On Wednesday 4th January, a group of FWAG SouthWest staff members travelled to Oxford to attend the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) 2023, which was held in person for the first time since 2019. It was the first year that ORFC went 'hybrid' and had 3 days of online conferences as well as 2 days full of in person presentations.

Started as 15 people in a room 14 years ago, the Oxford Real Farming Conference is now the largest gathering of the agroecological movement attracting ‘farmers, growers, activists, policymakers and researchers from around the world who are interested in transforming our food system’.

“We are now at a transitional stage, where everything needs to be looked at and all possible ways forwards explored, many encouraged and some embraced.” – Ruth West and Colin Tudge, co-founders ORFC.


Opening ceremony of ORFC23, performance by the Shumei Takio Ensemble. 


We were delighted to have FWAG SouthWest represented during ORFC 2023. Sarah Whaley, our Farm Environment & Regenerative Agriculture Adviser was part of a panel discussion about Finding solutions to the fertiliser crisis. Sarah was able to present how her Innovative Farmers Field Lab trial for diverse forage crops for sustainable livestock wintering is developing. The talk was a success, with many people impressed with Sarah’s take that “the cost and supply of fertiliser isn’t the crisis, it’s the addiction to fertiliser that’s the crisis and we need to get off it”.

Jenny Phelps, our Senior Farm Environment Adviser & Gloucestershire Team Leader presented the Integrated Local Delivery (ILD) which enables farmers and communities to come together to build resilience, supported by an all-inclusive partnership of organisations working together at a local level. The room was full, with a few people sitting on the floor after all the chairs had been taken. One of the listeners stated that it was “one of the best sessions of the conference…practical, urgent, well-conceived.”


Jenny Phelps presenting in the St Aldatee's Room, Oxford Town Hall.


We were also fortunate to be able to present our Green Revolutions cycle tour from Gary Rumbold, CEO and Adam Lockyear, Head of Advisory Services. Joined by Audrey Compton from Deer Park Farm and David Brewer of Wood Advent Farm, we presented what we learnt on our cycle as well as personal insight into how we work with farmers.


Adam Lockyear and Gary Rumbold presenting in the Museum Makers Space, Oxford Museum. 


One of my personal highlights from the conference was the talk ‘What’s the big deal about local food growing?’ It was fascinating to learn about the Seed Heritage Library, Our Food 1200 and Langton Farm. Langton Farm are an organic and regenerative market gardeners based in Wales who produce veg boxes along with other local small scale growers. It was so interesting to hear about the issues and challenges they are facing from land issues to increasing interest in the market for locally produced food. It made me question how I can grow, be a part of nature and my food choices, which reminded me of this quote from the opening ceremony: “If you are eating food, you should be growing it”. – Satish Kumar, co-founder of Schumacher Collage.


Here are some more highlights from FWAG SW attendees:

A highlight for me in attending the conference is the access to so many of the talks online post-conference. I was able to catch-up on Vandana Shiva’s talk which I missed in person. Some important takeaways from her talk:

A seed is one of the most powerful things. A seed teaches:

  1. Seeds are alive – they are living organisms and we can observe their growth
  2. Seeds organise life – a seed has all the genetic information in them to organise themselves into the plant. For example – if you plant a tomato seed, the seed knows how to become a tomato, they won’t become a potato!
  3. Seeds create abundance. The idea of scarcity is a social construct to instil fear. But if we plan seeds and work with the earth, we will get receive abundance!

- Karina Ponton, Assistant Regional Woodland Adviser


My key take away was how much focus was given to the positive opportunities for our future food culture and diets. It sounds obvious but in so many conversations about the future of farming and food security, there is very little attention given to the kind of food we want to eat. When there is attention given to future diets, so rarely is it approached with the joy and respect I witnessed at the conference. Two sessions stood out to me about the role of food culture in the agroecology transition:

  • Living Bread: the way of the peasant baker (livestreamed) – conversation between bakers in France and the UK who are reviving the peasant bakery and working closely with farmers to source their ingredients, which are diverse population wheats unique to their local environment.
  • Eating to Extinction with Dan Saladino (livestreamed) – sharing stories from his book from farmers and producers keeping alive foods that are on the edge of extinction and highlighting the importance of biological diversity within our food and farming systems.

- Imogen Young, Assistant Farm Environment Adviser



After the final session in the Main Town Hall. 


“It’s high time the general public realized the real consequence of cheap food. We (farmers, growers) are being taken advantage of because we love the land.” – Darina Allen, founder of Ballymaloe Cookery School.

ORFC 2023 was an amazing experience and it was a privileged to be surrounded by like-minded people all working together to benefit or improve our farming system. With so many different talks, presentations and workshops it had something for everyone, whether you were interested in animal welfare, horticultural, land justice, community projects, finance, sustainable food systems – the list is endless, ORFC 2023 managed to bring all of this together! Leaving the conference with new inspirations, thoughts and hopes has been the best start to 2023.