#42: No-cost agriculture in Zambia, Biofertilisers and a Regenerative farming journey

This month we head to the tenth annual Oxford Real Farming Conference. First up we hear the inspirational story of 5000+ women who are now practising natural agriculture, or no-cost agriculture, on farms and smallholdings across Southern Zambia. Back in the UK we get the lowdown on biofertilisers providing food for microbes, and finally we hear the ups and downs of a regenerative farming journey from one young farmer in Somerset.

Photo: one of the famers who are part of the Natural Agriculture Development Program in Zambia. Thanks so Shumei Intl for the photo.

January for us, and many others across the UK farming community, means ORFC – The Oxford Real Farming Conference – now in its tenth year and this year double the size.

There were more speakers than ever and the Landworker’s Alliance ceilidh was a definite highlight.

First up, this month, is one of our favourite sessions at the conference with Barbara Hachipuka Banda, founder of the Natural Agriculture Development Program in Zambia. Barbara is working with Shumei International and thousands of women in Zambia to teach and promote natural agriculture – or “no-cost” agriculture, as she calls it.

We have been intrigued by biofertilisers for a while now as we have heard from a number of different farmers and growers who are excited about them, yet the scientific community often seem unconvinced by them. At ORFC we got the lowdown from Matt Dunwell and Juanfran Lopez who regularly run courses on biofertilisers (and much more) at Ragman’s Farm, a 60 acre farm in the Forest of Dean. They explain that unlike compost teas, biofertilisers are all about providing food and nutrition for the microbes, not actually brewing microbes themselves.

Finally we hear from Fred Price who was part of a panel on becoming a soil health expert on your own farm, hosted by Abby and the team behind the Sectormentor for Soils app. Fred has been farming at Gothelney Farm in Somerset for the last 10 years. From the start, he’s been on a quest to be the best farmer he can be. Initially, that meant maximising his yields and being as productive as possible. Within a few years, he’d achieved those goals – but then he started to realise it didn’t all add up. The questions he began to ask have led him on a regenerative journey – a process of un-learning the chemical farming mindset and instead using the soil as his guide to build the health of his farm

Be sure and keep an ear out later in the month for our Short which features brilliant perennial polyculture farmer Kathy Dice with some tips from her pick-your-own farm in Iowa, Red Fern Farm. We met Kathy at the Perennial Gathering put on by the Savanna Institute in Wisconsin late last year. The Savanna Institute are laying the groundwork for widespread agroforestry in the Midwest. Over 100 farmers and researchers gathered to share learnings from different agroforestry and silvopasture operations. Kathy has some great tips…

Photo: Pastured pigs on Gothelney Farm, Somerset

Thanks as ever to our supporters for this episode Rebel Kitchen! Their health message doesn’t separate the individual from the whole, and demonstrated through actions, not just words. As they point out, it’s all connected. We couldn’t agree more!

Farmerama is made by Abby Rose, Jo Barratt and me, Katie Revell. This month, we also had help from Louis Hudson and Suzie McCarthy. Thank you to the Oxford Real Farming Conference for kindly allowing us to use their recording of Barbara Hachipuka Banda speaking at the event.

Community support is by Annie Landless, Eliza Jenkins and Olivia Oldham, and our theme music is by Owen Barratt.

#41: Turtle Island, banana bonanza, soil regeneration and market garden updates

This month, we meet Lorraine Kahneratokwas, who tells us about Slow Food Turtle Island, an inspiring collective that represents over 500 indigenous nations at Salone del Gusto, Terra Madre. Turtle Island is the name given to the North American continent by many indigenous peoples; this Slow Food Association includes indigenous nations from Canada, the USA and Mexico. We learn stories from the origins of the island, and hear about traditional growing practices, where good intentions, songs and ceremonies allow crops to flourish.

