BRUSSELS 15-16 SEPTEMBER 2015
This report aims to sum up the important ideas, information, inspiration and addresses given during the presentations at the Agroecology (AE) workshop in Brussels.
The participants were welcomed by Jyoti Fernandes, member of ECVC’s CC and the Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA).
As an introduction a film on AE by Coventry University was screened showing different visions on AE. Colin Anderson and Csilla Kiss from the centre for AE, water and resilience at Coventry, underlined the importance of interdisciplinary approaches, participatory methodologies and the implementation of grass root and social movements for their research activities. They also stressed the need to mobilize the declaration on AE, therefore a lot of material is provided for free online. It is necessary to bring back respect to farmers’ knowledge
Farm Hack (FH) Ed Hammer and Roz Corbett (both LWA), (http://farmhack.org)
FH is an open community of farmers and technicians aiming to share technical knowledge in order to build and modify their own tools and to have access to low-tech technologies. This community was initiated in Northern America but there is a desire to organise events in Continental Europe, currently its only working language is English. FH uses open source (OS) tools therefore all documents, instructions, etc. are available for free.
Ed Hammer produces vegetable and sells them in boxes directly to the community which allows him to receive 50% of the price instead of 8% in a long supply chain. He works mainly with two small local breed horses. This brings several advantages regarding the lower compaction of the soil, the price (horse ~ 1/3 of a tractor), the maintenance (100€/year oats as reward + 1ha land), the manure and no need for a barn as they live outside all year. There still is a remarkable number of horse driven farms in the US’ midwest. Ed has visited them and describes them as a important source of knowledge.
Roz Corbett works in a community garden in Glasgow, most vegetables grown there go to the people living there. As examples for FH she presents greenhouse tunnels adapted to the rough and very windy climate in Scotland, a pedal-powered oat mill and several micro-hydro-projects, e.g. for small-scale fish and seaweed farming. She also presented some current important political decisions (see slides of her presentation), e.g. facilitating the access to land.
Atelier Paysan (AP) par Julien Reynier, http://www.latelierpaysan.org/
AP is a French cooperative founded 4 years ago with today 9 employees. As innovations often happen in an isolated farm context, AP tries to document, standardize (adaptability for other farms) and share them to create free tools for small-scale farms. Their OS website documents the tools approved by users and gives tutorials to build them yourself; the forum creates space for ‘draft’ versions of tools, where everybody can participate with their ideas (e.g. for “2.0 versions”) and experiences. AP also works with farmers wanting to develop adapted tools from scratch, prototypes are built and are gradually and constantly improved according to the experiences of users.
AP organizes about 30 build-it-yourself workshops a year to teach peasants metal and mechanical work along with agronomy, e.g. which tool has which effect on which soil. The average costs for tools built during these workshops is a quarter of the commercial cost as participants only pay for raw material. The costs of this training are generally covered by a (further) training fund to which every French citizen contributes and from which they can benefit.
Energy Autonomy: Andrea Ferrante, Associazione per l’Agric. Biol. (AIAB)
Andrea launched a reflection on energy in a wider sense. The goal of AE must be to reduce dependency on fossil fuels as agriculture is today one of its biggest consumers (esp. through external fossil-based inputs like fertilizers, pesticides..). In the past farmers used to be suppliers of energy, today this balance is negative and they are big consumers.
Another problem is the concentration of supplies of these fossil fuels in few hands giving these people an incredible power. If all the 40 million European farmers became small-scale energy producers it would not only make them less dependent but it would also create a democratization of energy. This would put agriculture back to the center of society and act to drive an increase the number of farmers. Gerald mentioned the example of hemp as a “super” crop with multiple usages and as a “fertilizer” bringing up minerals from deep in the ground and thus increasing yields.
Prommata: Jérôme Keller, http://prommata.org/
Prommata, founded in 1991, originally named Mammata has been developed to help small holders without tractors but with traction animals. Prommata created a tool, the Kassine (max. 4000€), which is multipurpose, high-performing, light and easy to build or fix by the farmer. Prommata has four main objectives : organizing training, research and the organization of workshops, promotion of animal traction, international cooperation in order to produce and to manage tools where they are used.
