Gardening is usually an individual, contemplative activity. Sometimes, we engage in planting, pruning, weeding and other tasks with a friend or a group of friends.
Countless gardeners have pursued this satisfying work for millennia, unconcerned by the larger context of advances in agricultural technology, political and economic struggles and growing concerns over sustainability.
Such issues abound in the world of ornamental horticulture, but are more intense and consequential in commercial farming.
These issues are the focus of the 33rd Annual Eco-Farm Conference, which happens next week at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove. This event, organized by the non-profit Ecological Farming Association, is about educating, networking and celebrating. It combines joyful commitment to farming organically, sharing ideas and successes in the field, and exploring concerns over policies and practices that favor so-called “conventional” farming.
In fact, “conventional” farming depends on synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and employs practices that have been introduced since World War II. Many advances have made large-scale agriculture more efficient and productive, but too often those advances also generate social impacts: fewer natural food choices, declines of taste and nutrition and long-term damage to the environment.
Such alleged problems of course are debatable. We cannot treat them fully in this brief essay, but the Eco-Farm Conference supports valuable in-depth discussions.
Many of the Conference’s sixty workshops are designed for professional farmers, but here are some sessions that relate most directly to consumers.
- GMO Labeling: Capitalizing on the Momentum of Proposition 37: That recent initiative lost narrowly by 2%, but it catalyzed a national conversation about the deceptive, untested, and novel proteins added to the American diet.
- Teaching Farming and Gardening in Waldorf Schools: Topics include garden-based woodworking, herbal studies, growing and processing grains, and integration of classroom math and science lessons.
- The New and Old of Organic Insecticides: Improved methods for managing insect pests using organically approved natural materials.
- Fresh Rx: A Prescription for Improving Healthy Food Access in Low-Income Communities: Strategies to improve community access to fresh produce, including farmers’ markets in low-income areas, CSA programs, community gardens, nutrition education, cooking demonstrations, and produce distribution by food banks.
- Preparing for Climate Change: Thinking about and preparing for climate change, water scarcity, and extreme weather.
- Farm Bill Update– What’s In It and What Does It Mean to You?: Update on the status of the Farm Bill and the standing of key organic and sustainable agricultural programs, including conservation, organic certification cost share, and others.
The Eco-Farm Conference runs from Wednesday, January 23rd to Saturday, January 26th. For more information, visit the conference website: http://ecofarm2013.org/.
This conference presents a positive vision of the future for all consumers and home gardeners. It is gratifying that it happens in the Monterey Bay area.