We then head to Java, Indonesia, where we learn about the Heritage Yogyakarta Banana Varieties Presidium. This is one of over 500 Presidia: a Slow Food International initiative aiming to protect and sustain unique or local foods, while recovering traditional practices. Java-based food researcher Amaliah Khanima tells us all about the beauty of banana biodiversity. Amaliah is keen to inspire the younger generation on the island to get involved, and shares some local recipes, and savvy natural tips for pest prevention.

Next, we hear from a hugely influential figure in the regenerative agriculture movement; Gabe Brown. Gabe has been running his 5,000 acre farm in North Dakota since 1991, and begun to focus on regenerative methods after devastating hailstorms on his land highlighted the issues with conventional farming. Gabe’s farm now boasts a high soil resilience, which he achieves through zero-till policy, crop diversity and high intensity mob grazing of cattle. He believes that farms should provide to the local community, as well as providing ecological services to the local environment.

Finally, we hear from our regular market gardening reporter, Joel Rodker, with an end-of-year update on the highs and lows of making a living from a small plot of land.

Thanks to Rebel Kitchen for supporting this episode! Earlier this month Rebel Kitchen celebrated World Soil Day by sharing about the different regenerative agriculture initiatives they support as part of their 1% for the Planet commitment. You will find a link to their post on our socials, or head to rebel-kitchen.com to read more.

#40: Grain Lab, Flour Ambassadors, and students helping to fix the food system

Photo credit @duchessfarms

This month we’ve gone a little grain mad after Abby headed to the UK Grain Lab at Small Food Bakery. Over 120 bakers, farmers, millers, plant breeders, scientists and grain enthusiasts gathered for UK Grain Lab to learn and share about the grain future we want to create, from seed to loaf… and donuts….We learn about grain populations and heritage grains, innovative projects that connect millers, bakers and farmers and we chat to bakers around the world experimenting with more diverse flours.  

 

While she was there, Abby took the Grain Pledge – created by author of the New Bread Basket, Amy Halloran – the Pledge recognises that we are all part of this grain system and that we must act together!

 

Kimberly Bell, owner and baker at Small Food Bakery, tells us about the beauty of baking with flour from grains which allow more diversity and lower-input systems on farm. And John Reid, of RedBeard Bakery near Melbourne, shares his excitement about baking with flours milled from populations for the first time.

 

We also spoke with Oscar Harding, farmer at Duchess Farms, and Ben MacKinnon, owner and baker at E5 Bakehouse in London, about how a conventional farm ended up working together with an organic bakery on a joint learning journey. We are also serenaded by Nathaniel Mann of Dead Rat Orchestra, who sings about – you guessed it – bread!

 

Finally, we hear from the students at the Student Eats conference at Manchester Metropolitan University. Claire and Charmaine from Canterbury Christ Church University tell us about their project, the Gastrohub, which does experiential community events focused on reducing farm-level food waste and bringing people together.

We would like to thank Rebel Kitchen for supporting this episode. Rebel Kitchen are a member of 1% for the Planet. This means they donate 1% of their sales (not just profits!) to partners contributing to the planet – it’s through this commitment they are helping to support us to continue to share knowledge in the farming community and spread the word to many more farmers and growers.

Leah Penniman: Farming While Black

In this special episode, brought to you by Chelsea Green Publishing, we hear from a super inspiring small-scale farmer, Leah Penniman. Leah is a farmer, activist, author and co-founder of Soul Fire Farm in New York: a family farm committed to restoring food-sovereignty and ending injustice in our food system. (Photo: Onion harvest on Soul Fire Farm credit:Leah Penniman).

In the last century, over 14 million acres of land in the US have been taken from the control of black farmers. Leah’s recent book, ‘Farming While Black’, published by Chelsea Green, is a stirring manifesto that aims to reconnect people of colour to the land, in sharing Afro-indigenous traditions and sustainable farming practices that have been aggressively undermined through slavery and colonialism. At Soul Fire Farm, innovative programmes such as the ‘Black-Latinx Farmers Immersion’ and a sliding-scale farmshare ‘CSA’, work to reverse systematic food injustice.

