Envisioning Feminist Food Futures Through Agroecology
Reflecting on care, justice, and relationality at ORFC 2023
Hello! This week, we’re bringing you some bonus content from our EARTH issue. Earlier this year, we attended the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) and were deeply impressed by the quality of the programming and organization of the event. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to share some reflections from its organizers with you here. - ZJ & IV
What does a farming conference have to do with feminist theory? Lucy Harding, Dora Taylor, and Hester van Hensbergen, facilitators of the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC), explore the radical potential for an ecofeminist food system.
By Lucy Harding, Dora Taylor, and Hester van Hensbergen
The current global food system is a stark expression of the domination, destruction, and short-sightedness wrought by patriarchy and globally deregulated capitalism. The violence of intensive, industrial-scale food production is acute. In the name of our food, we witness illegal land grabs, the destruction of vital biodiversity, the exploitation of workers, appalling conditions for livestock and animals, and corporate gatekeeping on the resources of food production, whether it be seeds, land, or water.
But you know all of this. You’re here because you know this violence against life itself must be resisted. You know we must carve out hopeful space for a different food future.
The Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) is one such space. Launched as an alternative to the Oxford Farming Conference, which gathers agri-business representatives in Oxford in early January each year, ORFC brings together farmers, growers, activists, policymakers and researchers from around the world over the same days. All are interested in transforming our food system through agroecology, regenerative agriculture, organic farming and indigenous food and farming systems.
The 14th annual ORCF, held from January 4-6, 2023, counted a record number of in-person and online participants. As part of the conference organizing team, we were delighted to feature many sessions that focused on the intersections of feminism and agroecology. Below we offer some reflections on these intersections, and how they can inform the ways we move forward as a movement committed to food sovereignty and intersectional feminist perspectives and justice.
Recordings of the 2023 event can be viewed online in the ORFC archives. Here are some sessions that should not be missed!
The ORFC team’s must-watch list:
FFJ’s top picks:
Building a Jewish Land and Food Justice Movement in the UK – as a wandering Jew I was moved by how Sara Moon articulated the concept of Diasporism as a political orientation and practice which beckons us to be at home wherever we are, and calls us to fight to ensure that our home is just and equitable for everyone else, too. - Isabela
Slow Cooked: An Unexpected Life in Food Politics with Marion Nestle and Raj Patel – I thoroughly enjoyed this convivial conversation between these two giants in the field of food systems change, especially Nestle’s reflections on the role of gender in shaping her career and the dynamics of working in academia while also being an active advocate for more equitable food systems. - Zoë
Video above: Clem Sandison, Bridget Murphy, Sasha Georgiades, Sandra Salazar and Selma James in conversation on agroecology and feminism at ORFC 2023 in Oxford.
Agroecology — farming in harmony with nature — and feminism share much in common. Several sessions at this year’s ORFC highlighted these connections. In Agroecology and Feminism: Transforming our society and our economy, facilitator and urban farmer Clem Sandison, emphasized how both movements seek to counter domination with liberation for diverse forms of life. Both hold an ethic of care for human and more-than-human life at their core.
Agroecology challenges the possibility of human mastery over a separate natural world, instead understanding that interspecies interdependence is key to building strong, supportive webs. Care work, which is essential to this interdependence, is seen as a strength, and uneven power dynamics give way to co-creation. As Selma James, panellist and coordinator of the Global Women’s Strike, explained, “Taking care of people and taking care of the soil and the natural world constitutes one essential job.”
At ORFC, we pursue our vision of food, land, and gender justice not only by facilitating the exchange of knowledge and skills but also through manifestations of care and considerations of accessibility. Providing bursaries, staffing a crèche, and serving nourishing food are ways that we work to create a space that meets the intersecting needs of the ORFC community and fosters intergenerational bonds. Just as feminism encourages a critical dissection of social reproduction, ORFC recognizes the essential role of interpersonal care in co-creating an equitable future food system.
Another connection between feminism and agroecology is a shared commitment to justice. In a session on building a Jewish land justice movement, Samson Hart and Sara Moon spoke of the Yiddish concept of Doikayt, or “hereness”, which encourages Jewish people to cultivate connectedness to whichever lands they find themselves in and to stand alongside others in fights for justice in those lands, whatever they are. This concept demonstrates the humble and collaborative way in which we approach land and food justice at ORFC.
The justice hub was launched in 2021 to foster solidarity and strengthen community care in the face of the COVID-19 crisis and the profound disconnection that it caused. This in-person space is programmed in collaboration with racial and land justice groups, Shared Assets and Land In Our Names, and facilitated panels and workshops during this year’s conference. It has proved a vital space for presenting radical research to the larger agroecological movement; in January 2023, the justice hub facilitated the launch of the Jumping Fences report on understanding and addressing the barriers to access to land for agroecological farming for Black people and people of colour in Britain.
The justice hub embraces intersectionality, welcoming anyone who is oppressed, discriminated against or marginalized within agriculture to feel empowered, connect with each other and share knowledge. It invites people with diverse perspectives to come together with a shared dedication to caring, listening and respecting others, and preparedness to pause, process and see what emerges. This approach is a blueprint for agroecology that pays as much attention to emotion and relationship as it does to method and practice. The justice hub exists in conversation with the rest of the conference. It responds to the issues facing the agroecological movement and drives progress through the propagation of new ideas and values — such as the concept of Doikayt raised by Hart and Moon.
Finally, this year’s ORFC helped us reflect on the importance of relationality to both feminism and agroecology. Relationality refers to our understanding that in our world, no person or thing exists in isolation — we are all connected.
At ORFC, we aim to highlight that humans are as much a part of the food system as animals, plants, and insects, and how we relate to one another is intertwined with our relationship to the land holding us. Rooting our relational behaviour in the feminist principles of mutual aid, collaboration, and joy models an alternative to current systems of domination and extraction, and is therefore crucial to agroecology’s holistic vision of the future.
Mama D Ujuaje beautifully expressed the interconnectivity of social and land relationships in a session about the use of composting to process trauma: "We compost to reconnect — to each other and to the Earth and all of its ecologies, to become younger siblings, to become again a child who acknowledges the eldership of the Earth."
At the 5th ORFC, founders Colin Tudge and Graham Harvey published a Manifesto for New Agriculture, grounded in the knowledge that “agriculture is the principal meeting place of humanity and the rest of nature.” As true now as it was then, “when we get farming right everything else we might aspire to becomes possible – from good food for all to global peace and the conservation of our fellow creatures.”
We are propelled by an ethic of care, commitment to justice, and recognition of relationality as we begin the process of planning ORFC 2024, a continuation of the agroecological movement and a celebration of the 15 years of connection and production that this space has fostered. Much of our mission for ORFC 2024 will be to challenge the myth of production that makes care work invisible. We know who feeds the world; it is the pastoralists, smallholders, and family- and women-led farmers who work as part of — and not against — nature.
What we need now, in the run-up to the 15th ORFC, is not simply new agriculture, nor a return to an ancient pastoral ideal, but “hereness”. We must develop a deep affinity with each other and the more-than-human world. We must remember that there is no opt-out of our position of care in the delicate ecology of our earth, no matter how violently global systems of patriarchal capitalism insist on it.
Lucy Harding, Dora Taylor, and Hester van Hensbergen are facilitators of the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC). The 15th ORFC will be held in Oxford in January 2024 and the call for ideas and proposals is now open. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to stay up to date with ORFC 2024 opportunities and announcements.