2019-6-10 fieldwork JPowell
(Picture: Jane Powell)

The title of the first Wales Real Food and Farming Conference needs some explaining. What do we mean by ‘real’? It suggests that there is a definition of what food and farming ought to be, and that we are going to supply the answers over two action-packed days in Aberystwyth.

Obviously, we’re not making that claim. What we will do though is ask the question: what do good food and farming look like? Together, we will hear how people are working on that in the bracing context of Brexit, climate change and all the other escalating uncertainties, and we will create a space for some directions to emerge. It’s time for a fresh start.

What’s exciting about this conference, which takes its inspiration (and some of its name) from the Oxford Real Farming Conference, is that it brings together people who might not normally meet. It is solidly grounded in food production, and we will be hearing from farmers, growers and fishers on topics such as zero carbon farming, biodiversity, business planning and diversification. But we will also be hearing from food businesses and community groups, and we’ll be talking about food safety, rural heritage, food poverty, the rural roots of the Welsh language, nutrition, public health, milling and baking, and much else.

As we’ve argued over at the Wales Food Manifesto, there is real potential in people coming together over shared values. When you mix up groups of people who normally don’t have much to do with each other, whether that’s farmers and public health officials, urban and rural dwellers, or scientists and food justice campaigners, exciting things can happen. Given a safe and inspiring space, we can find common ground and find ourselves part of a bigger picture, one where everyone has something to contribute.

We all want to eat well, and for others to be properly fed, and we want a thriving economy which provides rewarding employment for people. We all depend on healthy soils and water, and vibrant ecosystems. We want future generations to enjoy these too, and we’re very fortunate in Wales to have political commitment to that in the shape of the Well-being of Future Generation Act.

It’s important to get all these perspectives together, because we live in an interconnected world and dividing it up into subject areas doesn’t really work. The food chains that sustain us depend on a complex web of factors. Skills and public attitudes are as important as agricultural research and food technology – and planning law, public policy and business management all come into it too.

Then there are the big questions: what is Welsh food and farming for? Is it to feed ourselves or for export? What to do about the growing numbers of people who don’t have enough to eat? How are we going to cut our carbon emissions and adapt to a warming climate? These are questions that need to be looked at from as many different angles as possible.

So let’s see what happens when we all come together. We’ll be publishing the programme in the next couple of weeks with a good mix of speakers, but the event will be shaped by everyone who attends, and we look forward to being surprised by exciting new angles we hadn’t thought of. There will be plenty of time for networking between sessions, and an opportunity for you to organize your own meetings.

The conference is being organized by a team of about a dozen volunteers from several different organizations and none, and we’ve been meeting since January to plan this event. It’s being hosted by Bioinnovation Wales at Aberystwyth University, who are also our biggest sponsor, and it is additionally funded by Organic Farmers and Growers, Garden Organic, RSPB Cymru and the Nature Friendly Farming Network, with room for more.

Jane Powell

Wales Food Manifesto