This is a story of one black woman embracing the land and activating a whole community to do the same. The book is at once fiercely political, deeply practical, and unashamedly spiritual, because as Leah shows us…. farming is ALL of those things.

The podcast is brought to you by Chelsea Green Publishing, the leading publisher of books on sustainable food and farming, including Farming While Black by Leah Penniman. To get this book and discover more great titles visit chelseagreen.com

This show is made by Katie Revell, Jo Barratt and Abby Rose. Thanks to Leah Penniman for sharing her recordings of field songs and Yabisi Asili for sharing his experiences. Community support is provided by Annie Landless and Eliza Jenkins.

#38: Alice Waters, Terra Madre, Palestinian teenager, intercropping trials and cooperative farming

This month we begin in Turin, at the international gathering of the Slow Food Movement, Terra Madre. Members of the farming and food community from over 90 different cultures around the world assemble with a shared philosophy of respect for the earth that we farm on. Among the diversity of voices in this community is Alice Walters, founder of the Chez Panisse restaurant in California and general champion of ecological agriculture. Alice shares with us just how important it is to work with small-scale farms and also gives us a sneak peak of her latest project connecting schools and small-scale farms!

We also hear from a super inspiring young farmer called Muna from the West Bank in Palestine. Muna is passionate about saving the fragmented land that her family have farmed for generations. She also tells us about an epic project she began, aged just 15, tending to abandoned olive groves after recruiting young volunteers from her community.

Next, we head back to the UK, to hear about an exciting farmer-led research project from Innovative Farmers. They are trialling the efficacy of different arable intercropping systems. Katie Bliss, from the Organic Research Centre and Agricology, reveals some fascinating results in favour of on-farm diversification for the suppression of weeds and reduction of chemical inputs.

Finally, we revisit Jubilee Farm, to hear from Jonny Hansen, who has exciting news about a farm-share to be launched on October 20th; the first of its kind in Northern Ireland. Jonny speaks to Tiziana O’Hara of Co-operative Alternatives, who shares the benefits of the community ethic, where a network of co-operation and support achieves success.

We also hear a special message from two old friends of Farmerama with some lovely news!

We would like to thank Rebel Kitchen for supporting this episode. Rebel Kitchen are a member of 1% for the Planet. This means they donate 1% of their sales (not just profits!) to partners contributing to the planet – it’s through this commitment they are supporting us to continue to share knowledge in the farming community and spread the word to many more farmers and growers.

Farmerama is produced by Jo Barratt, Abby Rose, and Katie Revell. Social media is led by Annie Landless with Eliza Jenkins and Olivia Oldham, and the music is by Owen Barratt. Additional reporting this week came from Jonny Hansen at Jubilee Farm. 

#36: Wondrous worms, cow pats, biodynamic vines and Free Range Families

This month we hear from Jackie Stroud, a Soil Scientist at Rothamsted Research and, renowned in the UK farming community as “The Worm Lady”. She runs a citizen science project called #60minworms to encourage farmers to count the number and importantly types of worms in their soil. Jackie talks us through the different types of worms and why each one is important. Learn how to identify worms with her wonderfully simple quiz and get involved in the next #60minworms this September.

Greg Judy is an enthusiastic mob grazer based in Missouri. He talks to us about getting animals back on the land and building biodiversity in grasslands, including the importance of cow pats… all with the goal of increasing the long-term viability of your farm. You can hear the full interview with him on this month’s Short.

Then we head over to California for thoughts on regenerative agriculture from long-time vintner Paul Dolan who runs the Dark Horse Vineyard and Farming Company, a biodynamic enterprise based in Mendocino County. He tells us about some different experiments he is doing looking at water availability with his dry-farmed vines.

