Representing Good Food Oxford at the ORFC felt a little like entering a brave new world of agricultural alchemy. Definitely fewer checked shirts and tweed on show than around the corner at the Oxford Farming Conference, but nevertheless, seminar rooms crammed full of specialists in their fields – no pun intended. The enthusiasm of the 750+ delegates was palpable, jostling for seats in the Council Chamber or packing in to the St Aldates Room to hear speakers discuss subjects ranging from soil health to the human right to good food, or the true cost of producing food against a backdrop of seemingly misdirected subsidies and wide scale misallocation of resources.
What was very apparent and hugely encouraging was the common appetite for change. There seemed to be a received wisdom that farming cannot continue as it is if contentious issues such as increased flooding, feeding a growing population and financing a healthy food future are all to be tackled. Even more obvious was the need for a holistic approach to these problems, and a real desire from enthusiasts and influencers to share ideas and initiatives in creating a genuinely sustainable alternative to the unsustainable status quo.
Although the somewhat depressing global picture may seem insurmountable, ORFC showcased a wealth of inspiring work from around the UK that could act as a catalyst to greater integration for mutual benefit. For example; the impact of community supported agriculture in sharing the risks of production whilst providing much needed employment, filling veg boxes with vibrant produce and supporting natural habitats for threatened wildlife; work with local authorities in enabling land to be mapped and made more accessible for small scale growers; the creation of food hubs as an economically viable solution to meeting the growing demand for local food.
To cap it all off, the Good Food Oxford evening dinner showcased some super local produce cooked up by “The Late Chef” Paul Bellchambers, and was ably served by the next generation of caterers, City of Oxford College students. If all our food interactions can be modelled on that, there is plenty of hope for the future of food in Oxford.
To keep last week’s exciting debates alive, we need to follow up on those conversations shared over a coffee, look at the business cards buried deep in our corduroys, and most importantly make every effort to share our vision and work closely together. With this approach, our optimism need not be short-lived and our ‘good food’ ambitions can be strengthened. Collaboration is therefore the watchword in creating a dynamic and resilient food future for Oxford, and beyond.