December 2, 2013 – Three big name personalities, a new emphasis on animal agriculture and growing interest in biodynamic farming highlight the 34th annual EcoFarm Conference taking place at Asilomar in Pacific Grove on January 22-25, 2014. Early registration ends on December 7th, so sign up this week to get the best deals.
Under the theme Gather & Grow, EcoFarm Executive Director Ken Dickerson and Program Coodinator Liz Birnbaum have organized dozens of sessions—some inspirational and others highly technical—aimed at farmers, ranchers and all those interested in good food.
“Our mission is to encourage the growth of a healthy, ecologically sound and economically viable agricultural system,” says Dickerson. “This system of farming has reached sort of a critical mass and people understand its value, so the market continues to expand, but we try to help small and medium-sized farms overcome some of the hurdles they face in becoming successful.”
Former USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan will open the conference, speaking about Gains and Goals for the Good Food Movement and leading a panel on successful multi-generational organic businesses and how they can maintain their commitment to social and environmental causes. The panel includes the second or third generation CEO’s of Dr. Bonner’s Magic Soaps, Lundberg Family Farms and Nature’s Path Organic Foods.
Headlining the second plenary session is world-renowned animal scientist Dr. Temple Grandin, whose understanding of the way horses and cattle think and handle stress has led to a much more humane approach to animal agriculture. Presently half the cattle in the US and Canada are handled with equipment she has designed.
“We’re stepping into new territory this year,” says EcoFarm’s Birnbaum, “with a greater emphasis on milk production, beef and poultry.” For example, two full-day pre-conference seminars will be held on Stockmanship: Low-stress Livestock Handling and Creating a Sustainable Flock of Poultry.
Spurred by small scale meat producers who are beginning to band together to purchase non-GMO grain at better prices, EcoFarm’s 2014 conference will also host the first meetings of a brand new Farmer’s Association, which will help get more competitive rates on products and insurance, as well as cooperate on business development services.
“Between now and 2030 70% of American farmers are going to retire and we want to rapidly help replace them with ecological farmers,” Dickerson says.
EcoFarm’s third keynote speaker is none other than Maria Rodale, the iconic advocate for organic agriculture and author of Organic Manifesto: How Organic Farming Can Heal Our Planet, Feed the World and Keep Us Safe. She will discuss the results of Rodale Institute’s 30-year farming system trials, which show organic outperforming conventional agriculture in almost every way.
The jam-packed program also includes a full-day seminar presented by the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association on The Farm as a Living Organism, a separate full-day seminar on Holistic Orchard Health and the always popular EcoFarm Bus Tour—which this year takes visitors to Live Earth Farm and Prevedelli Farms in Watsonville, as well as Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove.
A special workshop session will focus on the Mexican Agroecology Movement and the importance of corn in the diet of our neighbors to the south. Other sessions deal with everything from energy conservation to hard cider, cheesemaking and GMO labeling. Sprinkled throughout the educational sessions are delicious organic meals, events like beer and wine tastings, seed swaps, a dance party and a talent show—truly something for everybody.
It’s such a treat to have the EcoFarm Conference roll into town every year and brighten up our January days. The conference is open to the public and tickets can be purchased online for individual events, one day or for the whole conference. Be sure to view the entire program at www.ecofarm2014.org.
Deborah Luhrman is publisher and editor of Edible Monterey Bay. A lifelong journalist, she has reported from around the globe, but now prefers covering our flourishing local food scene and growing her own vegetables in the Santa Cruz Mountains.