Finally we dip into the Free Range Families initiative at Jubilee Farm in Northern Ireland. Last month, they hosted the very intriguing sounding “Bioblitz” festival. Farmer Jonny Hansentells us about the festival, and speaks to GROW Wild manager Stephanie Bain about the Free Range Families programme.

We are also very excited to announce our new supporters Rebel Kitchen!

Their mission is to redefine health through food, business and beyond.

As we have heard from many people, health starts on the farm. It’s so important to have food companies actively supporting, and engaging with, the farming community – connecting up the dots for the wellbeing of humans and the earth. You will hear a bit more about what they do in a future episode.

 

One last thing, please do head to our Soundcloud to tune into the audio-diary of grower Joel Rodker, as he works to set up his first Market Garden. Joel would love suggestions and encouragement in the comments!

This show was produced by Abby Rose, Katie Revell, and Jo Barratt. Additional reporting this week came from Jonny Hansen at Jubilee Farm. Social media is managed by Annie Landless and our theme music by Owen Barratt.

#34: 3D Ocean Farming, Mental Health, Gene Activation in plants & Chilean Circle Agriculture

This month we hear from self-confessed non-environmentalist, Bren Smith, about an ocean-based farming solution that might inadvertently be saving the environment as well as providing a simple, new and sensible option for people wanting to make a living from the sea. Bren is executive director and co-founder of Greenwave, a fisherman-run organization focused on 3D Ocean Farming of kelp. Their polyculture vertical farming system grows a mix of seaweeds and shellfish that require zero inputs while sequestering carbon and rebuilding reef ecosystems.

 

We get stuck into the very important issue of mental health in farming with Jonny Hanson at Jubilee Farm in Northern Ireland. He speaks to his wife Paula, a trainee counselor, to discuss the intersection of mental health, wellbeing and farming. They talk about The Farming Community Network, who have a helpline to support Farmers struggling with mental health, all details are here.

Marco Bentzien farms with his family at Fundo Laguna Blanca in the 9th Region in Chile, under the watch of 2 volcanoes, one still active, the landscape is incredibly lush, a real feast for the eyes. This sanctuary is something Marco wants to share and here he tells us about the importance of community and opportunities to be involved in what he calls ‘circle agriculture’.

 

We caught up with Joel Williams of Integrated Soils again at last month’s brilliant Future of UK Farming Conference put on by the Sustainable Food Trust. Joel tells us how plants turn on certain genes, how this relates to seed saving and just how important mycorrhizae are as a plant’s communication channel.

 

You can also tune into our Short this month to hear from Pasture For Life farmer Rob Havard who was also at the Future of UK Farming Conference. He tells us some clever tips on how to harvest your own seeds for planting herbal leys and how he has been experimenting with terminating herbal leys, working solely with his animals.

 

This weeks show was produced by Jo Barratt, Abby Rose and Katie Revell. Additional reporting from Jonny Hanson at Jubilee farm. Thank you to Annie Landless for doing a sterling job of keeping everyone informed on social media, and to all of our guests and listeners. Music for Farmerama is made by Owen Barratt.

 

#33: Kitchen Table talks, Jersey soils, trade deals, pig clubs and bee-lieving

This month we have a political focus and still manage to squeeze in some brilliant stores of soils and microbes. Firstly we share some personal stories from a ‘kitchen table talk’, on what good food means to the people of Scotland. These Kitchen Table Talks are a way of enabling the public to feed their ideas into the Good Food Nation Bill, you can hear more about this initiative from Nourish Scotland in this Short.

We hop over to Jersey to hear from young farmer Justin Le Gresely at Anneville Farm about their first attempt to produce potatoes and vegetables with zero external inputs. He shares how they’re using microscopes and compost extracts to guide bacterial and fungal populations trying out an innovative approach to growing the island’s favourite potato, the Jersey Royal.

REMINDER: If you do live in the UK, then there’s only a few days left to respond to the consultation on the Agricultural Bill “Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit”, which sets out the government’s ambitions for farming in England and seeks the views of all readers on its proposals.

