A new film made in Bristol about the Land Workers’ Alliance showcases producers “taking back control” from the industrial food system.
“The right of communities to define their own food and farming systems.” That’s the definition of ‘food sovereignty’ from global farmers’ network la Via Campesina, and its rallying call. Food sovereignty is also the theme of In Our Hands, the first film about Land Workers’ Alliance, the England and Wales arm of la Via Campesina, which was established just five years ago in 2012.
The Land Workers’ Alliance is an organisation of ecological, community and family farmers which campaigns for the rights of small producers and for a fairer food system. In Our Hands showcases the ethos of the young organisation and the ‘quiet revolution’ happening up and down the country.
Humphrey Lloyd, who runs Edible Futures, a salad growing market garden on the outskirts of Bristol, produced the film. He says he took on different issues in farming, like the dairy crisis, dominance of supermarkets, the pasture versus grain fed beef argument, and “looked at ways that individual farmers are somehow taking control” from corporate industrial agriculture.
“So what can an individual farmer do? You can set up a membership scheme and sell directly to clients. So they can short circuit the supermarkets,” explains Lloyd. And sure enough, featured in the film are farmers such as Josh Healy, a new entrant to the sector who sells his dairy products directly to consumers. In doing so, Healy retains all of the £1.15 a pint retail price of his milk, compared to the lowest ‘gate prices’ of produce sold to supermarkets at 12p per litre.
“Or you have farmers who spend a lot of money on expensive grain to feed the livestock and that also has environmental implications”, says Lloyd. “How can they take control? Well if we revert to the traditional practice of having diverse pastures, then they are using a free resource.”
As featured in the film, seed saving, the practice of saving seeds for use from year to year, is another issue of importance for farmers in the UK. “Most farmers get their seeds from seed companies, they’re patented private property assets of the seed company and the farmer has to pay money for them,” says Lloyd. “If we rejuvenate seed saving, and farmers saving their seeds, then the control comes back essentially from corporations and big businesses.”
Although In Our Hands mirrors the Land Workers’ Alliance in the way it is slanted towards newer entrants into farming, there are also farmers featured in the film who come from a more ‘mainstream’ traditional farming background. Gerald is a seventh generation farmer who turned to the Land Workers’ Alliance and a new business model because the industrial food model was “ruining his land, working him to the bone and not even remunerating him,” says Lloyd.
But despite the economic and environmental problems of the traditional farming sector, is it feasible that the population could be fed without industrial farming? Lloyd says the argument that industrial agriculture is necessary for production purposes is “debunked”.
“I came across one study from a famously radical organisation called the EU commission, they did a study of productivity of small scale versus larger farms in all the 28 member states. And in 21 of them, small scale farms outperformed big farms in terms of production.” In nine of the countries – including the UK – small scale farms were twice as productive.
The Land Workers’ Alliance is currently campaigning for a post-Brexit agricultural policy which supports small scale farming and agroecology.
In Our Hands is showing at the Arnolfini, on December 10th. You can get tickets here.