EcoFarm (short for the Ecological Farming Association) is a non-profit organization based in Soquel, CA that aims to promote and develop ecologically sustainable food and farming. According to their website, "EcoFarm's mission is to nurture safe, healthy, just, and ecologically sustainable farms, food systems, and communities by bringing people together for education, alliance building, advocacy, and celebration."
The EcoFarm conference was held January 21st to 24th at the beautiful Asilomar Conference Grounds. The boyfriend and I arrived bright and early to catch the 8:15 am plenary session. The theme for this talk was "Successful Organic Farmers". The opening speakers joked that "successful" in sustainable farming is a hard word to define since there is often a lot of trial and error that goes on in their jobs, but to some degree they are doing something right. The speakers for this plenary were Don Tipping (Seven Seeds Farm in Williams, OR), Guido Frosini (True Grass Farms in Valley Ford, CA) and Doug and Anthony Perry (JE Perry Farms in Fremont, CA). I especially liked hearing Guido, Doug and Anthony speak since their farms are close to where I live in the Bay Area.
Guido has only been farming for a few years and has built a successful business raising grass-fed and finished beef as well as pastured Guinea and Blackworth hogs. He talked a lot about how he is learning as he goes but that he has the added benefit of knowing how to grow a business in the technology age. He also spoke about how important providing farm tours have been to grow their business as well as educate the community about sustainable farming practices like rotational grazing and other practices that balance the natural cycles of soil and grass.
JE Perry Farms that Doug, Anthony and Joe Perry own is unique since it is one of the few farms left in Fremont. They talked about the changes they have made as Fremont has become developed, and how their experience has been working on a plot of land that they do not own (it is leased from the East Bay Regional Parks Ardenwood Reserve). Anthony, the youngest member of the crew, talked about the funny disagreements he gets into with his grandfather, Joe, over how farming is done now as opposed to how it was done "back then".
After the plenary, we met up with one of my coworkers and were introduced to Helena and Matt of Happy Acre Farm in Sunol, CA. Helena and Matt are super cool and grow over 80 varieties of fruits and vegetables at their CCOF certified farm. After we chatted with them a bit, we scurried off to our first session of the day.
Demeter Presentation: Farming to the Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard
Before this session I was not familiar with the Demeter standard. I had heard of biodynamic farming, but didn't know about the certification or the specifics of what a biodynamic farm should do.
During this session, we learned that biodynamic is a holistic sustainable agriculture movement that involves making soil fertility, plant growth and livestock care interrelated. The objective is for the farm to be a "living organism".
During this panel we learned a lot about the seven necessary elements of the farm organism:
1. Biological Diversity
2. Generating Fertility
3. Disease, Insect and Weed Control
4. Use of the Biodynamic Preparations
5. Water and Waterway Conservation
6. Livestock Integration
7. Gentle Post Harvest Handling
I was really into the presentation until the speaker started talking about element #4. The Biodynamic Preparations involve putting different materials in a cow horn, burying it in the ground, then spraying your soil with the preparation. I am generally into holistic practices, but in my opinion most people will find this practice a little too strange and may write off the Demeter standards all together since this is a requirement to be certified. Although it is interesting, I think the Biodynamic Preparation requirement could prevent the Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard from becoming as widespread as it might be if this element weren't included.
I absolutely loved the other six elements of this standard and want to start incorporating some of them into my work at the Ranch. I recommend checking out the Demeter website to learn more.
After the Demeter presentation, we grabbed lunch. Unfortunately I made the poor decision not to buy a lunch ticket, and I bought soup at a café on the Asilomar grounds. The soup was good but once I had a few bites off my boyfriend's EcoFarm meal plate I had serious food envy. The Indian style dish he got was so, so good. If you go to EcoFarm, I recommend shelling out the extra few bucks to have meals included because the meals are amazing.
Before our next session, we walked around the Exhibitor Marketplace. There were individuals and businesses selling seeds, jewelry, clothing, books and offering information about their products and/or services for organic farming. A few really cool businesses and organizations I learned about were FarmCurious, Veritable Vegetable, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and Rogue Farm Corps. A full list of the EcoFarm 2015 exhibitors and links to their sites can be found here. I loved the marketplace because FREE SAMPLES AND STICKERS! I love samples. And stickers. And all things free.
When we left the marketplace, it was time to scoot off to our 1:30 pm session.
The Vegetable Gardener's Permaculture Guide
Christopher Shein, author of the Vegetable Gardener's Guide to Permaculture, was the presentor for this session. He started out the session by giving background on himself and his work. Christopher is a permaculture designer, landscaper, teacher and other who lives in Oakland. Wild Heart Gardens is the permaculture masterpiece at Christopher's home in Oakland. He also teaches at Merritt College in the Landscape Horticulture department and has developed an impressive food forest there in addition to helping develop their amazing program.
After introductions, Christopher got into talking about the eight permaculture layers:
2. Understory layer
5. Soil surface/groundcover
7. Vertical layer
In traditional permaculture, there are only seven layers. Christopher added fungi as an additional layer because he believes it has value in a permaculture garden. Christopher gave examples of each layer and I really appreciated that he is also from the Bay Area because a lot of the plants he talked about are Bay Area natives and/or grow well in our climate.
After talking about the layers, Christopher showed examples of food forests he landscaped. This part felt a bit rushed because of time constraints, which was a bummer because he has created a lot of really amazing gardens.
To learn more about the permaculture principles, layers and how to incorporate them into your garden I think Christopher's book is a great educational guide and reference.
Large Scale Organics with Integrity: Costco and Nutiva
This was the last session we attended and we didn't stay through the whole thing. I was excited to learn about large companies that are working to be organic and sustainable, but was a bit disappointed by the presentation by Nutiva's CEO, John Roulac. John started the presentation by talking about his background and how Nutiva was founded. He then talked about the sustainable practices they engage in and challenges the company faces, especially in production of hemp products. The one thing that turned me off during this presentation is that the company preaches sustainability yet their coconut products are imported from South America. I tried to keep an open mind, but the presentation got a bit dull and the boyfriend and I decided to leave early to make the drive back to the Bay Area. I didn't hear Costco's talk from this presentation, but I plan on listening to it since workshop recordings are available on EcoFarm's website.
All in all, I LOVED my short but sweet EcoFarm day, but I wish I could have stayed for the mixers and dance. My coworker who stayed had so, so much fun. Next year I am planning on going for multiple days so I can get the full EcoFarm experience!
**I am not affiliated with EcoFarm and was not reimbursed for writing this post. All opinions are my own.**