Conference Preview: Nutrition & Social Impact

By Wilma Finlay

We all have our hobby horses and one of mine is wondering why farming doesn’t take more account of the societal effect it has?  So the Nutrition & Social Impact session at the Ethical Farming Conference is one I am particularly looking forward to.

Right now most farmers, especially livestock farmers, are feeling pretty low.  The pendulum has swung firmly against us and we have been made to feel that livestock farming, and the nutritious food we produce, are one of society’s big problems.  How on earth did the cow become public enemy number one?

For any livestock farmers attending this conference I can guarantee that Dr Zoe Harcombe, our main speaker in this session, will make you feel proud again. She has a great personal story to tell, but it is her knowledge of the science (or should I say the lack of science) behind ‘established’ dietary guidelines that is jaw dropping. This session is a must-hear for livestock farmers. Farming doesn’t operate in a vacuum and this session will explore just some of the social issues that our industry must engage with. 

Facilitating this session is Prof Sarah Skerratt of SRUC who has been researching rural community development for many years. She is an excellent communicator and is experienced in brokering complex discussions.  She will put those skills to great use in weaving together the strong opinions and the fascinating stories of the other members of the panel in this session. 

Nick Barnard is the co-founder of Rude Health, an author and an experienced conference speaker.  Nick does not shy away from controversy and holds strong, principled views, many of which align strongly with our own.  Whilst a significant percentage of Rude Health’s customers are vegetarian or vegan, Nick also sees the nutritional benefit of drinking raw whole milk and frying in beef tallow fat.  Nick will talk about consumer trends and the growing market opportunity for ethically produced food. With today’s value-led millennial consumer has there ever been a better time to transition food production to an ethical approach?

Mary Clear is the co-founder of Incredible Edible which transformed and empowered the small town of Todmorden with community gardens providing nutritious food from public spaces.  When she is not travelling internationally helping communities to start their own Incredible Edibles projects she is a Death Doula and she spends a lot of time visiting her family in Gatehouse of Fleet - she is unstoppable and inspirational! Mary will talk about her ‘propaganda planting’ and how the global issues of resource constraint and environmental change can be combined with community empowerment to create social, recreational and nutritional value.

Finally there will be a talk about rural mental health. At The Ethical Dairy we pay close attention to the impact our farming system has on the humans who work within it, as well as the impact it has on our animals.  Whether it is lone working, long hours, financial insecurity or the job itself; the pressures and stress on the people currently working in agriculture is taking its toll.

It increasingly seems that farmers are being pushed in two directions – either get super-efficient and produce volume for the retail multiples, or opt-out into a specialist high-end market. But what are the consequences of super-efficiency that pushes the envelope of stress on all aspects of the system in order to further squeeze the ever narrowing profit margins? And what symptoms arise in the health of those involved in such systems? This session will explore the personal story of someone who has experienced both intensive and ethical farming systems, illustrating why human needs and wellbeing should feature strongly in any ethical farming model.

The Ethical Farming Conference takes place at Rainton Farm, home of The Ethical Dairy, on Thursday 16th May 2019.  For more information about the conference, details of the programme and to book tickets, visit www.ethicalfarming.org.