New generation, new ideas...

Lynda Brown - 04 January 2013

Like Ben Raskin, I kicked off the New Year with a bang by spending yesterday day at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, the new ‘hub’ for sustainable-cum-agro-ecological food and farming. This is the Brave New World of food and farming, and I love it. (PS It gets my vote for another reason: it’s cheap; that means anyone can afford to go. If you’re up for a heady dose of can do culture, I thoroughly recommend it.)

It didn’t take me long to come to two immediate conclusions: the new generation of sustainable farmers, male and female, are the sexiest creatures on the planet; and don’t expect change to come from existing systems, or governments, who sadly see any new idea as a threat, and anyway are too busy feathering their own nests and defending vested interests. If change for the better comes, it will have to come from the grassroots – ie from us. The good news is, there are now ample examples of ventures doing things differently and making a success of it to show that this Brave New Sustainable World is not a pipe dream but is already a reality. All we have to do is support it. All they have to do is to shout out the good news loud and clear.

My spin on the brave new world is that it’s fundamentally about tearing up the old paradigms (at least in your head), and finding mini-creative solutions to a specific problem(s), using resources that are at hand as a starting point, utilising these together with a hefty dose of positive human values. It’s a world away from the magic bullet, one fix for all dogma that pervades our current thinking: and no, neither the Dragon's Den Brigade nor the agri-chemical business would get it, but I bet the rest of us would vote for it in a flash .

A good practical example of this is an ingenious organic grower-buyer co-operative initiative in Manchester – www.vegpeople.org.uk. Another session that blew me away was the one I nearly didn’t go to on agro-forestry (what’s that got to do with food, thought I?) and transformational farming – www.biodiversity-int.co.uk.The mantra here is about building successful food and farming enterprises based on wellbeing, resilience and biodiversity –  but not necessarily biodiversity as we know it. Prosaically, it opened my eyes to the huge potential of woody-ness, namely incorporating specific types of trees into a farming system as a cash crop to help make a farm viable (not to mention improving yields) without needing more expensive land. More excitingly, how tapping into positive energy can reap capitalist rewards, too. And before anyone thinks I’m off my trolley, listen to the Christmas edition of In Business, Radio 4. The whole programme was devoted to the new on trend business phenomena:the business of kindness.

Lynda is an award-winning food writer and broadcaster, and keen advocate for organic living. She is author of several food books over the last twenty years including Planet Organic: Organic Living, The Cook's Garden, and The Modern Cook's Handbook, as well as writing The Preserving Book that was published in 2010 in association with the Soil Association. Lynda is an expert on food and nutrition and a seasoned broadcaster, regularly speaking on food and farming both on the radio and television.

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