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Landworkers’ Alliance launch new Horticulture Policy Proposals

By staff - Land Workers Alliance, October 30, 2017

To meet the UK demand for fruit and vegetables a massive scaling up of production is required. Currently UK production represents 58% of vegetables consumed and only 11% of fruit. Only 1% of Pillar 1direct agricultural payments are offered to the horticultural sector, despite public health advice to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables, and reduce meat, dairy and sugar.

The Landworkers’ Alliance propose that a dramatic increase in the number of small and medium scale horticultural enterprises producing fruit and vegetables for local and regional markets would bring benefits, including:

  • Fresher produce, often bought within hours of harvest, brings greater nutritional benefit and better flavour, encouraging increased consumption.
  • Diverse market gardens provide fulfilling, varied and attractive career/employment opportunities for UK workers, whereas large scale, industrial production often struggles to attract local labour.
  • Spreads production risks over a much larger number of businesses in different geographic areas, insuring against problems of poor business management, spread of pests and diseases, and climatic extremes, compared with dependency on a handful of large businesses.

Author of the “A Matter of Scale” report, Rebecca Laughton says, “Contrary to popular belief, for labour intensive crops such as peas, kale, green beans and salad leaves, small-scale ecological growers often produce higher yields than industrial systems, while generating multiple environmental and social benefits. If every village, town and city was served by a network of these diverse and productive market gardens, which provide attractive opportunities for work, training and connection to the countryside, as well as fresh and tasty produce, the UK population would be healthier and happier”.

Today, the Landworkers’ Alliance outlines their proposals for how this increase in market gardens could be achieved in their new policy document, “A New Deal for Horticulture”. Seven specific measures are outlined, including:

· A coupled support scheme to incentivise domestic production and reward delivery of public goods, until the sector has strengthened sufficiently to meet a high percentage of UK demand.

· A programme to rapidly increase the number of growers, recruitment, training and access to land and start-up capital.

· A “Mixed Farms” scheme, supporting creation of horticultural units on larger farms.

· An orchard planting and maintenance scheme to encourage long term investment in fruit production.

The policy proposals are being launched on the eve of the Food Foundation’s Vegetable Summit, at which a number of leading figures in public health, agricultural policy and retail will be making pledges about measures they will take to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. The Landworkers’ Alliance supports this initiative to promote the production and consumption of UK fruit and vegetables, and believes that given an appropriate policy framework, agroecological horticulture could play a significant role in meeting the UK’s need for fresh produce.

The Long Read: Reflections and Revelations, Round up of the Oxford Real Farming Conference 2017

By Dee Butterly - Land Workers' Alliance, January 2017

Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.”

Wendell Berry, American Farmer and Activist.

The seeds of stories

A strong theme throughout the 2017 Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) was the need for us in these times to speak from the heart, and to share with each other our personal stories, our realities, and our struggles. Throughout the two day conference on the 4th and 5th January, I recognised my own experience expressed over and over again through the passionate voices and shared stories of others.

Whenever I meet a fellow farmer, be if the first time, or countless times – I feel an immediate curiosity, connection and respect. I feel a shared sense of excitement, and an implicit knowing, seldom expressed through words, that we both love what we do, and take a huge amount of pride and passion in it.

For me, it is in the welcoming of the growing season, marked by the arrival of the swallows over head in spring time and the chattering of the goldfinches in the hedgerows, that I feel I am truly home. It is in the morning sunlight that pierces through a carpet of clover playing in the breeze that I remember to take a moment of gratitude for being able to do what I do. It is in the deep, dense smell of the soil as we harvest that I feel a harmonious resonance with the earth. And It is in the power of seeds and the social stories they carry with them that the true magic of farming comes alive for me.

