posted February 16, 2010

this is the tension in the movement that keeps us all on our toes. eliot v. gary…

The future of farming and food at the Eco Farm Conference
by Makenna Goodman

Last week I went to California for the 2010 Eco Farm Conference—a three-day organic farming extravaganza featuring big names (and big influences of the organic agriculture movement) such as Wes Jackson, Frances Moore Lappé, Deputy Security of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, and a ton of folks who are part of an ever-growing and expanding movement for healthy food and a sustainable planet. But make no mistake about it—this wasn’t no utopian hippy fest (at least not all of it.)

I came to Eco Farm looking for some inspiration, but also as a skeptic. As both an editor of farming and food books, and a young farmer myself—I was psyched about the three days of nonstop grad-school-ish conversation and networking, but worried about the elitism of the “organic” movement. And sure, there was a lot of self referencing, but you learned about people, and fast. At workshops: “I farm X, Y, and Z. What brings you here?” At meals: “I farm X, Y, and Z. What brings you here?” At the dance and the movie screening and on the way to the toilet: “I farm X, Y, and Z. What brings you here?” Turns out, though, most of the people there were hard working, sun-up to sun-down folks looking towards a future where people have more power over their lives.

At Eco Farm I met an entire family (three generations!) of organic walnut farmers, and a couple of “hermetic hippies” who had a small but working farm, and ran an illegal underground market/CSA (and refused to get certified, because it’s too expensive.) I met a Canadian fellow who salvages cedar from beaches (and splits it along the wood grain) for custom furniture. I met a lot of women farmers. I met permaculturists and rice growers, orchardists and garden educators. Old timers and newcomers. Farmers and foodies. (And a lone conservative who came to the last banquet as someone’s date and hurrah’ed the new Massachusetts senator…yikes.) Indeed, after three days of much needed West Coast rain showers and farm fresh meals in a dining hall filled with over five hundred like-minded, hard-working, truly Democractic thinking, healthy farmer folks, I was frothing at the mouth thinking about razor hoes, hoophouses, perennial vegetables, and the power of food to heal national wounds.

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