We discovered an absolute feast of fascinating and diverse sessions to educate and motivate our movement, and the most incredible atmosphere of warmth, togetherness and change at ORFC 2024. Be The Earth is a proud sponsor of this event as part of our commitment to fairer food and farming systems.
Food is the nexus of humanity’s relationship with the Earth. This can be too easily forgotten in the age of the supermarket, yet it stands firm and unbroken. Even those who live in great grey concrete cities and don’t set foot on a blade of grass year round still eat food that is grown from the ground. All humanity depends on the bounty of the soil, and we owe all our existences to those who cultivate it.
Farming is founded on reciprocity: in order to harvest food, you have to look after the earth. Industrial farming tries to cheat this reality by substituting care for chemicals through the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides. Instead of a mutual relationship between farmer and soil, this approach aims to subjugate the land, exploiting it relentlessly to maximise profit and giving back nothing in return.
The deep reciprocity between farmer and land is the foundation of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, which explores agroecological processes and regenerative relationships that work with and alongside nature, rather than focusing on how farmers can increase crop yields or profitability of their land.
Be The Earth sponsored and attended the conference in January 2024 as part of our commitment to grow fairer food systems and support regenerative agriculture.
Cultivating diversity, growing a movement
ORFC 2024 was a momentous hybrid event, with 3,500 delegates coming together in-person and online to work together towards a brighter future for farming, food production and supply chains. Just as the land itself suffers from monocultures, diversity is fundamental to what keeps this unique event alive and growing. Speakers were invited from all over the globe and free online tickets were available to those in majority world countries.
The event was practical and ideological, reflectional and galvanising. Sessions ranged from the intricacies of soil microbiology to new kinds of marketing to cultivating our spiritual connection to the land; from setting up a micro-dairy to the value of introducing mob grazing and agroforestry to the farm; from the joys and tribulations of farming to the kind of economic structure required to support the fairer food system we need.
Our thriving ecosystem
All our work at Be The Earth is centred on strong relationships and it was particularly special for us to see and support so many of our friends and Fellows at ORFC. Two Fellows of our Flow Funding Programme, Dee Woods and Jyoti Fernandes, spoke about their work and hosted panel discussions, often with the Landworkers Alliance, a union of farmers, growers, foresters and land-based workers who are creating a better food and land-use system, building skills and knowledge in agroecology, and working for food sovereignty, sustainable forestry and the right to food.
In the exhibition space, we were delighted to see two of our investees, Ooooby and Old Tree Brewery, holding stalls to showcase their incredible regenerative businesses. Ooooby is an online platform that increases sales, simplifies packing and optimises deliveries for small farms and food hubs looking to sell fresh food to local customers. Old Tree Brewery is a botanical brewery based out of Glynde, UK, producing a range of traditionally fermented products, including kombucha, seasonal wines, vinegars, and cordials, some of which were available on tap for lucky visitors to enjoy!
It was a special treat to bump into Claire Hill from Planton Farm, with whom we are collaborating on the Roots to Regeneration Programme, a UK-based, one-year programme that helps food producers and supply chains speed up the transition to regenerative agriculture.
We are also honoured to be part of a group of progressive and enterprising funders coming together to support agroecology and the regenerative food movement. We reconnected with many of our friends and funding partners at drinks hosted by Farming the Future, who are a collective of funders, advisors, and food practitioners working together to transform our food system through redirecting finance, pooled grantmaking and knowledge sharing.
“Our body is soil transformed”
An intention to reform our relationship with the land also requires a new vision of who we are as human beings. Satish Kumar, Founder of Schumacher College, conveyed this spirit during his lunchtime meditation on Soil, Soul and Society. “We are soil. Our body is soil transformed. We are Earth; we are earthlings; soil beings”, he told us, “The food we eat – sweet oranges and apples – is soil transformed.” Recounting the wise words of a 90-year-old woman he met, he added: “If you take care of the soil, soil will take care of everything’”.
These sentiments seemed embodied by a moving ritual during the conference in which attendees offered soil from their many lands of origin to nourish the planting of a special oak tree to signify unity and diversity at ORFC
Until we meet again…
Our heartfelt thanks go to the ORFC team, who cultivated the most incredible atmosphere of warmth and togetherness. It’s such a rare achievement to create such a sense of festival at a conference; an atmosphere that facilitates authentic change because people feel able to show up as themselves, where it feels easy and comfortable to forge new connections and where challenging but necessary opinions can be shared openly and compassionately.
We are so honoured to play our small part in this paradigm-shifting project. We're looking forward to next year already!
Find out more about ORFC here and get a taste of the event by watching a selection of sessions below!