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ORFC, Day 1 Review

ORFC, Day 1 Review

Posted on January 19 2023, By: Emma Wooding

ORFC, Day 1 Review

The opening Plenary - what a TREAT! Musical performances by Kate Huggett singing ‘The Quite Joys of Brotherhood’ poem, followed by the Shumei Taiko Ensemble (featuring Japanese farmers) with their traditional drumming call to the spirits of nature (INCREDIBLE!).

Next up, the opening addresses from ORFC Partners…

  • Landworkers alliance - Oli Rodker
  • Rebecca Mayhew - Pasture for Life East Anglia
  • Nikki Toxall - Representing the Soil Association
  • Kath Dalmeny - Sustain
  • Satish Kumar - long-time peace & environment activist & founder of the Schumacher College

Which, in each speech, opened questions in minds, laid foundations for healthy debate over the coming sessions and left us all primed and ready for the next few days!

With 65 sessions available in the first day, we managed to whittle down to 4 of most interest/importance to us…

Organic Propagation: DIY Perennials and the challenges of setting up a field-scale forest nursery

  • Dave Washington @tawvalleyorganics
  • Keith Shropshire @organic_hedging_and_trees
  • Richard Shopshire

The session began with Dave Washington demonstrating the workings of his craft as a garden designer along with his Sister in law where they have created a 2 acre stock garden complete with nursery beds, growing organic plants. With the application of companion planting methods, it was an example of how you can have an efficient and productive set up without the need of segregation and regimentation. The ‘wilder’ method of mixed companion planting was not only natural and rather beautiful in appearance, it was also beneficial for both nature and the health of the plants that were growing, due to the more diverse, interwoven tapestry that they had created.

The second part of the session was a talk and demonstration by father and son duo, Keith & Richard Shropshire, giving the audience an insightful view into the world of an organic tree nursery and veg growing business. Everything from the ground up was covered in the plenary. From the best soil and wood chip mixes to tree seed germination and established tree care.

The rather characteristic and comical Keith explained the trials and errors, practicalities and impracticalities of growing and nurturing trees of varying species. An inspirational talk from Keith and Richard, with Richard highlight the trials and tribulations of mechanised tree growing and management as we move forward into the modern age of more environmentally aware and nature friendly farming.

The main element that resonated with us in terms of the translation of practices into the production and cultivation of botanicals for our distillery was the application of a nursery section to our set up. This will enable us to give longevity to the botanicals that are currently in the landscape and also give young plants a head start in a ‘semi-controlled’ environment.

UK Climate Change Committee Assess the role of the Agroecological Farming in the transition to Net Zero

  • Chaired by Lord Teverson
  • Lord Deben @lorddeben (Chair of the UK Climate Change Committee)
  • Fabrizio Albanito

In this session, Fabrizio Albanito talked us through the report ‘Agroecology - a Rapid Evidence Review’ that he had produced for the Committee on Climate Change. The report assesses the role of agroecological farming in the UK in the transition to Net Zero - Unfortunately, the screen that the report was shared on was far too small to be able to keep up with the content, so I have downloaded the report and have added it to my post conference reading pile!

The report can be found here: https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Agroecology-–-a-Rapid-Evidence-Review-University-of-Aberdeen.pdf#page52

The second half of the session Lord Deben, Chair of the UK Climate Change Committee, provided his views and insights to the ‘enormous challenge’ we have ahead in achieving Net Zero Status… reminding us that as custodians of the planet we ALL have a duty & responsibility to repair the planet. While the message was clear, “drastic action is needed now’, Lord Deben also suggested an air of caution as in most scenarios there are not enough reliable facts to know what the best course(s) of action is/are.

Growing in Common Ground: What’s needed to make united visions of organic, renegerative & agroecology flourish?

  • @bentheoandrews
  • Sarah Compton & Sarah Hathaway (Soil Association)
  • Jake Freestone (Overbury Farms)
  • Guy Singh-Watson founder of @Riverford

This was a room of division and uncertainty both from the audience and between the panelist’s and we soon got the feeling that the question stated in the title of this talk was not going to resolved there and then!

The panelist’s were a mix of organic farmers, regenerative farmers, soil association and Argoecology ambassadors. Each shared their knowledge and practices.

Questions were opened up to the audience. There were many! And we feel that there is more discussion required on this subject.

In a nutshell, based on the thoughts and questions raised, there was still a significant level of misunderstanding and the ‘fear’ that the introduction of more terminology and practices added to the mix of current practices may just create more confusion and divide among folk. Especially where practices are monitored considerably less compared to the thorough criteria and checks that goes with organic farming practices.

All in all, whether there were divides and differences, there was an overwhelming sense that everybody was on the same path, with a conscientious aim and vision for a better, more sustainable, environmentally beneficial future.

Getting to the Roots of Herbal Leys

  • Lydia Smith, NIAB Innovation Farm
  • Ian Wilkinson @RealFarmEd & Cotswold Seeds Ltd
  • David Whiting, Natural England

An Agroecological future is the aim and it is strongly believed that in order to make significant improvements to our landscapes and environment, ‘regenerative landscapes’ are a requirement rather than just ‘regenerative farms’. “It is more than just a few cover crops!”

As ‘covered’ in our previous post, red clover is a plant that is a forerunner in the environmental change within farming. It’s main use is in Herbal Leys. And for a Herbal Ley to be effective, 30-40% of the Ley requires clover.

‘Herbal Leys’ are a mixture of grasses, legumes and herbs that have significant benefits to the environment both in farming and also in the wider landscape. The nitrogen fixing qualities that legume species possess go a long way to locking away nitrogen and carbon from the atmosphere. A process known as carbon sequestration. This in turn improves soil structure and soil health.

In the same way that Silver Birch trees are pioneers for other woodland species, legumes such as Trefoils and Clover are pioneers for meadow inhabiting plant species that require shelter from these legumes to get a foothold and thrive.

Due to the rooting depths of the plant species used, Herbal Leys have resilience to dry periods. As a result, the grazing season for livestock is extended and good livestock growth rates can be seen when rotationally grazed via methods such as cell grazing or mob grazing. Some plant species have anthelmintic properties meaning that there is less requirement for wormers.

As a whole, Herbal Leys increase the biodiversity of bird and insect species, aiding in positive environmental improvements.

And breathe…

Day 1 far exceeded any expections we had of the conference! With buzzing brains (verging on mental exhaustion) and the need to compost a bit of what we learnt, heard and witnessed, we opted for a quite meal in a pub restaurant near our accommodation, rather than socialising with other attendees. And what a meal it was!!! If you find yourself in Oxford, this little gem, @tapsocialwhitehouse, is on Abingdon Road, a short stroll from the city centre!



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