June 29 to July 2nd saw an inspiring group of farmers and researchers from across Europe come together at Monkton Wyld Court, a sustainable education centre for sustainable living located in Dorset, in the southwestern part of England. This was the forth and final gathering in a series of European exchanges to discuss what it means to bring agricultural research and policy back into the hands of those that it truly impacts, the farmers. The gathering was jointly hosted by the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University and the Landworkers’ Alliance.
The theme for the gathering centred around small-scale farming innovation. The group heard from Simon Fairlie at Monkton Wyld Court discussing the collapse of small-scale dairy and the results of his explorations to making it work. Simon shared his budget showing the viability of his nano-dairy enterprise in which he, Gill Barron and many helpers make hay with a scythe and directly sell to a guaranteed market. Jyoti Fernandes spoke of the co-operative processing facility at Fivepenny Farm, that has significantly boosted the viability and profitability of many small and micro enterprises in the region. The group toured Tinkers Bubble, exploring this ‘incubator’ project through the eyes of many who have drawn great inspiration from their time living there. The final visit took us to Chagfood to chat with Ed Hamer. Ed spoke of his explorations into horse-drawn cultivation, sharing lessons learned and experiences of sharing innovations through the FarmHack network.
The visits inspired interesting discussions on the nature of agricultural innovation. For many of the European delegates the visit to Tinkers Bubble was an unexpected detour on the topic of innovation, through which some revisited peasant imagery they had perhaps forgotten. It was commented that innovation is generally thought of as maximising yield, so questions arose around the meaning of innovation from both our perspective and that of the wider farming community. The group discussed barriers to farmer-led innovation/research and ways in which closer links between farmers and researchers could overcome these barriers, by enabling resources for farmers to undertake research on their land. One key outcome of the gathering was the development of a new draft of the Manifesto, in text and video, which outlines the case for democratic agricultural research in Europe.
The gathering closed in true LWA style with a ceilidh. Dancing and laughing with partners sometimes spanning generations appeared to bring some of the themes of the gathering closer to home. Innovation in small-scale farming is a broad topic, not just about producing food, but also creating nourishing and fulfilling livelihoods for as many people as possible.