#ORFC20 Report

A wake-up call is exactly what was needed this year; farming is experiencing unprecedented challenges: climate change, activism, an uncertain economy post Brexit, but maybe the worst it could face is George Monbiot’s dystopian vision: a future where farmers give up their land to ‘re-wilding’, while the role of feeding an ever-increasing populace is hi-jacked by corporations manufacturing ‘fake foods’ from goodness knows what. Sensationalist and scare-mongering were two of the more polite descriptions of George’s views that we heard, yet surely, as farmers and consumers, we shouldn’t just stick our heads in the sand. If fake foods are a-coming, – and why wouldn’t they be?  Amazon, Google and Facebook are investing heavily to name a few – then the implications are huge, not just environmentally, economically and socially, but also for our health.

If we truly believe, (and at Whole Health Agriculture we do), that our health cannot be separated from the health of any other living organism in the food chain (and where exactly does that start and end?) then the idea that manufactured edible components, synthesised and almost certainly genetically modified, equate to ‘food’ is one that needs forensic scrutiny. We must start joining up our thinking in terms of what is and isn’t health in farming and food. Before it’s too late.

NATURE & NUANCE

Whole Health Agriculture’s focus for 2020 is to research and identify pivotal health management practices in farming, and to show other farmers how to apply them. To this end, our session ‘The Nature and Nuance of Farming for Health’ featured the approaches of four successful farmers who prioritise health and, despite being scheduled at lunchtime off the beaten track and in one of the smaller rooms, there was standing room only to hear them speak. Sadly, there was not enough time to answer all of the questions from attendees so our intention is to feature each speaker in more depth later on. Our thanks to Ian Tolhurst (Tolhurst Organic); Mark Measures (Mark Measures Associates), Agricultural Consultant; Pammy Riggs, award winning poultry farmer turned author, and Dale Walters from Lower Hurst Organic Farm who are all passionate about farming for health and are proof that you can apply whole system thinking and be commercially successful.

DIGGING DEEPER

One of our key projects this year is a survey to find out what alternative and non-conventional health management methods and practices really work to keep livestock healthy. We are in the process of putting this survey into a digital online format, but we had taken along about 30 paper copies of our pilot questionnaire to our stand in the main hall ‘just in case’ there was any interest. Well, there most certainly was! After tentatively asking a few farmers whether they would be interested, we were overwhelmed by the response – people were keen to take part and really understood that there is a need to show the potential, and credibility, of holistic farming methods to reduce antibiotics and toxic interventions in our food chain. Our further aim for the survey, is to look more in depth at best practice to provide practical models for other farmers. Find out more.

THE BIG QUESTION

There was a different atmosphere at the conference this year; ORFC is usually so vital and positive and that it was strange to experience a weightier, more serious energy to the proceedings; hardly surprising under current global circumstances, and possibly exacerbated by the final main session which focused on George Monbiot’s grim predictions. One visitor to our stand asked a question that everyone seemed to be asking, namely precisely how we as a nation can implement the changes needed to address the challenges we face, from climate change to sustainable farming and  – we would add – to our health. We would answer, quite simply, that we, as individuals, need to understand that eating is a political act, and that our choices give us the power to make an impact, and we get to vote with our wallets three times a day:

Choose local. Choose holistic. Choose wisely!

Sketch reproduced by kind permission of Sue Warner