We wanted to introduce the Land Workers’ Alliance (LWA) via a first-hand account of their AGM, held at Trill Farm, Dorset, on the 23rd & 24th of November, 2013. They are members of the global peasants’ movement La Via Campesina, recently inaugurated in the UK. The reason we want to introduce them is that if you are involved in food, fuel or fibre production, you may want to join them. They campaign and lobby on issues affecting the livelihoods of small-scale producers, and they have a particular interest in the campaign for Food Sovereignty. We like them, a lot. Over to you James.
I travelled to Dorset a few days before the event and stayed just down the road with the welcoming community at Monkton Wyld Court, where I enjoyed swapping news with them and with great WWOOF supporters Gill Barron and Simon Fairlie of The Land magazine fame… amongst others things.
Saturday saw some preliminary meetings of the core group alongside food preparation from the abundant, simple and wholesome food supplies, befitting such a meeting. That evening after a film we had dinner and then a very warming, energetic and fun time was had with a Ceilidh in a large ancient barn by a band called ‘The Rutted Furrows’.
On Sunday morning business began with a round-up of the aims of the organisation and achievements they have made from the actions decided at last years meeting. The LWA has now been recognised by La Via Campesina and has attended meetings in the Canary Islands and Jakarta as well as having articles in the national press. I was heartened by the continuing food preparation happening around the room during the meeting, as if the carrots and kale were present in debates where they have interest but no invitation, as it’s the job of the LWA to represent their human counterparts.
After financial and other reports, two talks were given. The first was from John Burbage, a farm labourer and a branch chair of the Unite union, representing agricultural workers. He talked favourably about what he’d seen of the LWA and looked forward to future co-operation. He spoke frankly about their ‘essentially oppositional’ relationship with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) and was equally frank in his praise of the work of the Farmers’ Union of Wales. He also spoke about his concerns over the lack of security of workers in tied working accommodation.
The second talk was on the potentially totalitarian reproductive materials legislation going through the European Parliament at the moment, it was given by Kate McEvoy of the Real Seed Company. She clearly knows her topic back to front and inside out and for me made a brilliant job of being informative without losing the audience. She made particular reference to the stir it’s causing with ornamental plant enthusiasts and professionals and what effects their voice might have on the government’s actions at the expense of the arguably more important edible market. As is very often the case, the larger concern is that these legislations are unfairly and indecently influenced by the loud, insistent and corrupting voice of lobbyists of large companies. In her opinion this could all be solved by making the legislation voluntary, suiting both philosophies.
After a break we split into six different groups to discuss campaigning areas. I joined in with the skill-share/mutual aid group as it seemed the most likely way in which WWOOF UK could best give support. Also attending were two very experienced WWOOF hosts in the shape of Mike Fisher from Northdown Orchard, Hampshire and Martin Bragg of Shillingford Organics, Devon. We spoke about the need for more experienced and entrepreneurial workers and how the odd super-human exception like Mike could best pass on his knowledge. In the end our proposal was to create a small directory of LWA member projects who would be willing to act as farm visit hosts and information hubs and this was agreed to be tried.
After all this we had a farm tour from our host Ashley Wheeler, who took us around the two-acre growing project he rents from Trill. It is one of several projects that Trill has enabled to establish on the farm since it changed ownership some six years ago. Ashley (also LWA membership secretary) is a second-generation organic grower and following on from the skill share meeting showed very well how valuable it is to be sharing knowledge, experiences… and anecdotes within our circles.
After this we went back to business, electing or re-electing people to various posts. Simon Fairlie stepped down as chair and was replaced by Alexa de Ferranti (a farmer with a background in fine art) of Lower Hewood Farm, a 45-acre mixed organic smallholding producing meat and vegetables for sale locally and also with an ongoing programme of arts-related events.
The LWA has over one hundred members now and with almost exactly half attending the meeting they are clearly passionate. Next year is the UN year of the family farm and the LWA rightly believes that this should work in favour of raising awareness for their work and who they represent. Calls were made (jocularly) for a bill-hook (and perhaps fishing net?) to be added to the insignia, people were encouraged to eat heartily of the leftovers, handshakes and hugs were exchanged by friends and we all went home for tea.
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