I am currently live-blogging at the 28th Annual Eco-Farm Conference, January 23-26, 2008, Asilomar State Park and Convention Center, Pacific Grove, CA.
Weather today: Rainy, but beautiful. The people here who live in California are thrilled. It’s raining. After months of drought, water falling from the sky is pure joy. But look at that view!
Menu Report: The food here at Eco Farm is always fantastic. Breakfast this morning — Biscuits with mushroom cashew gravy, herbed scrambled eggs or tofu, sauteed collards with apples and sesame seeds, turkey sausage, lemon prunes, cold and hot cereal, yogurt, juice. Stand by for lunch!
After breakfast I attended the 8:30 session on the National Organic Program Stakeholders Report. Panel member, Rebecca Spector from the Center for Food Safety presented CFS’ priority issues centered on the inserting more specific wording in the pasture requirement rules for organic livestock and finishing up the organic aquaculture rules. Fish and fish products are appearing on store shelves claiming to be organic when there isn’t even an organic certification for fish. The rapidly growing organic cosmetic industry also needs some attention. Panel member, Jake Lewin from CCOF focused on the need for stronger regulation of certifiers. I find it fascinating the ongoing tension between industrial organic and their constant efforts to water down the rules, and the production/certification industry who are pushing for more stringent rules and enforcement. The latter really values the integrity of the label and are willing to subject themselves to more regulation to insure it. The former seem to value quick, easy profits.
More later. Lunch bell is about to ring…
Menu Report: Lunch — Home made turkey and veggie burgers with all the fixin’s, French onion soup with crostini, spinach salad with lemon shallot dressing, dried fruit and nut platter. All good.
2:00 Plenary Session: A Bright Future for Our Farms and Our Food?
Fred Kirschenmann, Leopold Center and Kirschenmann Family Farms
Growing Into Our Food Future Sustainably: What’s at Stake?
Modern agriculture’s fantasmagorical success has been based on cheap resources. We are coming to the end of the cheap resources party. How will it change farming? The chemical era was an attempt to cheat nature. It was seen as a short cut to providing plant nutrition, but in actuality it short circuited the soil biology necessary to produce healthy plants and healthy food.
Fred presented information on energy, water and climate in terms of agricultural sustainability. But what’s the proper response? How are we going to maintain productivity into the future? And not just for 6 billion people, but for at least 9 billion people! We need to shift from a YOYO (you’re on your own) economy to a WAITT (we’re all in this together) economy. Imagining a better future will inspire humans to make changes now to benefit future generations. He cited Joel Salatin as an example of how different and better we can do things. The brightness of ag’s future will depend on which path we decide to take.
Paul Hepperly, Research Director, Rodale Institute
Organic Farming Sequesters Atmospheric Carbon and Nutrients in Soils
Last week Tim LaSalle, the new CEO at Rodale spoke at our Midwest Organic Production and Marketing Conference. He spoke about the research done at Rodale looking at the potential for organic farming to sequester carbon in the form of soil organic matter. It was a good talk, but short on actual numbers.
I always forget how long ago J.I. Rodale started The Organic Gardening Magazine (1942), and the Rodale Institute (1947). Paul recounted the story of J.I. being told by a doctor that he had two years to live. He moved out of New York City and started growing his own food according organic principles. J.I. lived, eventually delivering the eulogy at the funeral of the doctor that gave him the two year death sentence.
Paul presented results of Rodale’s farming system comparison study, now in its 28th year. Manure and cover crops result in a net increase in soil organic matter (SOM). Each pound of organic matter increases the soil’s ability to water by 40 lbs. Increased soil structure results in increased rate at which water can perculate into the soil. The organic systems tested in the Rodale research are lower in energy use than conventional systems. Cover crops are one of the keys.
Tyrone Hayes has shown that minute concentrations of ag chemicals in the environment impairs the sexual development in frogs. Paul presented other research, non-Rodale research supporting benefits of chemical-free farming and safer food.
Menu Report: Dinner — Spinach Butternut Lasagna, assorted breads, roasted fennel and celeriac with fried sage and currants, farmer’s field salad with balsamic dressing, almond anise biscotti bars.
The Organic Wine Tasting social, held every year to raise money for the Ecofarming Conference Scholarship Fund, was a big success. Had to be 20 vintners there, all organic. In Illinois we have one grape grower/vintner trying to produce an organic wine. Of course, Illinois is a different breed of cat when it comes to grapes. We can grow them, but to do so organically is a real challenge because of the humidity and resulting mildew and disease problems.
View from the balcony of Merrill Hall
Wine tasting, up close and personal
We turned in early, so we didn’t catch the talent show.
Evening at the Asilomar main lodge