This will dictate government policy in farming (and food!) for many years to come, and now is the time to get your voice heard. Have your say here! It’s not just farmers who need to respond, but anyone who cares about the environment or eats food. So… that’s everyone, then.

Next we have an update from Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London, in conversation with reporter Marianne Landzettel on ‘Green Brexit’ and trade deals.

We’re happy to revisit Jubilee Farm in Northern Ireland, to hear an update from their CSA and head farmer Jonny Hanson chats to Dr Jude Stephens, a smallholder-turned-lecturer at Queens University Belfast, about the promise of Pig Clubs — intrigued? We are!

The show ends with a catchy tune from the bee-lievers, ooh Mr Gove, we sincerely hope you’re listening. 🐝 🐖🍭🍏

#31: Growing herbs, Christian perspectives on farming and Aquaponics on diversified farms

(Alice Bettany of @sacred_seeds harvesting herbs for her CSA herbal medicine box scheme)

Welcome to Farmerama! This month, we hear from herb growers and suppliers about the opportunities for growing herbs in the UK. We have the first of a series of reports from Jubilee Farm in Northern Ireland, offering a Christian perspective on agriculture and the environment. We take a visit to Humble by Nature, a tenant farm in the Welsh Wye Valley run by TV presenter Kate Humble we hear from an artisan pasta producer in Italy.

One of the most exciting panels at this year’s Oxford Real Farming Conference was all about growing and selling herbs in the UK. We learned that there’s real demand for good quality UK-grown herbs, and that more growers are finding ways to grow commercially here on a relatively small scale. We caught up with a few of the panelists: herb producer and medical herbalist, Helen Kearney; Managing Director of The Organic Herb Trading Company Jim Twine; and Alice Bettany who runs a CSA herbal box scheme (you can hear her on a ‘Shorts’ over on our soundcloud page).

Jonny Hanson is an environmentalist who’s involved in setting up Northern Ireland’s first Community-Supported Agriculture scheme, at Jubilee Farm, he tells us a bit about what they are building and what Christianity has to do with it all.

We meet Andrea Cavaliari, whose family have been producing pasta in Italy for generations by what he calls the delicate method. Finally we hear from Beca Beeby who setup and runs the Aquaponics project at Humble by Nature, a diversified farm in the Wye Valley, Wales. She is very clear that aquaponics is a brilliant addition to a mixed farm, but definitely not a substitute when it comes to growing food.

#30: Gove, agri-CULTURE, Human Ecology, Sanfoin and Pollarding

Hello and welcome to Farmerama, episode 30! This month we bring you stories from the 9th Annual Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC). The Conference this year was a bit different as politics took centre stage, we have a few words from Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in conversation with Zac Goldsmith. His positive words we hope will bring positive actions.

A brilliant part of the conference was the launch of The Soil Never Sleeps, a book of poetry from the Pasture Fed Livestock Association (PFLA), written by their poet-in-residence Adam Horowitz – you can get a copy here. We hear two PFLA farmers, Fidelity Weston and Chris Jones, share their experiences of working with a poet and read poems written about their farms.

Human Ecology and holistic food systems in cities are explained by Abi Morden of Propagate, who run Glasgow based food projects. Richard Smith, farm manager at Daylesford talks about his favourite crop, Sanfoin and just how beneficial it can be.

Finally we hear from Ted Green who is focused on pollarding for fodder – if that doesn’t mean anything to you (it didn’t to some of us) then listen in and all will be revealed!

This episode was produced by Abby Rose, Jo Barratt, and Katie Revell. Thank you to Joy Rose, Annie Landless and James Fryer for helping us capture stories at the conference. Thank you also to the wonderful fiddler Becky Dellow who played the music at the start of the show, performed between poems from the Soil Never Sleeps launch. And thank you also Katherine, Nessie and the ORFC team for making ORFC 18 such a success and pleasure to cover!