England's fields: farming the future

This is the first of the Farming the Future blog series, written by Jenny Phelps, MBE, from Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG). Their project; England’s FIELDS (Farming and Integrated Environmental Local Delivery Support) is a collaboration between FWAG, Pasture for Life Association, Sustain, and Real Farming Trust.


Each month, the A Team Foundation will be showcasing a grantee from the fund and how the support is helping to achieve their goals and ambitions.


One of the best things about working in farming and conservation is that you are often surrounded by genuinely lovely people.  Often these people are driven, like me, with a purpose and ambition to make a small difference in the world. I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the Farming for the Future workshop to share ‘bread’ and conversation with some such inspirational people. The FTF hosts seemed unique in their vision, with the idea of bringing people together, good people, who cared about the future of farming and the countryside to see how the support from the Farming the Future initiative could make a difference.  ‘Tell us what you need to make your vision happen’, said Sam Roddick of the Roddick Foundation.


We were inspired and lucky enough to share the time that day with Vandana Shiva, Patrick Holden, Colin Tudge, Ruth West, Vicki Hird, Kath Dalmeny and many more.  The FTF team invited other charitable foundations to come together to see if their combined support might make some of our aspirations for a more sustainable, resilient world happen faster.  At a time when there seemed little hope that politicians might find some sensible direction, it was a lifeline for those of us who have a clear vision of a different world.  A vision where all people are valued, where food communities come together, where farmers are supported to farm the land regeneratively in a way that feeds the people, protects the environment and protect our vital resources of soil, water, and wildlife.  A vision of a future where everyone can eat healthy food and be free from hunger and uncertainty, and how we might all start to heal the planet and in doing so, help ourselves. 


Our collaboration was lucky enough to be successful in winning support. I am hugely grateful to be able to show how our integrated local delivery framework might help build resilient and prepared communities.   It seems very uninspiring to talk about a ‘framework’ for local action, to quote Sam Roddick ‘it’s not very sexy, but vital!’.  In reality, it is a wonderful, dynamic, inclusive process, that is unique in every location but has a structure to inspire and enable people to take action in a complex world.


The process creates the opportunity for all communities (with support from an environmental adviser) to take local action for climate change by being inspired to reconnect to agroecological farming and enabling the benefits of re- localisation.


It is also a process that is desperately needed.  A ‘systems’ approach that can enable everyone to feel that they are valued and can take meaningful action, which also potentially helps with any eco-anxiety.  Understanding how to act locally, but in a global context, will enable us all to play a meaningful part. A process that is internationally transferable to every community around the world, so we can all be part of a collaborative and inclusive approach creating a network of regenerative farming and ecological recovery, by looking after the piece of the world we care about. 


We are faced with a huge challenge to combat climate change, but humanity seems fixed on creating endless strategies and models as to how the world might be saved at a policy level.  Often there is little or no regard for the actual real world, the indigenous people and their knowledge, sense of place and essential contribution to transforming, (with support) their local environment.  What we need is a combination of the two, where local communities and farmers are valued for their knowledge but can understand how to be supported by multiple international opportunities at a local level.  A mechanism as to how partners can co-deliver their objectives together in genuine, meaningful partnerships with local people.  None of this happens without someone to bring it all together, to inspire and enable local action in a strategic context.


The support from Farming the Future will help to fast track awareness of the opportunity to roll out the integrated local delivery framework. To do this, we need to make the case for specially trained advisers to enable communities to understand how to unpick the complexity of governance of their local area.  How they can integrate support from multiple partners and stakeholders and enable people to work together to look after their locality. 


The funding enables us to carry out an analysis to demonstrate to the treasury (and all government departments) the cost-benefit of integrated local delivery.  It will enable us to promote a transition to regenerative agriculture from existing case studies and align with Neighbourhood Planning for resilience and preparedness planning.  It will help us promote pasture-fed livestock in sustainable land management, and the vital role grass-fed livestock plays in sequestrating carbon and rebuilding soil biology.  It will help us come together to share learning and expertise to create collaborative solutions for climate change mitigation.  The aim is that the government finally sees the benefit of reducing the number of public bodies funded to deliver multiple single issues objectives that create complexity and confusion to farmers and communities, without offering support for their alignment and co-delivery.  We want to be able to highlight the barriers to delivery; whether that is conflicting government policy; planning policy; regulatory baselines or just getting more support out there for people to be enabled to feel contributory to make a difference and act now. 

The Author:

JENNY PHELPS, MBE. FWAG.

Jenny has over 30 years’ experience in facilitating and delivering complex locally led environmental projects that deliver international objectives. Jenny offers the integrated local delivery framework to help people understand how to take meaningful coordinated local action in order to mitigate against climate change and biodiversity loss. Jenny has a Master’s degree in Advanced Farm Management, from the Royal Agricultural University (where she now teaches two modules; Applied Farmland Ecology and The Farming and Integrated Environmental Local Delivery (FIELD) Module).

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Farming the Future is administrated by the A Team Foundation,
a registered charity 1077094 (England & Wales).

Illustrations by Mahla Bess
© Farming the Future 2020  

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