cooks, to researchers and interested consumers. The event, now in its tenth year, had a strong energetic feel full of knowledge and curious minds.

An appearance by Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment filled the Town Hall’s Main Hall from the balconies to the floor. In his speech he spoke about the new Agricultural Bill, “the first in a generation”, and waxed lyrical on the opportunities that Brexit will afford us in replacing the existing subsidies system under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Chair Kerry McCarthy MP held him to account on the new Bill’s “lack of teeth” and its omission of organic farming or agroecology, which left many frustrated. His knowledge and understanding of the issues were evident but his intentions were at times a little opaque.

Although the many informative presentations about farming methods and certification schemes were key draws of this conference, for me a highlight of the two days was the presentation by Kimberley Bell entitled “An Appetite for Diversity”. Kimberley formerly worked in the construction and retail industries, but followed her passion for food to build a new career as a grassroots baker. Based in Nottingham, she has spent some years digging deep into the world of grain production and diversity, natural yeasts and baking processes. As a result she’s created a business that is much more than a bakery. Her set-up is a hub for practical learning and community engagement and has planted a seed for changing the way people see and interact with one of the key staples of most diets: bread. This not only touches the customers who visit her bakery but also the farmers who grow the ingredients that go into her products. I felt nourished after her presentation and hope to visit the Small Food Bakery in the coming year.

For the fifth year, Good Food Oxford hosted the formal evening dinners, which took place in the Vaults & Garden and Turl Street Kitchen, with organic lamb and pasture-fed beef on offer. Some fantastic chefs also popped up at the conference’s informal lunch and evening market – Organic Deli, Alpha Bar, Yemaya’s Kitchen, Sandy Lane Farm, Ellie’s Kitchen and I Love Ethiopia. With some really solid local sourcing and not a plastic container in sight, it was an honour to bring such high quality and delicious food to these hard-working delegates, setting them up food-wise for a challenging and complex year ahead.

To find out more about the Oxford Real Farming Conference please visit: http://orfc.org.uk/

Photo: sustainablefoodtrust.org

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