Farming the Future
Farming the Future (FTF) has a dream - a collective, ambitious dream of building and amplifying the agroecology movement in the UK so that it becomes the predominant food system within the UK. To this end, the A Team Foundation, as a co-founder of FTF, has been awarded £5 million over ten years through The National Lottery Community Fund’s Growing Great Ideas programme to continue and develop this transformational and long-term change work.
What is agroecology? According to FTF, “agroecology has developed as an alternative, and a resistance, to the industrial model of agriculture focused on simplification, industrialisation, monoculture and export markets. The foundations for this movement lie in traditional knowledge, cultural expression, and long-term farming experiences. Agroecology applies ecological principles and concepts to farming and growing; creating harmony between plants, animals, humans and the environment, while addressing the social aspects of a just food system.” This definition resonates with other common understandings, including the 10 principles of agroecology set out by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
FTF is a collective - made up of landworkers, educators, researchers, organisations, cooperatives, and funders - all of whom are committed to realising this vision of the future. Not only are they dreaming of a new dawn for agriculture, but also of a new way to fund movements. Rather than approaching funding in the top-down manner traditional to philanthropy, FTF is looking for alternatives, seeking to fund the agroecology movement in a way that is more relational, collaborative, and adaptive, constantly learning from the knowledge it collects and shares.
FTF are also looking at funding as a way to bring organisations (including funders) together and to foster a sense of abundance, counteracting the scarcity that so often puts movement actors in competition, rather than co-creation.
Ecology & equity
Although diversity is key to agroecology and biodiversity, enshrined within the 10 principles, it is likely some lack of diversity is still repeating itself, leaving the movement at risk of becoming a monoculture.
FTF seeks to disrupt this trend by centering equity and fostering a diverse and supported food and farming ecosystem that collectively shares knowledge and strategy and offers mutual support and engagement. They are committed to responding to the needs of and being shaped by the agroecological movement.
“Farming the Future must really listen to what is needed,” says Anna van der Hurd, Chief Executive of the A Team Foundation, co-creators of FTF.
In building a funding model which is collaborative, co-creative, and responsive, FTF is contributing to the development of thriving and powerful local communities across the UK. Already, FTF has funded projects working on community issues ranging from access to agroecologically produced local food for underserved communities in Lancaster, to empowering BPOC (Black/People of Colour) farmers to begin their careers on the land, to an investigation into the value of local food across the triple bottom line, finding that for every £1 spent by customers on veg box schemes or farmers’ markets, a further £3.70 is generated in social, economic and environmental value.
The years ahead
Looking forward to delivering this work, made possible thanks to National Lottery players, over the next decade Anna adds, “Farming the Future are in this for the long haul… Ecosystem landscape change needs that kind of horizon. Having The National Lottery Community Fund committing to this work for up to 10 years is huge as it demonstrates their deep understanding of the need for long-term investments needed to create meaningful change.”
Along the way, FTF hopes to expand the scope and reach of their ecosystem. For example, although grant recipients thus far have largely been concentrated in England, they are looking to expand their networks across the UK over the next year. Over the longer term, FTF will award more money, attract more values-aligned funders, and support more emerging voices and organisations, particularly those working with marginalised communities.
This journey won’t be without its challenges, and FTF acknowledges this. For example, as more and more money flows through, there will be a need to actively balance the adaptability, flexibility and responsiveness which are so core to the way FTF operates with the increasing regulatory, bureaucratic needs of more funders and a larger organisation.
On the other hand, there is much to be excited about. For example, “being able to bring as much resource into the UK agroecological sector as possible” will be a milestone in and of itself, says Anna. “It’s an area that needs a lot more funding,” she says.
From a broader perspective, FTF has the capacity to be “more networked with and in partnership with similar organisations globally,” says Anna. “Whether they are ones that exist already, or those that we will co-create and support.”
FTF cannot do this alone. “The lens of food touches on everything,” says Anna. The agroecological food and farming movement “represents a gateway to many important issues, including climate, economic and social justice, education, land justice, health and wellbeing, culture, and health,” and FTF will need the support of funders across those sectors to build the movement’s capacity to create change, she says.
“It’s easy to just look at energy… or medicalised interventions for health, as opposed to holistic contributions like how we farm and feed ourselves,” says Anna. “Agroecology is a solution to all of these issues.”
To stay up to date with what Farming the Future is getting up to, you can subscribe to their newsletter at their website: www.farmingthefuture.uk. Or, you can get in touch with Programme Manager Olivia Oldham at firstname.lastname@example.org.