Meet the Director: Barbara Bray

Barbara

Who you are? 

I am Barbara Bray, OFC Director, food safety and nutrition consultant and professional speaker. 

What do you do? 

I work as a consultant focusing on food safety which involves supporting small and medium food producers to implement food safety standards and training staff in disciplines such as auditing and risk assessments. I run strategy workshops to help companies find ways to introduce sustainable nutrition practices into their business. I speak at events covering topics on nutrition and the food industry. 

Background i.e. are you from farming, if not what got you into the industry 

I was passionate about food from an early age and grew up in County Durham where my school friends lived on farms and we spent summers visiting pick-your-own farms. I thought everyone was involved in food production when I was growing up. I initially wanted to study dietetics but after speaking to a food scientist at the school careers day I realised that working in the food industry would be my ideal career. 

How long you have been an OFC Director? 

I joined the OFC in 2018. 

Where are you based/what area do you cover? 

I live in Manchester and I work with food producers nationally. 

Could you please describe your first experience of the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC)? 

I attended the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) for the first time in 2018. A fellow 2017 Nuffield Farming Scholar and good friend from Brazil was invited to speak and I went to support her. On arrival, I realised that it wasn’t just another conference. The timetabling of the event in January means that it sets the tone for what the industry will be discussing for the year, facilitated by the strong media presence from broadsheet journalists to trade press. From the moment I set foot in Oxford, I felt the passion from the delegates attending both the OFC and the neighbouring Oxford Real Farming Conference. The vibrant discussions and sense of urgency to start the year with new objectives, is an amazing feeling which I have happily embraced. 

Why did you want to be part of the OFC Council? 

I was drawn to the role by the excitement of being able to create events that bring people together at the beginning of each year to both network and hear from the thought leaders on a range of key topics. I really wanted to be part of the team that deliver a fantastic experience, year after year. 

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today? 

Overcoming adversity and learning not be defined by the negative things that have happened to me has been a significant part of my growth and development. I have bounced back from serious injury and hospitalisation, redundancy, bereavement and general life setbacks. It has made me appreciate the value of building good quality relationships with people based on mutual trust and respect. Learning to be a sponsor, mentor and advocate to people in their careers has become more important to me during my leadership journey so that I can help others to achieve their potential as industry leaders did so much for me during my career. 

What has been the highlight of your Directorship so far? 

Running the Scholars programme was a fantastic and rewarding experience. From the one day event we held in November to the Scholar workshops we ran at the conference, it was great to see so many people entering the industry with such passion for our future. 

Which OFC session or speakers has most impacted you and why? 

I was very impressed with Poran Malani this year and his message about rebranding farming. It reminded me that to bring about effective change, you need to take people with you, especially if the message is nuanced rather than black and white. 

In your opinion, at this present time, what is the biggest challenge and opportunity for British agriculture? 

Agriculture is changing and over its 75 years, the conference has reflected that. We have had talks on the use of small robots to replace heavy equipment in field, a floating dairy in the Netherlands, a shift in marketing to connect with consumers and artificial intelligence on farm, to name a few.  

These ideas may be innovative and yet to be adopted in mainstream agriculture, but it highlights the need to recruit people from a wide range of backgrounds and skills. Diversity will make our industry stronger as we tackle new challenges that require a different approach and knowledge base. Traditionally, people in the sector have come from farming backgrounds or via agricultural college. These innovations require multidisciplinary teams including specialists in engineering, data analysis and consumer behaviour for example.  

Recruitment into the sector is becoming harder, as young people are enticed into more obvious career paths which have a clear link to their goals and aspirations. The agrifood sector is also able to meet these needs and will have to look outside of the traditional agricultural colleges as the pool of students becomes smaller. This year, encouraged by initiatives seen elsewhere, OFC successfully opened the Scholar programme to people outside of the sector with an interest in food and farming. It was inspiring to see how the group worked together and freely and openly discussed the topics that they will be responsible for implementing in their future careers.  

Oxford is entering a new chapter taking the conference digitally, what new opportunities do you think this will present? 

The ability to reach a larger audience including people who have wanted to attend the conference in the past but were limited by time or resources. The opportunity to engage with the wider food system and encourage multi-disciplinary discussions about the agri-food sector. Stimulate a new way of networking during a digital conference and connecting new people. 

You're hosting a webinar as part of a new digital Oxford Farming Conference offering, what will your session address? 

I will look back to the 1970’s with the panellists and reflect on how the country coped with the 3-day working week, first post-war recession, two general elections and state of emergency in Northern Ireland. The panellists will then look at the challenges facing us in the future, focusing on 3 key perspectives: the world will be, discussed by the UK Ambassador to the UN Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome Terri Sarch; its food by Robynne Anderson, President of Emerging Ag; and, my farm by Caroline Drummond, Chief Executive of Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) 

How do you maintain work/life balance? 

I am constantly spinning plates and have developed key red lines not to cross in order to maintain a minimum function. These include going to bed early, waking up at the same time, getting enough exercise and the right diet. Anything else, quite frankly, is a bonus. If I do these core things it usually gives me enough time for work and family.   

The recent pandemic has allowed us all time to think about our mental health, what do you do to a maintain a positive wellbeing?  

My dad is a psychiatrist and I grew up with an appreciation of the importance of maintaining good mental health and spotting signs when things are going wrong. As a consequence, I keep to exercise routines as much as possible, take time to meditate and do open water swimming whenever I can. 

Beyond the 2021 Conference, what is your vision for OFC? 

The arrival of COVID-19 has presented an opportunity for many new people to discover what the agri-food sector has to offer and I am passionate that a focus on people and how we all engage with food production is what is needed. 

What is your guilty pleasure – book, film, TV programme? 

I love watching French films, especially comedies. 

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