From Clare Hill, Agricultural Strategy Manager
ORFC 2019 presentation – Listen to the presentation here
[At the Oxford Real Farming Conference in 2018], we talked a lot more about the wider citizen mindset. Our main aim [at FAI Farms] is improving the sustainability of food supply chains. We do this by working with some big food businesses, including Ikea, Co-op, Marks & Spencer and Ferrero Rocher.
So, when I was asked to come back to speak this year, I thought, I will, but I don’t know what I’ve really done. What’s actually changed? We haven’t actually succeeded in any of those big companies saying they are going to change the way they are going to do things. But I thought about me and what I have changed, and the impact that has had on others around me.
I talk about all the big companies, but actually what I do is I run the FAI farm. We have a sustainability consultancy business, but we also have a 1,200-acre farm. And I realised there has been a lot of change, in my mindset more than anything, affecting everything we are doing on the farm and how we are operating.
We have the same farm, the same animals, the same weather, same budget, but this past year, we were somehow more productive, happier, and all pulling together in the same direction. So instead of having to manage everyone on the farm, tell everyone on the farm what to do and explain why we have to do things a certain way, battling all the time, I find now that I don’t have to do that, the farm manages itself, the team gets on with it.
For example, when our shepherd left last year, traditionally I would have put an advert in Farmers Weekly for a new shepherd with “lots of shepherding experience”, but we had a guy on the farm who had always been interested in working with sheep and I’d seen that evolving. He was on board with what we are doing and the direction we want to go in. He wanted to give it a go. Supporting him through that process and explaining to him how to worm a sheep or do some of the practical stuff – that’s the easy bit. But the big part was his mindset was in the right place to take the sheep flock in the direction we want to go.
We have a charity on site called Farmability for adults with complex needs, including learning disabilities and autism. These co-farmers come and work for us and we provide meaningful activity for them, so that they can up their skillset and have something purposeful to do in the day. They are a big part of the team, and I realised our [job] adverts didn’t even mention them.
We would just look for a general farm worker that is able to drive a tractor, work a chainsaw etc., but actually when they get to us, they realise that a large part of the work involves interacting with people with some challenging needs. And if people don’t want to do that, it becomes a blocker, and then there is a battle all the time. So, we looked (again) at how we recruited, and now our adverts don’t mention much about acres of farm experience, and instead we talk about ‘must have a passion for improving soil quality, must be interested in sustainability and food production.’ We talk about our charity and what that involves.
I was talking to one of our newest recruits who is from a very traditional agricultural background (all about pesticides, cutting down hedges, making fields as big as possible and efficiency), who went to New Zealand and had an epiphany, and said he didn’t sleep for two days after he came to the ORFC conference last year. He said, ‘when I saw your job advert, I literally dropped everything, it was the most detailed advert I had ever seen, and I knew it was the job for me’.
So, as I have changed my mindset and [that of the] people around me, through how I recruit people with a similar sort of mindset, it filters out wider than that. My boss thought I was crazy. [But] it is about having the right people.
What we love about it:
This shows that it isn’t simply what we do that matters, but how we do it too. Food citizenship is first and foremost a mindset that once changed, creates a cascade of positive impacts around you.
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