Once again, the annual EcoFarm Conference has us jazzed and juiced for another year farming. Despite the long drive – 4.5 hours one way – the coalescence of workshops, plenary talks, food, and people were well worth the travel. Oh, and Hot Buttered Rum was jumping H-O-T! What a bouncing bunch of plaid, beards, and swishy skirts that heated up Merrill Hall Friday night!
Highly informative workshops we attended included: Multi-Farm CSAs and Collaborative Marketing, Grazing Systems, and Labor Laws. We now have an idea of how we might navigate the bureaucratic system of food stamps and accept EBT, particularly for our vegetable CSA. And once we’re ready to employ more workers, we know what resources are available to help us understand the complex agricultural labor laws. Note: we will probably wait a while before it’s really worth it to hire more employees! It sounds like an audit from the Department of Labor really sucks and not getting your wage orders and overtime straight can end up costing a butt-load of money.
As expected, we reconnected with farmer friends, made new friends, and had great conversation. I had a wonderful walk along the beach at sunset with our friend, Severine, who travels a lot as director of Greenhorns. She was one of the first of my peers to support my decision to farm as a career. The weather was sunny and temperate the whole time, making walks on the beach a regular occurence.
We love to learn what other folks are doing on their farm operations and talk about similar challenges. Adam’s presentation went really well, and the other rancher on the panel, Bob Blanchard had good experiences and insights to share over lunch. We farmer/ranchers looove talking with each other about soil, climate, various marketing channels, the organic certification process, wildlife preservation, value-added products and more. It’s refreshing when you can talk to someone who relates completely with what you have been experiencing with your own farm operation. When only 1% of the population farms, it’s hard to find that true camaraderie.
Being 1% of the population, hopefully it is obvious that we farmers cannot steward the land and feed mouths by ourselves. If there is one thing that resonated for me at EcoFarm, it was the importance of community. Not just a community of farmers making their voices heard, but a community of eaters, processors, distributors, journalists, educators, artists, and activists in partnership with farmers. Thomas Nelson of the Capay Valley Farm Shop discussed how a group of farmers came together to work together to deliver good products. I’ve heard a Capay Valley farmer talk about “coopetition” in their valley, and I’m reminded of how good it is to be near other small family farms even if the other farms produce some of the same products. In Mendocino County, food farmers are a minority in the agricultural landscape. Shinji Hashimoto, a farmer, talked about Teikei (it means “partnership”) which is similar to CSA in the United States. He described how well the urban-rural connection is made through teikei. When the Kobe earthquake hit Japan in 1995, he said that their shareholders were surprised when the farmers showed up in the city with food and water for them. CSA or Teikei is not a one-way street – we farmers see ourselves as supporting the community, too. Jim Knopik from Nance County, Nebraska had one quote on a slide, “Sustainability is not possible without a community of living things.” I interpret it as a metaphor. Sustaining healthy soil is only possible with a community of life forms; soil is alive. Sustainability of the environment, food security, social well-being, and healthy economy is only possible with a community of many people and living things. I hope our farm can play an important role in sustaining all those wonderful things. It’s a big reason for why we chose to be part of the 1% who farm.