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There is hope for the future of food and farming by Jane Gleeson

AMID the Brexit gloom, there are reasons to be cheerful about the future of sustainable food and farming in the UK according to Jane Gleeson, head gardener at Schumacher College.

She was speaking after attending the two-day Real Farming Conference in Oxford earlier this month.

The event runs parallel to the Oxford Farming Conference and is described at the ‘radical’ alternative as it puts agroecology, food sovereignty and economic democracy at the heart of its aims.

“Sometimes it really feels like we are struggling against the tide with what we are trying to do,” said Jane.   “But it was great to see so many young, energetic and enthusiastic people at the conference.  I felt it was really uplifting.

“I was also greatly encouraged by what Michael Gove said.  I appreciate we need to wait and see what he actually does but it was good to hear him talking about improving access to land for small scale growers which is particularly relevant to the people we see coming to study horticulture here.”

She said she was especially delighted to see Jyoti Fernandes, campaigns coordinator from the Land Workers Alliance, talking to the Environment Secretary, who addressed delegates at both conferences, which illustrated that while the attendees of the events differ in practice, they have similar concerns.

“Even if you disagree with the way some of the big Agri-businesses operate, they share a commitment and a passion for the land,” Jane added.  “There is common ground between us.”

While there were predictable concerns expressed about the implications for Brexit, a debate on the future of meat consumption at the mainstream conference surprised many.
In a lively debate, George Monbiot proposed that animal protein was the most inefficient way to consume protein.  Althought there were only 20 supporters for the motion at the start of the debate, by the close of discussions he had managed to swell support for the motion to 120.

Jane said she was delighted to see a number of former Schumacher College horticulture students attending, who are excellent ambassadors of how it is possible to make complex food systems work and also to earn a living.

“We need to work out how we change the narrative and the story we tell about food culture,” she said. “These are the people who are showing how it is possible to make that work.”

Schumacher College runs a Practical Residency in Sustainable Horticulture including the Permaculture Association accredited Design Certificate as well as a variety of short courses including Forest Gardens and Edible Eco-systems and Cultivating Healthy Soils in Your Garden and on Your Farm.