Many growers sell their produce locally, but to what extent can our systems be considered truly local? What about our energy inputs, seeds, labour, fertility? This interactive workshop set out the challenges and highlighted innovation and what needs to change. This session was organised by the Organic Growers Alliance (OGA)
Alan Schofield (OGA): chair.
Wendy Seel leads the workshop
The aim of this session was to take the concept of local growing systems apart and leave us to come up with the answers. How local are our growing systems? Does this matter and to whom?
Wendy Seel from Vital Veg started the session off by pointing out that we are still struggling with the sustainable in ‘sustainable intensification’. Nature is the best teacher of sustainability and local matters because nature’s processes are built around local systems. However a grower has to balance the value versus the cost of being local. Wendy introduced us to the idea of a value chain of local growing systems with inputs as the starting point in the chain, economists look at how to maximise profits in a value chain; she proposed that as growers we look at the whole chain and work out where we can regain control and make our systems more sustainable. Do we know which parts of the local systems we hope to build/ maintain are vulnerable and why? What has to happen in order to succeed?
Operating at an individual grower level or at a sector level (e.g. OGA), Wendy suggested we make our own plan and presented this as a challenge to the group. To make a start Wendy suggested we order the inputs in the value chain in terms of sustainability and economic impact on growers, then she asked people to volunteer to take one input and work it back through the value chain. Alan Schofield suggested feedback for each input could be in a story format and gave an example of a labour story from his farm, where he has successfully trialled an alternative to the monetary system of swapping knowledge and free veg for labour.
In the discussion it was suggested that one way to prioritise was to look at achievability and that tackling inputs such as growing media may be difficult for some individually but that collectively we can achieve more. It was also noted that a solution to gaining more control over seed production was presented in a previous session. The idea that knowledge connects everything was then discussed and that we need to concentrate on spreading and gaining knowledge, combining knowledge with experience and training new entrants to gain new perspectives. Knowledge as well as other inputs like seeds and growing media could be considered outputs as well as inputs and should not just be considered costs to the business.
Key action points
The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following action points:
- Identify which points individual growers can tackle and which would be best tackled collectively by e.g. SA/OGA etc.
- Wendy and Alan will get a template to collect information with instructions and send out via the OGA forum and follow up with a short article in the Organic Grower.
- There are several field labs on growing media taking place at Tolly’s and ORC are looking for people to carry out trials to follow on from the field lab. Interested growers please contact Anja
Individual speaker presentations and abstracts
Wendy Seel (Vital Veg/OGA): The challenges of re-localising our systems
There are encouraging numbers of local selling systems (box schemes, farmers markets, CSAs etc) but the growing systems that supply these often have some important inputs that are not local at all. Fertility, energy, seeds, labour, bio-control, sundries are often imported. Does it matter where the key inputs for local food production come from, how far they travel, or who owns the company that supplies them? Building on the plenary and other relevant sessions, the aim of this discussion is to identify which of the key inputs into vegetable growing systems can be obtained locally – and which of those that could be, or should be local, are more commonly brought in from a distance. What needs to happen to make these key inputs available locally – and what might happen if we don’t find a local solution? Do we need new knowledge, new skills, or new systems? Can we prioritise what needs to happen in terms of current economic feasibility, and in terms of resilience (the two might not match at the moment)?