News From the Farm | January 29, 2018

Last week, farmers from Full Belly as well as from several other Capay Valley farms, left their winter farm work behind and got together for the Ecological Farming Association’s (EFA) 38th annual EcoFarm Conference.  With workshops organized around 12 themes (like ‘Soil, Roots, Water’ or ‘Activist, Policy and Community’), there was an impressive line-up of activities to choose from, not to mention old and new friends to walk with on the beach where the waves were crashing so powerfully that they could be heard all over the sprawling grounds.

The conference, which now attracts well over a thousand people from far and wide, has its roots in a small gathering in 1981 in Winters California, 11 years after the first Earth Day and 8 years after several farmers sitting around a kitchen table formed California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF).  Several years later, EFA was founded and Dru Rivers of Full Belly Farm served as an early Executive Director. 

As a member of the California Science Advisory Panel which oversees, for one thing, the Healthy Soils program, I went to as many of the workshops about soils as I could.  Who would have known that there is a scientific debate raging over how to define a healthy agricultural soil and deeply argued efforts to determine which tests best quantify a farmer’s progress in the direction of restoring and protecting their soils? North Dakota farmer Gabe Brown pointed out that, “Nature has spent the eons in Research and Development,” a point well taken by many organic farmers who study Nature as a guide to their practice.

One of the most popular, and one of my favorite sessions, is when three chosen farms speak at the “Successful Organic Farmers” plenary.  Jean-Marin Fortier, from la Ferme des Quatre-Temps in Quebec Canada said during his very practical and inspiring session, “I started farming to save the world.” This sentiment may just-about sum it up for many organic farmers who have been at it for 40 years, and who used to make up the bulk of Conference attendees. Those farmers, like myself, would probably be the first to admit that while organic agriculture has excelled in many ways, we still have a ways to go in saving the world.  What is impressive about the conference though, is how it has grown to include a much wider and more diverse set of stakeholders.  Non profit organizations, students, young and old farmers and ranchers are all in attendance, but a scattering of industry, marketing, processing, and even global organic businesses are also well represented.

Some farmers, viewing recent behavior of the National Organic Program (housed at US Department of Agriculture), are well aware that their needs could easily be elbowed aside by the more powerful efforts of global organic marketing and processing.  In response, they have formed the Organic Farmers Association (OFA), a national organization with the mission of providing a strong and unified national voice for domestic certified organic producers.  A panel discussion about OFA was very well received.  Visit the web site for more information. Supporting memberships are on sale for $57 (and farm memberships for $67) for a few weeks.

—Judith Redmond