Waking up on the day after the Sustainable Food Trust’s Harmony in Food and Farming conference to a sunny morning in a field deep in the Brecon Beacons, bears some similarity to waking up the day after your meticulously planned wedding. You know you are the same yet still different, and while slightly exhausted, much richer in friends and family. The days ahead require us to live by the commitments that were made and they should guide our actions and decisions for a lifetime.
I decided to stay on in Wales for the rest of the week so the beauty of the Brecon Beacons could help percolate all the information and inspiration from the conference, allowing it to settle in me for future withdrawal. There is a feast of holistic nourishment to absorb: the physical sustenance of the overwhelmingly delicious food, the spiritual journey through silence, song and thought, and the intellectual expansion offered by enlightened, knowledgeable minds. The many meaningful interactions with fellow ‘Harmonists’ provided bountiful emotional nourishment.
The conference felt like a call to action. Professor Aruni Bhatnagar told us, in a panel on Harmony, Diets and Health, that for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, the next generation will not have a greater life expectancy than their parents. This is due to unhealthy lifestyles, poor nutrition and associated diseases – notably obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. Surely now is the time to address our health and food systems!
So, while inspiration is fresh, I wanted to note the following ways in which I will try to act on what I’ve learnt during the conference. I hope these may be applicable to all Harmonists.
- Refuse ‘cheap’ food and take action against it in whatever way you can, as farmer Gareth Wyn Jones noted. Peter Brown of the Biodynamic Association added that it’s not just farmers with a responsibility to the land – “We all eat,” he said.
- Gundhill Stordalen of the Eat Foundation exhorted the audience to “Eat more plants”, . – especially ones grown by farmers caring for the soil as “Not all carrots were created equal,” according to Ben Pugh at Farmdrop.
- Making the right food choices can be a minefield. Choosing natural, wholesome food is a simple commandment to live by.
- “We need to practice what we preach,” argued Dame Ellen MacArthur, in her discussion of the Circular Economy, demonstrating to all what a sustainable approach to food and farming looks like and how it can be the change we need to see in the world.
- “Education is key,” said Richard Dunne, head teacher at Ashely CofE School. Let us inspire others wherever we can and make our voice loud and engaging. We have to take everyone with us on this journey!
- “Practice gratitude to be happy,” Rupert Sheldrake, biologist and author, suggested. We have so much to be thankful for and be happy about. Appreciate every mouthful of food because, “The entire Universe is present in each bite,” according to Marc Andrus, Bishop of California.
- “Sitting is the new smoking,” says Professor Aruni Bhatnagar. Let’s keep active to keep healthy!
- Keep connecting and working together – no silos!
- “Without ambition one starts nothing, without work one finishes nothing,” quoted Duncan Catchpole, Cambridge Organic Food Co. Let’s be ambitious and work hard!
- Thomas Harttung posed a weighty question to us: “Is part of our inability to act a result of information overload in society?” Keeping the mind uncluttered in order to focus on what counts, is one of my personal goals in this ferociously fast-paced world.
It is unusual to have so many moments in a conference where all your hairs stand on end. Compelling stories told from the heart and lightbulb moments where a coin of information would act as that critical penny in the slot machine, making all the other coins topple down, finally delivering relevance and reward. Harmony in Food and Farming felt like a wonderful family reunion, where you are confident that, no matter who you end up sat next to at the dinner table, you are in for a treat. It is indeed those interactions that peppered my visit to Llandovery College with even more inspiration and positivity. The diversity of these informal exchanges was dramatic, and the unity through shared passion and vision deeply connecting.
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