Host Jane Sweetman attended the ORFC in Oxford but didn’t stop there. She writes: As if the ORFC and a bit of wassailing (that’s another story) wasn’t enough of a New Year wake-up, at the end of January I put on my WWOOF badge and set off for the 10th Annual Organic Producers conference.
Though held in a modern Bristol hotel rather than the splendid Oxford Town Hall, this event had a similar atmosphere of optimism, enthusiasm, and opportunity. With 20 workshops and three fringe sessions to choose from, over 250 UK and international researchers, growers, students and others took up the Organic Research Centre’s invitation to share the common ground between agroecology, food sovereignty, and organic farming in practice
I enjoyed a rich mixture of practical advice, another chance to ‘reset the kitchen table’ by adding ideas to the Peoples Food Policy with the Landworkers Alliance, and stories from people who’d found ways for new farmers and growers to access land.
Kate Collyns of the Organic Growers Alliance led a fringe session to look at the various ways that organic holdings can work together with aspiring farmers and growers, as food production goes hand in hand with learning for the future. WWOOF as an exchange of help needed little introduction to this group, and we discussed traineeships that have sprouted on some holdings in response to what’s needed – good grounding in how to grow and market food with agroecologically sound practice.
Taking this further than spare-time volunteering, for instance, we heard about the Future Growers scheme from the Soil Association’s Rachel Harries. This paid apprenticeship combines farm-based practical work with structured seminars and visits. Some WWOOF hosts and other holdings have grown their own informal programmes, and we discussed the different ways that WWOOFing and training schemes have helped beginners to become the new generation of food producers, while supporting organic farming families in the long term. The conversation concluded that there’s a good range of opportunities, and that what’s important is to be clear about what they are and what expectations there are on both sides of any agreement.
Laura reminded us that the Groundspring Network has many pointers to the different arrangements that are available, and to look out for their new handbook of opportunities, which is coming soon.
Whichever way we choose, there’s never been a better time to be part of the movement towards growing and sharing healthier food. With the producing season just about to start, and farmers preparing to begin the first spring sowings, the message to take home from this conference was to work together, keeping the spirit of community and collaboration with producers all around the world. That fits very well with WWOOFing, which might be a step towards becoming an organic grower, a way to take a few days’ break, or a longer expedition to somewhere completely new. Let the adventure begin!