Research projects

Organic at the Heart

Contract Period : 01/07/2021 -

Main Funder : Charitable Trusts and ORC Supporters

ORC Staff Contact : Charlotte Bickler

Collage of images from the OATH project

Organic at the Heart (OATH) is ORC’s flagship Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems work programme. It follows a participatory action research (PAR) approach which aims to support individuals and organisations that are fostering the Organic Principles of Health, Ecology, Fairness and Care. Originally funded by a group of Charitable Trusts and ORC Supporters, OATH is delivering co-created solutions to practical challenges by unpicking group member needs and interests. This novel and innovative approach serves as a model for future PAR projects at ORC.

Project Aims:

To transform our food system, people who manage the environment and produce food, and people who live in the environment and consume food, cannot be linked by the market alone. We need to connect as part of communities. ORC believes that the Organic Principles of Health, Ecology, Fairness and Care can create a common ground to form and/or strengthen such communities, within and beyond organic certification. OATH aims to support the development of existing, or the creation of new, communities around environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable agriculture. The objectives are to:

  • Gather and share experiences and knowledge of existing communities’ success stories, to build awareness and understanding within, between and outside of those communities.
  • Strengthen and focus communities’ goals, as well as identifying possible barriers and enablers, to conceive larger place-based projects that address specific challenges.
  • Grow and develop the movement so that those interested in organic food and farming can access information and produce attuned to their region as appropriate.

ORC's Role:

Project leader.

We are interested in working with individuals and groups of people that aim to facilitate agroecological food and farming connections within their local food system. Are you:

  • A farmer who wants to find more direct routes to market for your produce and aspires to deliver a farm system based on health, ecology, fairness and care?
  • A food business looking to connect with organic and agroecological farmers and share the benefits with your customers?
  • A group or individual looking to access food produced in your region, support ethical businesses, and learn more about how your food is produced?

If you are, let’s work together to identify and amplify success stories whilst unpicking what we need for communities to organise around common values and develop local initiatives – from field to fork – that can de-mystify labels and make the fruits of an organic food and farming system accessible to all. If you are interested in working with us, or supporting this work, then please get in touch.

Key Achievements:

The OATH project has worked closely with regional hubs to accordance with these objectives. This has included:

  • Facilitating the Kernow Agroecology Network in Cornwall to work towards an alternative local food ecosystem through identification of the need to collaborate on transport, storage, production, and wholesale buying in of organic produce. This included, in collaboration with hub member organisations, the delivery of eight events, as well as ongoing hub member meetings, and the production of a map highlighting member locations and journeys. This will now be used as an operational tool to enable visioning, collaboration, and fundraising across the sector. It is available here:
Co-innovation workshop at Newquay Orchard

Co-innovation workshop at Newquay Orchard

  • Working with the Yorkshire Grain Alliance (YGA), an umbrella under which a group of farmers, bakers, millers, retailers, researchers, and others interested in building an alternative grain economy across the region meet and deliver activities and events. This included facilitating group development as part of an ongoing series of meetings, on-farm/mill events and bakery meet ups (three delivered with the support of OATH funding) as well as organising a large community event to spread the ‘Grain Changer’ message amongst local people, including those not working in the sector, about the value of small scale, localised, low-input systems, the importance of diversity within them, and the work that YGA is doing. Based on interviews with current group members, a booklet has been produced to share YGA’s vision for our Yorkshire food system and inspire wider engagement.
Members of the Yorkshire Grain Alliance visit Mike Stringer’s crops for 2023 harvest.

Members of the Yorkshire Grain Alliance visit Mike Stringer’s crops for 2023 harvest.

  • Being involved in the establishment of the Cotswold Grain Network via our former colleague Henny Lowth. To find out more about regional grain networks visit:
Visiting the crops at Lower Hampen Farm during the Cotswold Grain Network gathering

Visiting the crops at Lower Hampen Farm during the Cotswold Grain Network gathering

  • Contributing to NRFC, through delivery of sessions and being part of the advisory board, as it develops from a conference to a community working to support the transition to an agroecological food and farming system in the North of England. See: 
  • Integrating PAR into ongoing ORC projects, such at the North of England Agroforestry Living Lab, and developing it as an integral approach within the organisation.
Participants in the north of England agroforestry living lab discussing integration of trees into arable systems at the kick-off event in May 2023

Participants in the north of England agroforestry living lab discussing integration of trees into arable systems at the kick-off event in May 2023


Project leader and partners:

We aimed to develop the Organic at the Heart project as a collaboration between pioneering farmers and food businesses from across England and our research and knowledge exchange team. Together we set out to plan and deliver place-based action research and knowledge exchange to inspire change at a community level.

All sources of funding:

Thank you to everyone who supported out fundraising appeal for the Organic at the Heart project.

Other Web Links:

This project was developed following on from a workshop at the Northern Real Farming Conference (2020). You can watch a recording of the session here.

ORC Team involved with this project

Principal Researcher
Researcher in Agroecology and Food Systems
Senior Livestock Researcher
Senior Organic Business and Markets Researcher
Head of Research
Livestock and Sustainability Researcher