Jérôme holds trainings on working with traction horses. In the farm they work in the market garden, grass land maintenance and the forest. A horse needs about 1ha for its feed, produces fertilizer for the soil and compacts it less. Jérômes no-ploughing allows to keep more organic matter on the surface and to increase the fertility of the cultivated vegetables. A method adapted to working with horses and the Kassine is the cultivation on ridges which brings advantages like better water management and an increase in the depth of the arable soil (very shallow in Limousin region).
Soil, Biochar and open source learning environment, Darren Hill, LWA
http://travellingtoolbox.org.uk; https://mediawiki.org/wiki/MediaWiki/fr ;
Darren has worked on setting up OS online knowledge sharing platforms in order to create opportunities for autonomy, participation and rapid development through networks. He worked developing technologies to allow diesel engines to run on plant oils and he started SoilHack an OS online space to better understand soil and learn about how to make improvements and share innovations. He also worked on the development of an OS “Rocket Stove” for small scale Biochar production. When used as a soil additive biochar improves soil structure and increases soil water holding capacity. The stove can also be used for cooking and heating.
Darren is also working on a Travelling Toolbox – a trailer mounted workshop for working with wood, metal and electrics. The aim of this project is to support agroecological, environmental and community projects and to educate people to build and fix tools and infrastructure. In the discussion the idea came up to use this model also for other purposes : e.g. a travelling processing facility.
Toekomstboeren (TB) : Klarien Klingen
In the NL it is really hard to become a farmer because of the high price of land and because few people understand this choice. TB tries to help with possible problems and to give concrete examples to (future) farmers in order to achieve a responsable, sustainable and social agriculture.
On Klarien’s CSA farm her clients harvest themselves which saves her time and brings the consumer back in touch with agriculture and nature. Furthermore it brings her in touch with her clients allowing to avoid the isolation many farmers suffer from. Most of her clients live in a 5km radius from the farm. She gives them instructions on what and how much to pick by weekly emails.
Her main goal is to work the soil (by animal traction) as few as possible to avoid compaction. Furthermore, in order to avoid compaction, she has grass strip paths between the vegetable beds, which also bring the advantage of a soft place to sit on while working and her clients find it easier to avoid stepping onto the vegetable beds this way. She is looking for colleagues with a similar system to share experiences.
EHNE-Bizkaia (EB) : Alberto Llona
In the Basque country (esp. dairy) farms are highly intensified and rely heavily on external (feed) inputs, bringing the ratio animal/ha completely out of balance. EB took on the challenge to educate farmers about the benefits of deintensification, but it was only with two consecutive years of high straw and feed prizes that a considerable amount started to turn away from the industrial agriculture system and towards more AE models.
EB is exploring ways to break this dependency e.g. by re-establishing a link between cereal and cattle farmers with little land (again: access problem). This collaboration is based on consensual principles. Other possibilities are farm diversification and direct processing on the farm. But there needs to be a good balance between adding value and primary production. The following discussion on land access – especially for new farmers – identified subsidies for retired farmers as a core problem. It has to be tackled and a model allowing more autonomy has to be introduced.
Caerhys Organic Farm(COF)/Financial autonomy through CSA: Gerald Miles (LWA)
The family farm, organic since 1997, went through very rough times and in debt due to market fluctuations. First the family had to give up growing potatoes, then had to sell their dairy cattle, both were longtime Caerhys activities. Setting up a CSA on one of the farm’s 19 fields and in poly tunnels has provided a more resilient business model.
The monthly working day, where families of the CSA come to the farm, WWOOFers and the yearly harvest party bring people and energy to the farm giving it a bright future and breaking the farmers isolation.
COF also grows heritage seeds and varieties such as black oats which contain more protein for the farm’s local breed pigs then “standard” oats. They are also thinking about a CSA for beef, but processing on the farm remains very difficult to realize.
Local Protein Feed Project : Luiz Massucati, AbL, www.vom-acker-in-den-futtertrog.de
“Vom Acker in den Futtertrog” is a project of AbL in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) aiming to reduce the dependency on imported protein feed, especially GMO soy. One has to state an important loss of knowledge on these legumes, especially in lupines, which is also illustrated by the fact that it is hardly taught anymore during agriculture apprenticeships. Therefore AbL is monitoring 20 organic and conventional farms documenting their experiences in field protocols. These plants do not only have the potential to decrease NRW’s soy import by 50% but they also benefit the soil. However it is not possible to entirely rely on these legumes as protein source; other plants such as rape seed and potatoes have to be added.
