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eco farm

January 31, 2011

I just returned from the 31st annual Ecological Farming Conference in Pacific Grove, which was probably the best conference I’ve ever attended. Being surrounded by so many great farmers and other members of the good food movement in the beautiful setting of Asilomar was rejuvenating, informative, fun and inspiring.

lambs

Month-old lambs at Monkeyflower Ranch

I arrived on Wednesday in time for the bus tour, which took us to four area farms: Monkeyflower Ranch, the source of the delicious Garden Variety sheep milk cheese; Jacobs Farm‘s newly acquired giant greenhouse facility full of basil, chives, sage, tarragon and edible flowers; Windmill Farm’s handful of ocean-view acres populated by heirloom cabbage, chard, strawberries and an ancient John Deere tractor; and Santa Cruz Berry Farming Company’s strawberry operation at Elkhorn Ranch.

Some highlights from the tour were: learning that cows and sheep eat very different plants, and complement each other on pasture; seeing bug vacuums both large (Jacobs Farm) and enormous (SC Berry Farming); and finding out that Ronald Donkervoort (Windmill Farm) direct seeds every single one of his crops with a push seeder.

Back at Asilomar that evening, the conference opened with a plenary on animals in sustainable agriculture. Both speakers did a great job of unflinchingly outlining the huge problems in how we treat most farm animals in this country while steadfastly championing the important role they have to play in our food system. In workshops over the next few days, I learned about CSA models, farm equipment, growing seed, dry farming, starting a new farm and equity investing. I was inspired by plenaries on building local food systems, on-farm resource conservation and indigenous farming.

the ocean at asilomar

Early morning ocean at EcoFarm

Just by sitting with new people at every (delicious local organic) meal, I met the president of the EcoFarm board (who helps people get rid of gophers for a living), urban farmers from Santa Barbara and Pleasanton; rural farmers from New York, Vermont, Quebec, Petaluma and Hollister; a community organizer, a 5th grade teacher, and an aspiring farmer looking for apprenticeships. I also connected with friends from many chapters of my life, from college to school garden programs to my past season in Pescadero. And in between sessions there was time to enjoy the sunshine, listen to music and dance, and walk to the beach, where I saw a group of 10 or more whales migrating North on Saturday. I returned home full and refreshed, and ready to dig in to the next season of farming.

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