The colder months are fast becoming a busy season for farmers and food growers as the deadline for the A Team Challenge and the Oxford Real Farming Conference become regular features in their diaries.


A Team Challenge

The A Team Challenge was launched last year by the A Team Foundation, Funding Enlightened Agriculture and Buzzbnk with the aim of enabling food and farming projects to get the funds and support they need to move forward. It champions the sustainability and success of enlightened agricultural ventures. 
The Challenge looks for projects that contribute in some way to shortening the food chain, building better soil health, or generating food production and agricultural jobs that provide a living wage. Projects are diverse – from micro-breweries to small-scale mixed farms – and although the projects have to be UK based, their impact can be geographically wider.

Last year six projects were selected for their agroecological credentials, the thoroughness and feasibility of their project plan, and their potential to make an impact both immediately and in the future. Five of these winning projects – Fungi Fruits, Sarpo Potatoes, School Farm CSA, Vertical Veg and Whippletree Farm – went on to run extremely successful crowd-funding campaigns and received matched funding.

One of the projects going from strength to strength is Fungi Fruits. Set up by Hugh Prentice, it uses coffee grounds to grow mushrooms on an urban farm in Bath. Prentice and his team collect coffee grounds by bicycle or on foot each day from local coffee shops and then grow the mushrooms in bags filled with the grounds. These are hung in an underground vault where the environment is controlled. After about six weeks mushrooms have grown out of holes in the bags and are ready to be harvested.
 Hugh wants to raise awareness of the need to reduce our carbon footprint by producing food that cuts down on carbon emissions – in this case, by recycling coffee grounds into soil.

Fungi Fruits

A year after successfully receiving the A Team Challenge funding, Fungi Fruits has big plans in store. Hugh wants to change the way coffee grounds are managed across the country so that the grounds become a local resource instead of waste. “Coffee grounds are only a tiny proportion of overall urban waste,” says Hugh, “but they are unusual because they can be used to grow food in significant amounts. That makes them an ideal medium for urban agriculture with cities full of coffee drinkers.” Not only does this save on the waste disposal of coffee grounds, it also saves on transporting mushrooms into the city. Hugh plans to develop the project beyond its current farm in Bath and set up three or four more operations of various sizes across the United Kingdom – for example, at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) near Cheltenham.

Hugh also wants to develop a guidance manual so that others can set up similar fungi projects themselves. One the farm’s key principles is to share information and expertise in an open-source manner so the model can be used widely and rolled out quickly. He recognises that these are “clearly quite large aspirations”, but hopes to firm up his plans in the coming months and apply for funding from other sources to make this a reality.

The A Team Challenge is entering its second year, and with this year’s deadline just passed at the beginning of November, the team will be selecting another batch of entrepreneurial food and farming projects to support before January.

Oxford Real Farming Conference

It’s not just the A Team Challenge that makes the colder months of the year exciting for food growers and farmers: the 6th Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) will be kicking off the new year. This conference was set up by the Campaign for Real Farming, which also set up Funding Enlightened Agriculture.

The ORFC was launched in January 2010 partly as an affordable and inclusive alternative to the long-established Oxford Farming Conference. Over the past six years it has created a space for discussion on a varying range of topics relating to sustainable food and agriculture, as well as bringing hundreds of farmers and growers together to share best practice. The 2015 conference will see 500 delegates come together for the first time under one roof in the Oxford Town Hall.

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Next year’s ORFC takes place on 6th and 7th January, and includes key debates on the dairy industry, flooding, soil fertility and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), with speakers such as Robert Craig (Farmers’ Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year and a Nuffield Scholar), Dr Elaine Ingham (internationally acclaimed expert on the life of the soil) and Neil Darwent (BBC Food and Farming Award’s Outstanding Farmer of the Year). The Sustainable Food Trust will be joining the conference once again, this year hosting a session on Tuesday 6th January.

With more than 40 sessions across two days, the conference’s organisers aim to ask the big questions: what kind of farming and food do we really need and why? But they also want to focus on the nitty gritty of practice – to see who, right now, in Britain and the world beyond is farming, marketing and cooking in ways that are new, innovative and successful.

Looking towards January, Colin Tudge, co-founder of the ORFC and author of Good Food for Everyone Forever, said:

“The point of the ORFC is not to attack the status quo but to look ahead and ask what the world really needs. What’s possible and what can really be done? Always on the agenda is the dream of an agrarian renaissance: to restore agriculture to its proper place at the heart of the economy, and indeed in all our lives. Agriculture and farmers are marginalised. Farming is one of the things we absolutely have to get right; we have to do things differently. Come and learn what needs doing, and how and why and who is doing what, this January at the Oxford Real Farming Conference.”

Tickets are on sale now from £20 and are available online at www.orfc.org.uk.

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