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Northern Real Farm Conference – A Planetary Plate for the North?

In February 24 the Northern Real Farming Conference (NRFC) held an event, ‘Designing a ‘planetary plate’ to celebrate seeds and breeds for the North of England’ which took place at the Catton Kitchen near Thirsk. 

The NRFC is inspired and supported by the long-running Oxford Real Farming Conference. ‘Real Farming’ events explore transformative strategies, theories, approaches, and practical and progressive actions for just and sustainable agriculture and food systems. 

This is just one strand of a wider strategy being developed by the NRFC to support a move to a more regenerative food and farming system in the north of England. 

What is a Planetary Plate? 

The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health brought together 37 world-leading scientists from across the globe to answer this question:
Can we feed a future population of 10 billion people a healthy diet within planetary boundaries? 

“The answer is yes, but it will be impossible without transforming eating habits, improving food production and reducing food waste”. 

You can access the summary report here: 

The report was prepared by EAT and is an adapted summary of the Commission Food in The Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Food Systems. 

Source: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/news-and-media/media-centre/weather-and-climate-news/2021/dairy-cattle-and-potato-blight-research

The planetary health diet – or a Planetary Plate is a global reference diet for adults that is symbolically represented by half a plate of fruits and vegetables. The other half consists of primarily whole grains, plant proteins (beans, lentils, pulses, nuts), unsaturated plant oils, modest amounts of meat and dairy, and some added sugars and starchy vegetables. 

The plan for the Northern Planetary Plate is to “map” the production within a defined geographical area to analyse what is and can be produced, look at what the impact of climate change will inevitably have on future production and to look at where the gaps lie. 

This is challenging, not least because the majority of upland farms are producing sheep, beef and dairy on permanent pasture grasslands, so there is a gap when it comes to sourcing locally grown vegetables, fruits and grains “at scale”. 

This leads to key questions: 

Is it realistic for the current northern stock farmers to transition growing to more arable crops and vegetables? 

Will the impact of climate change force a change in our growing seasons, to what we can grow and our traditional produce? 

Can we supply the masses with accessible, affordable and sustainable food in the North? 

Current research carried out by the Met Office and UKRI identify climate risk projections are impacted by “compound climate events”, this is where two or more weather hazards occur simultaneously, will be more frequent and of longer duration – so for example very high temperatures accompanied by high relative humidity will mean that while dairy cattle will suffer with thermal heat stress, farmers could also be facing an increase in potato blight due to rising humidity leading to reduced yields and productivity. Costs to the farmer will inevitably rise to provide adaptive on farm infrastructure to cope with the changing climate and as productivity falls cost to the consumer will rise as food stuffs become scarce. 

Source: Spatially explicit estimation of heat stress-related impacts of climate change on the milk production of dairy cows in the United Kingdom | PLOS ONE

 

One potential way to adapt to climate impacts and provide a sustainable planetary plate for the north is to identify the  foods that are traditionally grown and eaten in the North of England and celebrate a local, seasonal menu with an increasing focus on heritage seeds and heritage breeds of stock which are hardier and require minimal input, artificial fertilisers or additional feed. 

Research being carried out by the Organic Research Centre will support this, they have many research projects around crop diversification and agronomy, food systems and agroforestry. 

We looked at examples like Fava beans – a hardy bean now grown only for animal feed, but a completely viable crop for human consumption.  

We had a tour of the smallholding at the Catton Kitchen, ate a lovely lunch with produce grown onsite and after mapping our collective knowledge of food currently produced locally we designed some planetary healthy recipes switching out imported foods for locally produced and foraged produce. 

You can access some of the Planetary healthy recipes here:  

Planetary Health Recipes – EAT (eatforum.org) 

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