Early each year old timers and young farmers convene at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, CA to learn, share and grow. For the first 30 years or so, The EcoFarm Conference was off limits to many due to it’s high cost to attend. Noticing the lack of diversity, attendees have sought ways to create inclusivity, bringing the voices of younger and culturally marginalized farmers into the mix. Finally it seems to be happening.
The founders of this conference are getting old now. While it’s nice to see familiar faces from the dawn of the Organic Agriculture Movement; real change agents who have made the world a better place through their hard work and vision for healthy food production, I was glad to see many new faces this year. The next generation is poised to give real traction to this movement. I put my hope in them and offer supportive reflections on where the movement is headed.
- Digital Chaos and Sensory Overload: In her Keynote presentation, Nicole Masters highlighted the costs of this relatively new challenge, and where we get stuck. While many of us have achieved some practical working knowledge of how to successfully manage a farm and make a living, the fog of stress/anxiety has reached levels today that are truly debilitating to many people, everywhere. Nicole’s presentation addressed this elephant in the room. How can you be effective if your stress is causing paralysis? Action Steps: Acknowledge it, Practice Self Care, Lead Ecologically. Many in the west do not grieve well; instead stuffing feelings which can later manifest as illness. Her assistant began to lead a ‘keening’ call and response ritual which was interrupted by a protester admonishing the group for forgetting Gaza. It was a missed opportunity. Had we been arranged in a circle, carers might quickly have gathered him in to create a true healing space. As it was, he was ejected and the keening proceeded. In that context this exercise felt a bit empty and performative, however well-intentioned. My hope is that organizers will learn from this and set procedures in place to better handle protest, grief and the trauma of attendees.
- Decolonizing our Food Supply: By acknowledging the roots of colonization that have historically determined agricultural approaches, and connecting these practices to systems of oppression, the community is developing a more conscious, representative and inclusive way forward. I imagine that by the time all us old timers are gone the language, style and organization of these gatherings will be completely different, in a good way.
- Indigenous-led #landback initiatives: There is increasing support from ranchers and farm enterprises such as Pie Ranch and The Deep Medicine Circle here in California. Hawaiian women leaders of MO’A on Oahu gave inspiring presentations to show how their program is empowering young people through growing and distributing fresh food locally. These efforts to educate young farmers as land stewards while reclaiming spiritual traditions and food sovereignty are the most exciting and positive trends I see moving forward. These indigenous-led models are rightly celebrated and should receive greater support from funders and donors.
- Another inspiring talk on the main stage came from Doria Robinson of Urban Tilth in Richmond. Her long-time organizing work and leadership serves not only to create more green spaces, but to empower local people to grow quality food for local consumption, in a place long considered to be a ‘food desert’. Her presentation showed how growing community gardens can be a foundation for systemic changemaking in local government. Doria also sits on the CA State Board of Agriculture’s Regenerative Agriculture Definition Working Group.
- Images below: Nicole Masters, David Mas Masumoto, Organic peach grower and author of Secret Harvests, Farm To School.