Stepping Stones: How Future Farm Lab Turned Into Much More

Future Farm Lab was setup to change the way we look at our food system and help the public to develop a newfound respect for farmers and the biological processes that take place behind every mouthful of food that we eat.

We identified that the food system is full of buzzwords - organic, sustainable, eco friendly, healthy, environmental, but very few descriptions of what any of these actually mean or how the farming process impacts these certifications.

Future Farm Lab aims to challenge this, and encourage consumers to explore the origins of their food. In order to spread the message we identified one of the most important places to be perhaps the inverse of what you might expect - places where scientists WON’T be. We felt that the science behind food production has for too long been shrouded in white lab coats, isolated from the general public, the time had come for three unconventional scientists to take science on the road.

And so Future Farm Lab was founded, early last year Phoebe worked at Imperial College, Aspen had just begun a PhD at Kings College and I worked in advertising and was a part time science journalist. We did our Future Farm Lab work by night and by early morning, frequently skyping at all hours in order to get applications done and ideas solidified.

Our first stop was a Crossmodalism workshop - held at the Proud Archivist (now Proud East) in Hoxton. Here we held three workshop stations and encouraged the audience to discuss and explore food science with us.

Following this we ran stations at Reading Science Fair, where we had the opportunity to work with children right up to adults and spark conversations about the status quo of food production.

Then the summer hit and we were awash with festivals - Shambala which Aspen took solo, Secret Garden Party which was approached as a team of 12 and Shambala, where Aspen and I ran workshops.

To finish off the busy summer, we curated a photography exhibition at Somerset House - where we showed our journey of food discovery through photographs, also showcasing Aspen’s groundbreaking work on cultured meat production. Aspen and I then finished the project by taking part in the Utopia talks, held at Somerset House.

The thing is that throughout all of this activity, we had been discovering things of our own. On top of all our events and exhibitions we took the time to read up on farming processes, and most importantly visit farms.

Perhaps the most influential of these was John Cherry’s farm in Hertfordshire, John is an experimental no-till farmer and really took the time to explain his practises to us and encourage us to look at farming and food production from a soil-centric view.

John’s approach made us appreciate the depth and intricacies in farming, which are so easily overlooked. This was a new kind of detail that we didn’t think we could portray in our traditional workshops - where we’d talk to the general public for anywhere from 1 minute to an hour. Largely as a result of our work with John, we wanted to start a new project that would be a longer process, but have the ability to make real shockwaves, changing the way that people view and interact with the modern food system.

We toyed around with the idea of inviting members of the public to buy into a cooperatively owned field of grain - in which the farmer’s decisions would be shared by the public, voting on the crops they grow, fertiliser applications and the place of sale. Inspired by the A Field of Wheat project - we gave this a go. With help from other founding contributors, we compiled a list of carefully selected co-investors for the first iteration we set up #OurField and ran our launch event on the 1st December at the Skip Garden in Kings Cross.

#OurField is a long process - a whole agricultural year is required for just the first iteration but we hope that this project can grow and spread to new communities with the help of the blueprint that #OurField will produce.

And what about us personally? Along this year we have all been varying levels of busy/stressed/freaked out. I think running Future Farm Lab alongside regular jobs made us all realise where our passions lie. Having waved farewell to conventional full-time jobs we are now all on a very different trajectory: Phoebe is currently living in Totnes and  running facilitation workshops, in February she will be visiting New Zealand as part of a project with Enspiral. Aspen is very shortly scheduled to fly out to Canada to concentrate on her lab work and visit some groundbreaking farmers on the way. I also have plans to travel and am shortly flying to Central America to travel and volunteer on permaculture farms and conservation organisations.

In such a short time, Future Farm Lab has developed and transformed. We still stand by our principles that originally founded us but our love of science collaboration and communication has led us all to opposite ends of the globe for now.

We’ll be re-convening in the UK come summer where we hope to run some more festival workshops, sharing everything we have learned, will harvest the #OurField crop and will be visiting more groundbreaking UK farmers and disseminating the information they give us.