Contract Period : 01/07/2021 - 30/06/2023
Main Funder : Charitable Trusts and ORC Supporters
ORC Staff Contact : Charlotte Bickler
The Organic at the Heart project aims to build communities around environmentally friendly farming through the development and demonstration of local hubs that embody the Organic Principles of Health, Ecology, Fairness and Care.
Food is only sustainable if it’s produced in harmony with nature, protecting wildlife and the environment. It is our hope that as a result of this project:
Working with farmers to identify their biggest problems and potential solutions, we will use research to test how the application of organic principles can improve productivity, efficiently use natural resources and enhance our natural environment. Local on-farm workshops will be held to demonstrate regional food and farming initiatives and develop food and farming networks.
We know that peer-to-peer exchange is a valuable tool when introducing farmers to innovative practices that solve problems. Building relationships with local food businesses to develop short supply chains is also key to achieving our aim to support sustainable food and farming practices. Farmers will also have the opportunity to welcome and connect local communities to real-life farming and the countryside. Working together, we will develop regional initiatives whilst exploring success factors for wider application.
This community of agroecological food producers has worked together through the OATH project to share skills and knowledge and collaborate practically to support a transition to a more agroecological food and farming system based in Cornwall. A particular focus of the group is to collaborate on transport, buying in organic produce and working towards an alternative local food ecosystem.
An initial mapping exercise catalysed lots of ideas including linking community growing schemes with GPs, schools and social subscribers. This is being developed further in partnership with Sustainable Food Cornwall, Cornwall Council, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Leadership Board, Food from Cornwall and Exeter University. The map will now be used as an operational tool to enable visioning and collaboration across the sector. It is a work in progress but is available here: https://sustainablefoodcornwall.org.uk/good-food-map/. Our experience in Cornwall highlights how such a map can provide a great visual tool to start to imagine the possibilities of joining up the dots and creating a resilient food ecosystem in an area. Growers in a WhatsApp group are already starting to make connections to buy and sell produce and share journeys.
The final activities (until November 2023) will be to identify and publish the needs and opportunities for agroecological food producers in Cornwall with a focus on opportunities for collaboration on transport, storage, production, and wholesale. See Exploring collaboration for a resilient local food system in Cornwall
The Yorkshire Grain Alliance (YGA) is an umbrella under which a group of farmers, bakers, millers, retailers, researchers, and others interested in buildi
ng an alternative grain economy across the region meet and deliver activities and events. The Yorkshire Grain Alliance aims to get more people buying non-commodity cereals and to increase the opportunity for farmers to move away from intensive (monoculture) systems. Group members are united by their desire to see the benefits of diverse organic and agroecological farming systems (for biodiversity, climate and society) being applied over a greater area and recognise the need for an alternative system of distribution and exchange. The group aims for these system-level challenges (and opportunities) to be represented in a practical format for people to digest.
Two key priorities that group members identified were to increase the number of people attending group meetings and to engage the local small-scale organic mill in the network. The Grain Changers event was a catalyst in working towards both these aims. Following the mill owners raising concerns about the longevity of their enterprise as they are (over)due to retire YGA members have begun to explore how they can support the farm and mill. The group are now working towards a “One Grain Changer Product on the Counter per bakery” pledge to address the fact that local flour is likely to perform differently to standard industrial flour, e.g. strong white bread flour.
The ambition is that, over time, YGA will become a thriving network of farmers, millers, bakers, and people who love to eat their local grains. The hub’s lead has worked with York University’s Fix Our Food programme to secure funding for a knowledge exchange brochure about YGA’s work.
Next steps include:
Like the YGA, the Cotswold Grain Network (CGN) is a group of bakers, farmers, brewers, and researchers who want to re-imagine the grain economy in the Cotswolds (See: What will arable farming in the Cotswolds be like in years to come?).
Some key themes identified have been:
The activities in the Cotswolds supported by OATH have seeded the development of a new initiative: the West Midland Grain Network. This may provide further opportunities for collaboration with ORC.
In Wales, there is an interest from hill-grazier farmers to investigate the planting of trees for animal and biodiversity benefits, aligning with Government targets for increasing tree planting to cover 10% of the farmed landscape. To strengthen the central role of farmers in participatory research, this proposed network focussed first on the tools to be used – and tested – by the network in their planning and decision-making. The first tool is the ‘Farmer Field School’ or ‘Stable School’ model, modified to allow a wider focus and, beyond the farmers as experts, the inclusion of invited external experts to exchange knowledge without jeopardising or diminishing the farmer voice or ownership of the process. The second tool, which is at the heart of OATH activity, is the development of an ethical framework for decision making, based on the four organic principles of Health, Ecology, Fairness and Care. The framework is intended to be a supportive planning tool for both individuals and networks to align any changes with the most ethical practices, identifying and consciously planning to realise these principles in practice.
Unlike the hubs above there was not an established group to work with in this area and the tools are being designed to be used to support the participatory action process and provide initial direction.
Should funding be available, the hub lead will collaborate with the Woodland Trust and other local NGOs to implement a participatory approach to developing agroforestry projects with hill graziers. Should funding be available, the hub lead will collaborate with the Woodland Trust and other local NGOs to implement a participatory approach to developing agroforestry projects with hill graziers.
The philosophy and approach developed in the OATH project is being integrated into other ORC projects. In early 2023 a new living lab was initiated in the north of England. Living labs are open innovation networks established in real-life environments that use iterative feedback processes to create sustainable impact. They are at the centre on many Horizon Europe research programmes. The living lab that ORC is working to establish in the North of England is focussed on agroforestry implementation as part of the REFOREST project. See: North of England Agroforestry Living Lab
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.
Thank you to everyone who supported out fundraising appeal for the Organic at the Heart project.
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.