Holding them in my hands I marvel at their possibility and their strength. Curiously wondering of where and by whom these seeds came from before they reached the propagating table, and where next they will travel to, I often lay them in my palm for just a moment of contemplation, regardless of how much there is to do that day. These are also the times when I am reminded and reflect on the precarity of the future of these seeds and our rights to save and swap them, of our food system and of our livelihoods as farmers here and around the world.

Throughout the 2017 Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) the need for us in these times to speak from the heart, and to share with each other our personal stories, our realities, our passions, and our struggles. Over the two-day conference on the 4th and 5th January, I recognised my own experience expressed over and over again through the passionate voices and shared stories of others.

These stories of our lived experiences, and the accounts of the resilience and action people are taking here and around the world were shared so strongly by so many at the Oxford Real Farming Conference. And it is in the power of listening to each other’s stories and sharing with each other our lived experience that enables us to have far more than just solidarity with each other. It is a way of connecting that lays common foundations from which to take seriously the need to galvanise the energy and momentum that we all have into building alliances and a strong coordinated food and farming movement together over the coming year.

"Small really is beautiful", claims new report on England's farming

By Kathryn Hindess - The Ecologist, January 4, 2017

"Small-scale food production is more sustainable, provides work for more people, produces food which is consumed locally, has shorter supply chains, and provides greater returns to the farmers," argues author Miles King.

Post-Brexit, he believes: "An England farm support system could inject much more support into small-scale food production."

The Land Workers' Alliance (LWA) agrees. One of eight points raised in its proposed framework for British Agricultural Policy post-Brexit sounds the call: "End the discrimination against small farms".

The report states: "It is unjustifiable for Defra to continue to discriminate against small farms in the allocation of subsidies and collection of farm data."

Instead, Miles King proposes a shift to supporting "small-scale sustainable farming which benefits nature", including paying landowners for the delivery of public goods to society. Public goods "are defined as things which benefit society but do not create a private profit".

Some public goods are: features making up the fabric of the landscape (like hedges, ponds and streams); the provision of clean water, flood prevention; healthy pollinator populations; carbon storage and sequestration; as well as "the many valuable yet intangible things nature provides to people - inspiration, joy, reflection, solace, emotional and spiritual experiences."

"These features need protection and management, but it is right that landowners should be paid to carry out that protection and management on behalf of society," says King.

The EU's Joint Research Centre estimates that food accounts for around a third of the average European's impact on climate change, so policy changes will need to be coupled with awareness campaigns on the benefits of buying local, such as saving long cross-country journeys from farm to plate.

Support for this view is found in a 2013 report from the UN trade and environment review. More than 60 international experts came together to contribute to the Wake Up Before It Is Too Late report, which states that an holistic approach to agricultural management is needed, recognising that "a farmer is not only a producer of agricultural goods, but also a manager of an agro-ecological system that provides quite a number of public goods and services."

Within this approach, there should also be a significant shift from industrial production characterised by monocultures towards "mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers."

Fruits and vegetables would be a useful place to start, suggests Miles King. Defra statistics show that 24 countries accounted for 90% of the fruit and vegetable supply of the UK (UK supplied 23%), but King argues that, "Many types of fruit and vegetable can now be grown in England both outside and under cover, on highly productive but small plots".

Worth noting though, is a point made by the EU GLAMUR global and local food chain assessment project which suggests that new policies will need to recognise the "hybridity and interconnectedness of global and local food systems".

The UK's food culture has been Europeanised since joining the Common Market in 1973, a study by City University (London) states. And nothing makes more apparent than the fact that pizza is now UK childrens' favourite food. Membership of the EU has eased the flow of food, yet at the same time local industries have been rebuilt (there are now approximately 100 more UK artisanal cheeses than in France according to the British Cheese Awards).

The study concludes, "Will the British have the confidence to move forward and accept this remarkable post-war culinary learning?"

Now, post-Brexit, this question is more pertinent than ever. Can new policies balance the need for a shift towards small-scale production (for example of pears and apples that don't need to be imported, but often are), while still satisfying consumer tastes?

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