AbL is working on setting up a “GMO-free”- and “regional-feed”-label for products from animals fed by this feed for the close future.
Five Penny Farm/LWA : Jyoti Fernandes
She has a little bit of everything on her farm, as it facilitates circular farming which is crucial for self-reliance. She underlined the importance of nitrogen, crop and nutrient flows (see slides) and their connection. The foundation of her farming is grass and clover, but also lucerne=alfalfa (very good input!) for her animals. However, there is also some external input: Locally bought grains and potatoes, whey and butchery, bakery, restaurant and catering waste are recycled mainly by her chickens and pigs, providing a relevant part of their protein feed.
She tries to “double-use” her land and to create symbiosis, e.g. sheep are grazing in an orchard with higher trees, together with chickens picking the insects out of their wool. After pressing the apples for cider, the left-over pulp is fed to the animals.
Common facilities for small-holders like a cheese dairy, butchery and an apple press are important instruments for adding value by direct processing. Besides the sale of these products (e.g. on markets), she also offers catering with food produced on her farm.
Boerenforum (BF): Wim Moyaerts
From his own experience setting up his farm and his work as a farm consultant, Wim drew the conclusion that it is essential to bring back the respect for farmers that they deserve for their important work. Wim has organic certification but questions if he even needs it for several reasons. As he has many direct clients he thinks that a trust based system is enough, also he cannot legally feed non-organic food waste.
Wim stresses the importance that different animals and also plants live together, as they are all more or less interdependent. In his dreams, together with his animals, he would be producing vegetables and cereals. The animals would clean up the crop residues and give manure to the fields, but it is hard to convince other farmers.
From his perspective another problem is the health regulations that have resulted from scandals in industrial farming. He slaughters at home but has regularly problems with regulations and administrations. A way to begin to address these problems is creating a strong link between consumers and farmers, producing synergetical effects. Wim added that peasants should not be afraid to sell their products at a sustainable price.
Sindicato Labrego Galego CCL: Xosé María García Villaverde
José grew up in a city and spent over a year looking for land to realize his idea of a sustainable farm. It was a long struggle to obtain official papers and subventions and aids, the farm still needs investment, he has often thought about giving up. He keeps two native chicken breeds and a few ducks, bees, sheep and planted fruit trees.
In contrast to industrial production, he respects the laying hens’ broody period and he only slaughters his chickens after eight months. Thus the meat has no fat and is better than that which is industrially grown. His customers usually agree with his relatively high price once they have tasted it. José also mentions a study which concluded that industrial hens are only more productive if conditions are perfect. Native breeds adapt better to different conditions and varying feed. Once he has more land he would like to feed his own cereal and protein plants. He also wonders if he could feed his chickens insects and if this is legal.
Junge AbL: Annegret Finck
After her agriculture apprenticeship Annegret chose to be a journey woman travelling from farm to farm. She invited the participants to think about what we really need and to look at our environment from time to time with different eyes.
Autonomy to her is not having to buy the things we need. Following the examples of animals and plants she recommends to look around and to (first) use the things that are already around us. She believes that there is still a lot to learn from nature. Also, she would like to get in touch with people who know more about wild plants and herbs.
EHNE Biskaia: Unai Aranguren
Unai re-echoed the importance of young people going back to the countryside. In their farm, situated in a difficult area at high altitude, they grow well adapted local fruit tree varieties and transform them into liquor. The main problems they encounter are the competition for water between weeds and (young) trees and a mouse (vole?) damaging the roots. In order to limit their population, they have installed stick constructions to attract hawks and owls, natural predators of these mice.
To avoid too much external input they use traditional tools and machines low in fuel consumption instead of tractors; they treat their trees only if it is needed and with natural products; they cut the grass under the trees only once a year and they use green manure. Unai’s philosophy is that trees “know better”, he leaves more surface per tree, tries to bend down branches and therefore greatly reduces pruning.
Besides fruit, where the farm slowly starts to harvest a good yield, it also produces vegetables and mushrooms and these products are sold in a nearby village.
After the workshops the participants visited the Brussels urban farm “Le début des haricots” which produces vegetable boxes and works with donkeys and the Kassine mentioned above.
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