When the first Wales Real Farming Conference opened to a packed hall in Aberystwyth nearly a year ago, we knew that it was a critical time for farming and food in Wales, and that there was enthusiasm for coming together and doing things differently. It was a vibrant event, where friendships going back decades were renewed and new ones made, and the response was very gratifying to us, the organizing team. We had taken a chance with the new event, inspired by the Oxford Real Farming Conference, but we had been right – Wales is a land of opportunity.
Last year, we were concerned about Brexit, which still looks set to disrupt our usual ways of doing things. But we could not have guessed that 2020 would bring even greater changes so forcefully into our lives. The Covid pandemic has shown us the weaknesses in our existing food distribution routes but it has also shown the strengths of our local communities and the creativity and importance of the food and farming sector. It has shown us, also, how rapidly both governments and citizens can adapt when there is a real crisis. It gives us pointers for how we might respond to the far bigger challenge that is the climate crisis.
Our 2020 event will of course be an online gathering. This will not be the same as meeting in real life, and we can’t pretend it will be. However, virtual meetings are all we have at the moment, and if we want to continue building the momentum from last year and growing the food and farming movement, then we had better adapt. Most of us are familiar with virtual meetings by now, and we are learning how to make them enjoyable and connecting experiences, with advantages of their own.
We are building a programme that will, we hope, have something for most people, wherever you see yourself in the food system. Our philosophy is that if we can get the right balance between food production and nature, then we have the foundation for a healthy society, one where everyone eats well, workers are properly rewarded, and our food culture is thriving. The significance of this goes far beyond the details of food production and distribution. Food has the capacity to bring everyone together for the sake of the common good, shifting us out of consumerism into an informed citizenship, and empowering us to act. Through this event, we strengthen our networks and intensify our vision of a new future.
We are delighted to announce our five keynote speakers, who between them cover a range of interests: John Davies, President of NFU Cymru; Jane Davidson, architect of the Well-being of Future Generations Act; Prof Davy McCracken of the Scottish Rural College (SRUC), who is an expert in High Nature Value Farming; Ffion Storer Jones, steering committee member at the Rural Youth Project; and food historian and author Carwyn Graves.
The programme is still cooking as I write this, but it will cover topics such as zero carbon farming, Welsh branding in the food industry, food education in schools and lifelong learning, agroforestry in the uplands, expanding horticulture and the urban food growing, with many more yet to be confirmed. We will also be including interactive sessions where delegates can meet each other (always the best bit of a conference), a People’s Assembly, and hands-on practical sessions. Tickets will be on sale in a week or two, and we will release details of the programme as we go.
We hope that being online will mean we can reach a wider audience, either through live participation or through the recordings. If you are enjoyed last year’s event, please do come back and bring a few friends with you. We are keeping the ticket price as low as we can, and we are very grateful to our sponsors who have made that possible: Organic Farmers & Growers, Soil Association, the Nature Friendly Farming Network, Garden Organic, Whole Health Agriculture and the Landworkers’ Alliance Cymru. If you are able to pay a higher rate, you will be investing in the future of the Conference, and the associated Food Manifesto. We want to create space for thoughtful conversations, and we very much look forward to welcoming you.
(Picture: Jane Ricketts Hein)