South West, Scotland
Abi Mordin, Fork to Farm Local Dialogue Facilitator
The Fork to Farm dialogue in South West Scotland took place between March and November 2021. The target areas were Dumfries & Galloway, South Ayrshire and East Ayrshire. The dialogue was organised and facilitated by Abi Mordin, Agroecologist and Facilitator working for local and sustainable food systems as part of Propagate. While most dialogue sessions were held on Zoom due to COVID-19, the group also organised two socially distanced visits to local farms. To read a report of the process in more detail, click here.
Abi began by writing two informational flyers inviting people to join. One for farmers and one for local authorities. To reach as many farmers as possible, Abi sent flyers to regional networks who were in touch with farmers and land managers. She also used social media, for example by posting on Facebook groups dedicated to farming materials. To reach local authorities Abi invited people in relevant departments and asked them to share the invitation with others. The flyers contained a survey link to help Abi find out more about the participants and understand their interest in the project.
Abi did not know most of the people who joined the dialogues. “If I was just going to talk to people that already agreed with me, I’d feel like I was wasting my time.” As an agroecological farmer herself, the range and diversity of attendees was exciting. Abi felt it was critical to move away from a “language of blame” and to understand the broader context in order to engage with different farmers:
“Today we’ve got these polarised views, and there are these antagonistic camps of kind of vegans versus farmers and rewilders versus farmers, and, you know, farmers feeling like everyone’s just having a go at them. We’re working with people who, especially in this area, are livestock farmers...most of them feel like they’ve been told that they’re a problem. And…you know, being told you are a problem when you’re referring to many, many, many generations of somebody’s culture and heritage is not helpful. So, we need to be able to use language that engages these people in a positive way…It’s nobody’s fault…farmers are farming the way they farm in…because of policy decisions, because of subsidy provisions.”
We're not going to change anything until we start talking and reaching those outside of our echo chambers.
One piece of advice:
“Put a lot of energy in right at the beginning to engaging outside your usual circles. Find the allies in unlikely places, don't dismiss a group just because you think that they're not likely to be interested, because you don't know, don't make any assumptions. And, don't ever assume that the work is done. There's always more outreach and storytelling about what you're up to and invite more people in.”
When engaging in conversations with diverse types of farmers, looking for commonalities was key:
“At the end of the day … the vast majority of farmers are farmers because they love being outdoors. They love nature, they love working in the land, they love their animals. Even the ones they’re going to kill. They also love them. And I know they do because they’re all my neighbours … we need to … understand what’s important to them and really get into the heart of where the common ground is ... For example, there is this farmer and I don’t agree with his farming practices, but chatting to him, he’s a lovely guy. And if you chat to him about soil, he gets really animated. He’s also really enthusiastic about taking care of ourselves. So yes, finding where that common ground is, and I guess digging deeper into that common ground so that we can find where our roots intersect and then grow upwards from there.”
Abi ensured there was always at least one local authority representative in each session, although it was not always the same person. However, online meetings felt like a barrier to establishing meaningful connections with them “because you can’t have those side chats, you’re all locked in one space.” Abi also thought that the broader context in which national policy shapes agriculture in Scotland was a reason why local authorities might not have been as engaged. “Agriculture, it’s national policy, but it’s also a very local issue…it’s a tricky one to navigate.” Nevertheless, Abi did develop some relationships. One particular local authority contacted her to collaborate on developing their communications in ways that would not alienate farmers. Abi feels that building relationships with the council is still “work in progress. I think there’s a lot more work to do. Still, it was good to be able to have a conversation about forestry [in one of the sessions].”
Abi found her background in community development useful to inform the dialogue process. “Everything that I do is very much led by the group that I’m working with. So even at the start of the dialogues, I didn’t come in and say: ‘this is what we’re going to talk about. I said: ‘what do you want to talk about?’” Abi began every session with a light-hearted question such as asking people what they had for lunch that day. Then she would briefly recap the process. The sessions were recorded and recordings were sent to everyone who expressed an interest. A collaborative document was set up for people to share thoughts and Abi made herself available for calls. In the middle of the process Abi organised a recap session which allowed new people to join the process.
After the first session, Abi phoned everyone who attended to get feedback and ask people if they would come again.
“you get so much out of people with a phone call, and if your phone is ringing, you’re much more likely to answer it… I love a chat. And I would always much rather pick up the phone than send an email which is so impersonal…it was a way of really establishing that human connection, an off-screen connection. I would have met them in person if I could. But you know, COVID and everyone living in this huge geographic area.”
The Fork to Farm process in South West Scotland is now moving on to become the Regenerative Farmers Network South West Scotland - a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange network. The dialogues have “been a really good springboard for jumping into this farmer network, without the dialogues, it wouldn't be happening, and yet, there's an obvious need and keenness for it.”