From the Field: EcoFarm 2014

Photo by Deborah Luhrman.  

In the midst of a severe statewide drought, there are few timelier topics than the future of food. California's farms are at the forefront of the movement to improve the ecological performance of our food systems as farms inevitably bear the brunt of climate change, soil degradation, and fresh water shortages. Fortunately, the EcoFarm 2014 conference, hosted by the Ecological Farming Association, is leading the discussion on how to ensure that food is both available and affordable, while maintaining and improving the ecological health of farmlands.

Walking into the conference venue, the beautiful Asilomar conference complex in Pacific Grove, was itself an amazing experience. Wooden boardwalks and sandy paths wound between buildings and under live oaks and fir trees. Ocean aromas drifted in with the mist from the beach just over the dunes, and in the social hall, a roaring fire blazed while attendees met and conversed around it, or on the shady patio outside. The setting was the perfect platform to connect, collaborate, and inspire.

The participants ranged across the board, from industry to academia: new, young farmers; seasoned growers; researchers at academic institutions; and grocers dedicated to carrying the most responsible products on their shelves. Throughout the several days of the conference, the sessions covered a wide variety of topics – promising business models, policy updates, permaculture theory and practice, livestock management –  but all with a common thread. Every session included clear and actionable information that can help improve the ecological and ethical performance of California's and the world's food production and distribution systems.

Global Green USA primarily focuses on the urban environment and resource flow systems, which is closely linked to the practices of farming in rural areas. Farmers’ business models and growing practices affect food availability for the urban poor. Zoning code allowances for food consolidation and transportation to restaurants and delis affect the prices farmers receive for their goods. The packaging bought and used by farmers affect the grocers’ garbage bills. Finding and documenting ways by which our food systems can be made more efficient – and the people involved at each point more healthy and prosperous – is what Global Green is all about.

EcoFarm 2014 was the perfect crash course in the latest insights into the theory, obstacles, constraints, and opportunities present today in our food systems. I look forward to integrating what I learned at the conference into our on-the-ground projects, and attending their next conference in 2015.

For more field updates and news from Lily Kelly, follow her on Twitter @LilyKellyGG.