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Better Food Traders at ORFC 2024

Better Food Traders at ORFC 2024 1

Better Food Trader members seemed to be everywhere we went in Oxford this year – a testament to both our growing membership and the draw of such an inspiring, informative and varied programme. Speakers had come from Uganda, Ethiopia, Brazil, Tonga and Andra Pradesh in India to join the conference in person. This year’s in-person conference had talks in 18 different rooms happening at once – almost too many to choose from! – while there were more than 40 sessions livestreamed to people in all corners of the globe.

Better Food Traders at ORFC 2024 2

The BFT network was well-represented in sessions, with Julia from BFT chairing two panels, and speakers taking part from member organisations including Growing Communities, Shillingford Organic, Tamar Grow Local, Soul Farm, Joyful Roots, The Community Farm, Propagate, LESS, Cardiff Farmers’ Markets, The Inkpot Organic and the Kindling Trust to name just a few (apologies if we’ve missed you out!). 

There were so many great discussions it’s hard to capture everything, but these are a few of the things we took away:

  1. Robert Fraser, executive director of the Real Farming Trust and conference organiser, opened the conference with some words of hope:“As farmers, we have to cope with drought and flood and volatile markets, fallen stock, and other external forces we are unable to control. We face an uncertain future with cheap imports, broken supply chains, lack of funding, policy changes and terrible governance, and often quite a bit of criticism. But yet, as stewards of the land, we turn up every day, caring for our crops and animals and working long hours to the best of our ability to provide for our families and our communities. We are tenacious, pragmatic and resilient because we believe in tomorrow.”
  2. Julia from BFT chaired a discussion on Why We Need to Change Food Retail with Rachel Jones from Sustain, Dr Angelina Sanderson Bellamy from UWE Bristol and Zosia Walczak from Growing Communities. The conversation covered different retail models, the role of wholesalers and open-air markets, different tech platforms, explaining the value of agroecological food, and marketing to different segments of the public.
  3. We heard about the inspiring concept of Retail Supported Agriculture – a model at the heart of a Belgian co-operative called The Food Hub. Four people representing the short supply chain of Italian Grower, Italian Regional Wholesaler, Belgian Food Hub and Belgian Retailer talked us through how they operate, and the values they abide by in how they do businesses.
  4. Three journalists from DeSmog and Lighthouse Reports shone a light on the tactics employed bBetter Food Traders at ORFC 2024 3y pesticide companies, the meat industry, and other agribusinesses who perpetuate a damaging and unsustainable food system. There were some shocking examples of how they lobby governments and change the narrative on food in order to continue Business As Usual.
  5. Julia stepped in to chair a panel on Regenerative Supply Chains after the person who was supposed to facilitate the session was unable to make it. Martyn Bragg from Shillingford, Rachel Forster from The Good Food Loop, Josiah Meldrum from Hodmedod’s and Lynne Davis from Open Food Network talked about local, regional, national and meta/tech-based supply chains respectively – and Josiah left us with the term “relational supply networks” as his preferred term for supply chains.
  6. There was lots of talk about the upcoming election, and musings on what a possible change of government could mean for the Grocery Supply Code of Practice, the current lack of a Horticulture Strategy and targets for organic production. Defra Farming Minister Mark Spencer MP attended the conference on Thursday, where he was warned that the government’s New Entrants Support Scheme was not enough, and there will not be enough farmers to replace those retiring unless more financial support is given to new farmers. Helen Browning, Chief Executive of the Soil Association, said it was more important than ever for farmers to speak with one voice, “to ensure politicians will recognise this is important and they need to invest in the future of our farming, of our landscape and of nature, and that society will really welcome that”.
  7. Riverford CEO Rob Haward talked to Vicki Hird, Farming Lead at The Wildlife Trusts, and Will White from Sustain about fairness in the supply chain – how they make it work at Riverford and why the Grocery Code Adjudicator needs to toughen up.
  8. ORFC conference director Francesca Price ended the closing session by telling delegates she learned a new word this week, which summed up her feelings about food and farming: “Respair is a word that died out in the 17th century, but what it means is fresh hope… We need this conference to be full of fresh hope, and for you to take that back to your homes around the country and around the world.   Photo credits: Hugh Warwick

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