Regenerative & Cooperative Approaches to Food
Last weekend, I travelled to Cloughjordan Ecovillage to partake in the Feeding Ourselves conference. The annual gathering, now in its eighth year, centers around exploring solutions to support sustainable local food systems. Themes scheduled for this years meet-up included collaborative distribution, policy matters and food sovereignty. Facilitated by Davie Philip of Cultivate and Dr. Ollie Moore of ARC2020, the morning kicked off with a selection of introductions from the floor. Farmers, growers, policy makers, community activists and concerned citizens had come from all across the country to share their stories. Conversation soon shifted up a gear to evaluate the current situation that our farming communities face and to explore opportunities within these challenging times.
First up we heard from Fergal Anderson. Fergal runs a CSA* farm in Galway and is a founding member of farmer-led organisation Talamh Beo (Irish, pronounced Taw-law-ve B-yo). He spoke of the real socio-economic problems in Irish farming and the need for immediate change and collaboration. One of the main functions of Talamh Beo is to provide a strong, unified voice for farmers so that they may articulate their alternatives to a failing Industrial farming system.
“I’m a big believer that social change comes from people organising together….Really what we need is to take belief again in the capacity that we have as a collective to work together”
Róisin Nic Cóil, from CSA Network Ireland was next to take the floor. She shared her journey from conscious eater to CSA advocate. From helping to manage all aspects of a CSA scheme in her local community, Roisin followed her interest to become a researcher for international group, Urgenci. Her role was to map the major supported agricultural schemes in Europe. Naturally, the idea arose to map Irish CSAs and so, CSA Network Ireland was formed. Currently there are 9 members in the group. The website not only indicates where the members are located, it also serves as a point of contact for journalists and interested parties seeking further information.
I was impressed to learn that both of these movements had emerged from the annual Feeding Ourselves gatherings. You can’t deny the dynamism of pooling ideas and collective conversations. Over the course of the day I heard many other inspiring voices. Subjects such as: the need to return farming back to nature; growing multi species pastures instead of the monoculture rye grass that currently dominates; the inadequacies of the current EU Common Agricultural Policy; the need to incentivise biodiversity on our farms – agroforestry, replanting hedgerows, clean waterways, etc.; our dependancy on long food supply chains and the urgency to shorten them and develop closer producer consumer relationships; diversification and finding high nutrient food products suitable for our climate and growing conditions. Most of the commentary was constructive and positively charged, punctuated here and there with a sobering dose of reality:
“it’s not going to be a nice smooth transition. I don’t think we will choose to move away from a growth-based paradigm. It will become absolute necessity in the knowledge that our over dependancy on supply chains are very vulnerable..”
True, it will not be a quick fix. But hope is abound. What I took on board from the day was the importance of a cohesive and consistent message. There are many active groups, movements and organisations all working towards a common goal of localised food systems. We must join all the dots and consolidate our asks. We must communicate those asks, loudly and repeatedly, to our policy makers and demand positive transformation. And in the meanwhile, as individuals we can continue to implement small changes our own communities.
*CSA: Community Supported Agriculture is a partnership between a group of people and a farmer. The members receive a share in the CSA when they commit to pay an agreed fee to the farmer for the duration of a season, and in return they get healthy, local food – http://www.communitysupportedagriculture.ie
Article written by Karen Nolan Winkens