Two months into lockdown, 156 people logged onto Zoom for a two-hour meeting about food and farming in Ceredigion.
After hearing from a range of farmers, community organisers and environmentalists, small groups shared their personal responses to the crisis that is COVID, Brexit, climate change, globalisation and more.
Guided by a facilitator, they listened to each other, looking for common ground and exploring solutions.
Reporting back from the groups, there was a strong call for relocalising food, self-determination for communities and support for young people to enter the food and farming sector.
One retired farmer said: ‘It was quite amazing to have such a breadth of participation… to have a platform where parties involved in farming, land management, horticulture, nature reserves, all on large and small scales, being represented was so very worthwhile.’
Another commented that he had no idea so many people cared about farming.
For many, it was an emotional experience to find such warmth and compassion between hitherto opposing sectors.
The event was a collaboration between Extinction Rebellion (XR) Cardigan and local member of senedd, former agriculture minister Elin Jones, with support from the farming unions and environmental groups.
As Vicky Moller, one of the organisers, said: ‘Elin Jones’ decision to co-host with the local XR branch was in the spirit of the event. Everyone feared hostility or ding-dong argument. It didn’t happen.’
This was many people’s first experience of a People’s Assembly, one of a series of five organised in west and mid Wales since the beginning of the pandemic.
The first was held in Pembrokeshire in late April, from an initiative by Vicky Moller and Anna Monro to support community groups during lockdown.
‘At our meetings, people discussed the future, and it was clear that they did not want to return to the old normal,’ says Vicky. ‘The leading area where they wanted to see change was food and farming, and so we decided to look at that in detail.’
The format of the People’s Assembly is widely used in XR. ‘They are a taster of a growing global alternative to our adversarial model of democracy’, says Vicky. ‘It’s officially known as deliberative democracy, and in Wales we call it trafodwn, which means “let’s discuss”. It is organised from the ground up, with both sides of the divide wanting to meet and sort things out. Something is stirring.’