Harmony in Food and Farming Conference: Keynote Speeches

In July 2017, at the Sustainable Food Trust's Harmony in Food and Farming conference, keynote speakers explored the ways in which principles of Harmony manifest in food, agriculture and other spheres, including the environment, education, health and music.

Conference highlights 

HRH the Prince of Wales Keynote

The Prince of Wales gave a keynote address, where he spoke about principles of Harmony for the first time.

The Prince said that as humans we are “doing our utmost to test to destruction” the living system of nature. “This is why I find it so unbelievable when people ask why we should bother with the conservation and protection of the Earth’s dwindling biodiversity, or why we should strive to make the terrifying environmental issues we now face such a priority,” he said. “It is, of course, the diversity of life on Earth which actually enables us to have our being. Deplete it, reduce it, erode and destroy it and we will succeed in causing such disorder that we risk derailing humanity’s place on Earth for good”. His words fuelled the following two days of the conference, during which topics ranged from the circular economy, science and spirituality, the act of eating and farm architecture, to the carbon cycle and music.

Harmony in Education 

Harmony in Education Lead and Headteacher of Ashley CofE Primary School, Richard Dunne, spoke of his clear vision for the future of education – a curriculum informed by the principles of Harmony and based upon what he calls “enquiries of learning”.

In education, the idea of connectedness means that rather than separating out the different subjects – individually studying maths or science, art, geography or music – a topic like climate change would become the subject of an enquiry of learning, with all key disciplines explored in reference to the topic.

Richard Dunne described this as a “project-based” approach, in which it is possible to fulfil curriculum requirements in an inter-connected way that is both engaging and stimulating for children. He explained the significance of a ‘harmonious’ education system, based on a flexible curriculum informed by seven key Harmony Principles, including nature’s cyclical structures – seasons, weather patterns, water, food and carbon cycles, as well as interdependence, geometry, diversity, well-being and oneness.

Natural Capital 

British campaigner, writer, sustainability advisor and environmentalist, Tony Juniper, speaks of the concept of ‘Natural Capital’, drawing parallels between financial capital and how the natural world works. Looking at the ecosystem as an example, he explains that if you apply husbandry and care for the natural environment, you can get dividends in the future, much like making a financial investment.

Juniper commented that we are currently unable to see the long-term consequences of our actions on the world, and instead see it as something that can endlessly be abused and updated in order to meet short term needs. This way of thinking is so prevalent because we have become disconnected from nature. Natural capital is a way of reconnecting with the reality we inhabit – a reality that we are 100% dependent upon for healthy natural systems and for our wellbeing.

The Circular Economy

Dame Ellen MacArthur speaks of her childhood goal to sail around the world solo, an ambition which she achieved twice, once in 2000 and again in 2004. During her expedition, she gained an insight into how systems function, realising that on the boat, the resources you have are all that you have, they are finite. This realisation led her to look at the economy in a different way. The conveyor-belt system of human extraction and consumption is part of what she calls a ‘Linear economy’ in which the majority of products get thrown away.

Dame Ellen asks us if there is another way of doing things, a way of shifting the line so that it becomes circular… What if you were to apply this idea of a ‘circular economy’ to materials – both biodegradable ones as well as technical material – metals, plastics and polymers. If these materials were also designed to fit the cycle, designed to be recoverable and able to re-enter the manufacturing cycle, they would feed back into the economy.

Music and Agriculture

Renowned conductor and musician, Sir John Elliot Gardiner speaks of the true meaning of the word harmony: “the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce a pleasing effect”. This stems from the idea of the state of being in agreement or concord. Farming, he explained, is both a business and an art. Much modern farming ignores this truth, but it is important to remember that nature is not a machine powered by agrochemicals, and maintained by toxic sprays. The art of agriculture instead lies in working with the grain of natural not against it.

Sir John Elliot tells us that you have to observe and then follow the processes of nature as they reveal themselves to you on your specific plot of land. Once you’ve grasped these principles you need to learn how to woe nature into working for you. You then have to balance all of that with inconvenient factors – such as market prices, bank balances and climate change. This, he argues, is not dissimilar to the challenges one faces as a conductor.  Music, by its very nature, is fluid – up in the air, refusing to be pinned down. It only comes into being when you have the right number of skilled people to play it. “Oppose them and you’ll end up with a sterile performance – a bit like applying agrochemicals and destroying the soil structure of your farm. Instead, just as you observe nature at work and what’s it’s trying to tell you, you need to listen to your musicians – how they play interact and make sure you adjust to what they bring to the party.”

The Food System

Gunhild Stordalen of the Eat Forum, noted that food production is the single biggest driver of climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss and the depletion of our ecosystem and its resources. One third of everything we produce is either lost or wasted. When we talk about sustainability, she states, we cannot forget the 1 billion people working to produce and serve food every day, including the world’s poorest and most vulnerable – the 500 million smallholder farmers. Nor can we ignore other beings. As the demand for cheap meat grows, so too does the prevalence of intensive livestock production at the expense of animal health and welfare. All of these food related challenges are set to get worse.

With 2 billion more mouths to feed in the coming decades and increasing numbers of affluent people in the world, the FAO estimates that we need to produce an extra 50% more food. The “business and usual” approach cannot achieve the Paris agreement or the UN Sustainable Development Goals – most of which concern food and farming. On the other hand, “getting it right” on food, could be the greatest opportunity to improve our health and wellbeing, whilst at the same time, protecting the planet. Knowledge alone is not enough, unless we can translate this into action. We need more innovation, not only in technology, but in our business models. The EAT Foundation helps to turn these many scattered change makers into an efficient, comprehensive movement.

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