Our food system is broken. We waste almost half the food that is produced whilst at the same time millions go hungry and diet related illness have reached epidemic proportions. The way we grow food is causing huge environmental damage, jeopardising the ability of future generations to feed themselves. An urgent resetting of our relationship with food and the biosphere on which it depends is needed. We believe that the answer lies in reconnecting people and producers, revitalising and supporting small mixed farms, who practice agroecologically and provide good food to everyone in their community.
The Real Farming Trust (RFT) works to rethink food and farming from first principles; to build and support a new generation of farmers, food producers and sellers; and to establish “Enlightened Agriculture” – farming that provides good food for everyone forever, without cruelty or injustice and without adversely affecting other people and the biosphere – as the global norm.
We believe that agriculture cannot be changed in the ways that are required ad hoc. Society needs to re-examine and where necessary re-structure the underlying economic and political assumptions that frame policy; the science and technologies that influence how farming is practiced; and the moral and indeed metaphysical assumptions that determine the general direction of all human activity. It is clear, too, that the Enlightened Agriculture that is needed cannot flourish without a corresponding Food Culture – a populace that knows what good food is and cares how it is produced.
We address these challenges through several complementary projects:
- Oxford Real Farming Conference. The ORFC is enjoying a period of rapid growth and success. It is a much loved and highly valued annual conference with a special character. It has grown from a gathering of 80 people on one afternoon in January 2010 to a two-day meeting of over 1,000, around half farmers or would-be farmers, which many say they regard as the highlight of their farming year. 2019 was its 10th anniversary. In 2021 the ORFC went global and attracted over 5,000 delegates from around the world.
- Funding Enlightened Agriculture. The RFT’s mentoring and support programmes (e.g. Just Growth, LEAP) help enterprises to structure their business, get themselves investment ready, and raise the finance they need to grow and replicate or scale up.
- College for Real Farming and Food Culture. The College runs courses and seminars promoting the ideas of Enlightened Agriculture and tackling the big issues that need to be addressed for Enlightened Agriculture to flourish. From policy and economics to morals and spirituality, from the importance of being radical to the role of science and the arts; food and farming cannot be considered in isolation.
- All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology for Sustainable Food and Farming. Ruth West was the co-founder of the APPG which provides a parliamentary focus for agroecological approaches to land management and food production. The RFT is now the Secretariat.
- Ready, Healthy, Eat! Programme. Local food projects work in and with communities, delivering social impact by encouraging changes in people’s diets. Historically, they have often focussed on providing growing and cooking opportunities. This project, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, looks to extend their reach into pre-prepared food, particularly looking to improve the diets of those people at greatest risk of food poverty. Working with four established local community food projects, the programme will provide ready to eat meals whilst also providing skills training for people struggling to find employment. During 2020, the programme delivered over 100,000 meals to people struggling to feed themselves and their families as a result of the impacts of Covid-19.
Through the ORFC and the College, the RFT helps to facilitate and shape the alternative food movement, through a radical agenda and strategic approach, and by creating spaces where all the players in the food chain can share ideas, support each other and encourage others to replicate those ideas and models. It is only by bringing people together, building partnerships and promoting collaboration that we can change the food system so that it works for people and planet. Through the APPG we are involved in promoting the importance and value of adopting agroecological approaches to food and farming in UK policy during this crucial period of policy upheaval and change. Through the FEA, the RFT provides funding and mentoring to innovative food and farming enterprises that demonstrate viable alternatives to mainstream corporate food production and sales, and are practicing enlightened agriculture. By doing this we hope to create a critical mass of community-based food organisations from field to fork, creating a tipping point where every community has access to locally produced nutritious food that is grown and produced agroecologically.