Indigenous Thinking on UK Farming Heritages

Project Team: Tanja Hoffmann, Hayley Saul and Emma Waterton

Project Support and Funding: The Leverhulme Trust and the Landscape Research Group

This research project looks to understand the heritage residing at the intersections of farmers and farming, agroecology and regenerative farming initiatives, and farming knowledge and climate change action, through application of Indigenous theoretical models and methodologies. Indigenous scholarship advances theoretical contributions and methodological approaches that ask different kinds of questions about human relationships with places in which we dwell. Far from a call to ‘become Indigenous’, Indigenous scholars are demanding instead that non-Indigenous peoples find solutions to climate change and other ‘wicked problems’ based on their own place-based knowledges. Potawatami ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer suggests that through (re)acquisition of place-based knowings, it is possible to “naturalise to place”. “Being naturalised to place”, says Kimmerer “means to live as if this is the land that feeds you… To become naturalised is to live as if your children’s future matters, to take care of the land as if our lives and the lives of all our relatives depend on it. Because they do.”

We are working with new entrant farmers and multi-generation farming families in the UK in hopes of better understanding how the perspectives of people who work most intimately with the land that quite literally feeds us might contribute to a more fulsome understanding of what is required to naturalise to place in the UK. We hold the view that “[s]tarting points in the development of new agricultural systems are the very systems that farmers have developed and/or inherited throughout centuries” (El-Sayed and Cloutier 2022:26), but look to extend beyond systems thinking to encompass multispecies relations.
Specifically, this project asks to what extent transmission of farming knowledge between farm and farmer establishes and sustains reciprocal relations that inform multispecies heritages fundamental to naturalising to place. We argue that multispecies heritage retained by farmed places is enlivened through the act of farming. We propose that reciprocal knowledge exchange between farm and farmer is a type of place-based heritage rooted in the deep, specific knowledge acquired through living on, in, and with a particular place and its other-than-human inhabitants. It follows that acknowledgement of, and active re-engagement with, multispecies heritage is key to dissolving the agro-industrial food system whose pressures demand that deeply relational, place-based heritages are substituted with alienating industrial farming practices.

This project also aims to address a gap in research that attempts to redirect agricultural practice away from agri-industry toward regenerative and other forms of farming promoted by agroecology. Agroecology is broadly defined as the study of the relationship between plants, animals, and the environment within agricultural systems (Dagaard et al. 2003). Agroecology is at once a science, a movement, and a practice. It is holistic and interdisciplinary but inherently science focused. Our research aims to uncover the value of multispecies heritages so as to support farmers’ cultural heritage and identity—the restoration of which are cited as key elements of regenerative agricultural and food systems (El-Sayed and Cloutier 2022:26).

Sustainable Development Goal/s: