The ideas behind The College for Real Farming and Food Culture began to come together in the 1970s when Colin Tudge worked for Farmers Weekly and started to get seriously to grips with Britain’s farming and agricultural research; and then attended the first ever World Food Conference in Rome in 1974, which followed a series of famines in Africa and India. There he was shocked to find that the world’s most powerful governments were not focused on the world’s food and farming problems but, in the main, on defending their own position. Above all, they seemed anxious to conserve the status quo and to convince the world and perhaps themselves that whatever was going wrong was not their fault.
Out of these experiences came Colin’s first proper book, The Famine Business, published by Faber & Faber in 1977. Here he argued that the world’s food problems and all that goes with them should be perfectly soluble – we had the technical know-how. The prime cause of all our ills were the very strategies, driven by governments and big-time commerce, that were supposed to be providing the cure. Since then, while on the staff of the New Scientist and the now defunct World Medicine and then of the BBC, and then as a freelance writer, he has had the opportunity to look at farming, cooking, research and food strategy all over the world, from which have emerged a whole series of books on agriculture and on related topics. In So Shall We Reap (Penguin 2004) Colin coined the expression “Enlightened Agriculture”, later also known as “Real Farming”: agriculture that is expressly designed to supply us all with good food without wrecking the rest of the world. The latest of the farming books, Six Steps Back to the Land, was published by Green Books in 2016.
The details change as the years pass but the basic thesis remains as it was in the 1970s: that it is easily within our grasp to solve the world’s food problems and all the other problems that they give rise to – political, economic, social, moral, environmental, spiritual – but only if we rethink from first principles and act accordingly. But we need to take matters into our own hands because the people and institutions that now have most power are committed to the status quo. The eventual aim is to establish Enlightened Agriculture as the norm, via a people-led Agrarian Renaissance.
In 2002 Colin married Ruth West and they came to live in Oxford where Ruth had a scholarship at Green College (now Green-Templeton). Conversations with many very helpful people led them finally, with the help of two generous donations from friends, to set up a website for the Campaign for Real Farming in 2008 and then expand it. Then in 2009 the agricultural writer Graham Harvey suggested that the three of them should establish the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) as an antidote to the “official” Oxford Farming Conference, which for the previous six decades or so had met every January to present the establishment view of farming and to showcase new technologies and the companies that provided them. About 80 farmers and other interested parties attended the first ever ORFC in a mediaeval library in January 2010 and since then, thanks mainly to Ruth, the conference has grown until, in 2016, more than 700 delegates including hundreds of farmers attended the seventh ORFC in 2016 – which now is housed in Oxford’s magnificent town hall, the only suitable building with enough space.
In 2012 Colin and Ruth with friends floated Funding Enlightened Agriculture (FEA), intended to direct appropriate streams of finance towards enlightened projects in food and farming; and in 2014 Colin and Ruth and more friends brought all the various projects together under the general heading of a newly-convened charity, the Real Farming Trust.
The ORFC floats new ideas of an enlightened kind, and many are recorded on tape and on video (See the Archives section of the ORFC website), but there is no time to follow up on them. So in 2014 or thereabouts Colin conceived of the College of Enlightened Agriculture, to capture all the big ideas that contribute to the grand cause of Enlightened Agriculture and the Agrarian Renaissance, where everyone with things to say could help to develop the necessary thinking and start new, helpful initiatives. This is in the true spirit of what the word “college” should mean: not just a place to dispense approved ideas de haut en bas, but a forum. After much deliberation, and to-ing and fro-ing, we decided on the present name: “THE COLLEGE FOR REAL FARMING AND FOOD CULTURE”.
Where we are and where we would like to be
In the fullness of time – perhaps – the CRFFC will have premises. Someone might care to leave us a country estate with land on which to create a model farm for research and demonstration, as well as for commerce and a resource for local people. More realistically, someone might give us or lend us a spare barn. For the time being, however (and perhaps forever) the CRFFC can do a very great deal in virtual and in “pop-up” form, run from the domiciles of the various people involved.
The virtual form is this website. We aim to publish the best articles we can find on all the relevant topics – and, as you will see, the net is cast very wide because food and agriculture affect everything else, and they are affected by everything else, so everything in principle is relevant: see section I.2, “Digging Deep”. The world at large is then invited to comment (though we will edit: free-for-alls don’t quite work) and so build discussion which should lead to ever deeper insights, edging as far as is possible towards that ever-elusive end-point known as “the truth”, or at least to the best possible summary thereof. Colin will provide the matrix of discussion, with introductions to all (or most) of the main sections, and he also reserves the right to contribute ideas. But as time unfolds we hope that most of the articles will be provided by farmers, chefs, scientists, political thinkers, spiritual leaders, historians – indeed by everyone who has useful things to say. Such collective thinking is humanity’s great strength, and what democracy is for.
In “pop-up” form the CRFFC will go on the road. We aim to mount ad hoc events, seminars and short courses, and extended courses, and perhaps eventually entire degree courses, both residential and on-line, and preferably in time reach into schools, at all levels, in collaboration with whoever chooses to work with us and can provide a venue. We have already dipped our toes in the water, with many and various meetings over the past few years. The first four gatherings under the CRFFC banner will take place later in 2016.
Colin Tudge is the CRFFC founder: a biologist by education and a writer by trade with a lifelong passion for agriculture and all that goes with it. For some years he was on the staff of Farmers Weekly, then New Scientist, and then BBC Radio 3, and wrote several scientific reports for the late and much lamented Agricultural and Food Research Council (AFRC); and has also written for a huge variety of publications from Nature and The London Review of Books to the Daily Mail. Colin has lectured in dozens of venues that range from St Paul’s and Durham cathedral to the Royal Society, the University of Beijing, a miscellany of pubs and village halls, and a hockey club. But mainly he writes books – on food and farming but also on natural history, evolution, genetics, the philosophy of science, and metaphysics (for the complete inventory see www.colintudge.com).
Ruth Tudge (nee West) is also a website editor.
Gill Barron painted the magnificent frontispiece that leads us in to this website, and many of the illustrations that follow. Gill’s subject matter is mainly agricultural, and with partner Simon Fairlie she runs a dairy smallholding at Monkton Wyld in Dorset. She also writes for, and helps to edit, The Land magazine. Her painting website is www.ipaint.org.uk .
Suzanne Wynn edits the Food Culture section of the website. She teaches seasonal cookery using ingredients local to her home in Somerset. As the former Chair of Slow Food UK’s Ark of Taste commission, she championed artisan producers whose traditional foods are threatened by modern production and distribution methods. To be alerted to new posts in the Food Culture section as well as more of her views of food and cooking follow Suzanne on Twitter @RealFoodSuzie.”