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Oxford Real Farming Conference 2023 by Suzy Russell

What a brilliant two days – a wonderful mix of people and ideas and some truly inspirational talks. Oli Rodker’s call to action at the start of the conference resonated:

“we are failing in our mission, and we must start bringing communities with us”

and what better way than through CSA!

Our first dive into the conference was through a session chaired by Jade Bashford of the Real Farming Trust on “What is the Role of Community Food Businesses in Delivering Social Impact and Social Change?” presenting research from the network alongside Clare Horrell from the Real Farming Trust and Jess Clynewood from St Werburgh’s Farm in Bristol.

The three presentations resonated along some common themes: 

  • diversity and equality being more than policy
  • the question of whose responsibility it is to ensure everyone has access to healthful food
  • the importance of the movement of being honest about what is working AND what isn’t the difficulty in making a living from producing healthful food

Thoughts from those listening led us to discussions of the importance of celebration to bring people together, the building of shared awareness and the newness of this topic to the food and farming movement. We all hope that next year the room will be full! 

We were honoured to be invited to a working lunch with Minister Mark Spencer, which allowed us to put forward arguments for removing the 5ha limit, recognising holistic agroecological practice (in a single payment for small farms), ensuring finance packages including accessible capital grants were available and accessible and funding research which wasn’t centred around agri-tech alone. 

I then went to a session on “The Power of Food to Heal Minds, Bodies, Communities and Land” community with the excellent GP Sally Baker. Her statement that “the most important thing we can do for our own, our communities’ and our planet’s health, is to eat healthy food together” points straight to CSAs.

On Friday morning, we began by chairing a “Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS): a UK Exploration” session with Tamara Schiopou, Steven Jacobs and Lawrence Woodward. Our small but very engaged audience asked some interesting questions, including the relationship between PGS and third-party certification.  At the CSA Network, we are inspired by and interested in the potential PGS has to engage citizens in thinking about how our food is produced, how our land is treated, and how it might support CSAs to develop their agroecological systems. The GASAP CSA Network in Belgium adopted PGS to allow their farmers to work towards agroecological standards beyond organic. They have seen real benefits in peer-to-peer learning and citizen engagement. 

Then was our CSA session, “Why Convert to Community Supported Agriculture?” We were blown away by brilliant and heartfelt presentations from Gerald, Amy, Jo and Tamara, all of whom brought tears to our eyes. None of them has found CSA an easy journey, but all of them are glad they’ve done it. There was a fascinating discussion about how we might start paying CSAs for the additional health, environmental and carbon benefits they bring – a cool £38k per year in the case of Knockfarrel Produce. The room was packed, with people being turned away. The following session, “Are you a Landowner Looking to Do Things Differently?”, involved our CSA farmers as well as Rose from the Soil Association’s Woodoaks Farm, David Wolfe from Wakelyns, Ninian Stuart from the Falkland estate and a number of other progressive landowners. Tom Carman from (Shared Assets) and Dan Woolley (Stir to Action) represented the Family Farm Succession Project we are part of.  The room buzzed, and what had been planned as a simple lunchtime chat could have gone on for hours. 

Tali, our Policy manager, did a great job networking, Neil, our Communications Manager, captured some great footage, and we all came home exhausted but full of inspiration. Thank you, ORFC!

Suzy Russell, CSA Network UK Coordinator

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