Snapshots from Ecofarm 2018

Mark Lipson's picture

“Regenerismo” in the Time of the Seventh Fire

OFRF dove into the 2018 conference season in late January, from sea to shining sea.  At the Organic Research Symposium hosted with NOFA New Jersey we showcased state-of-the-field science going on all over the U.S. [See ORS bloglink]. On the west coast, the annual Ecological Farming Conference was an epic showcase of the organic-regenerative-food equity-etc. movements in a time of transformation. Here's just a quick capsule review of some highlights, to be explored in more depth in coming weeks. (Note: the plenary sessions are all available on Ecofarm’s Youtube channel. Go watch ‘em.)

Opening Plenary: Regenerating Soils: Hope for Farming and Climate

After a burgeoning stew of pre-conference seminars and tours, the conference opened auspiciously with an invocation from Valentin Lopez, Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. The Amah Mutsun are survivors of the Awaswas peoples who dwelt in the Monterey Bay region before their destruction by European occupation, and their recognition by Ecofarm was important.  Before European explorers arrived, this region sustained perhaps the highest population density of any indigenous nations on the continent. Forensic anthropology is now revealing to us the great sophistication of these people as agro-ecological managers. Val’s invocation centered on the fact that “the Creator has not released us from our responsibility” to apply that sophistication and care for all of creation. Words of wisdom and humility.

The Plenary of Regenerative Wise Men then proceeded. Tim La Salle, Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown and Dr. David Johnson brought the Regenerative Revival to Ecofarm, complete with hallelujahs and miracles to behold. To this listener, the fascinating and substantial advances in diversified system management and applied soil microbial ecology—which are very substantial—were secondary to the speakers’ evangelical tenor.  The (older, white) Wise Men of Regeneration sounded quite certain about mastering the mysteries of soil ecology to arrest CO2 increases in the atmosphere.  I hear a quality of bravado, if not hubris to these declarations that borders on denial of the climatic chaos that is already occurring.  More on this phenomenon of “regenerismo” in another post.

Plenary Day 2: Hunger for Food Justice 

Dr. John Ikerd has long been a singularly important figure in the sustainable agriculture movement, and he reminded us of why.  He restated the fundamentals (without being, so to speak, fundamentalist about it) of basic food security and food justice as essential to any notion of sustainability.  Ikerd has continued adding complexity to his thoughts and now articulates one of the most complete visions of local and regional food-systems theory. The second speaker, Doria Robinson, exemplified the tenets of Ikerd’s vision in her narrative of urban community food insurgency in Richmond, CA. Doria leads the group Urban Tilth in the quest to systemically address hunger and health injustice in the SF Bay Area. If there is hope, it is in these folks and their work.

Awards Banquet: Stewards of the Regenerative Nation

Ecofarm’s emotional highlight, the “Sustie” and “Justie” awards banquet, was in great form.  With grace and respect the following leaders were honored:

Stewards of Sustainable Agriculture 2018:

-Gary Nabhan, Founder of Native Seed/SEARCH, prolific author and many other accomplishments. Nabhan is one of the premier eco-ethno-biologists on the planet.

-David Runsten, Policy Director for Community Alliance with Family Farmers, relentlessly carrying the torch for small farms, farmworkers and farm communities for over 30 years.

-Sally Fox, Fox Fibres, Viriditas Farm, and Vreseis Ltd. The indefatigable inventor, breeder, farmer, promoter and master artist of colored, organic cotton. Truly one of a kind, and still out-achieving herself.

Advocates for Social Justice in Sustainable Agriculture 2018:

-Dr. Gayle P. Meyers, Farms to Grow, Inc., Freedom Farmers Market, and Rhythms of the Land. Dr. Myers is a cultural anthropologist, pioneer of study and organizing for farmers of color in America, and an icon of the food justice community centered in Oakland CA.

-Winona LaDuke, Native American (Anishinaabe) activist and leader, indigenous-food-eco-system defender, economic strategist, former candidate for U.S. Vice-President. Her presence was a very humbling honor and inspiration for Ecofarm.

Closing Plenary: Time of the Seventh Fire

LaDuke closed the conference on a clear sunny Saturday morning.  Her speech was a clarion call to action and compassion, to be present in the planetary emergency, to heal our broken food connections and economies.  She talked about the struggle at Standing Rock and the spiritual imperative to defend the waters and turn back the pipelines. 

In her peoples’ prophecies, she said “This is the time of the Seventh Fire, when there is a choice between two paths.  One path is well-worn but scorched and burnt. The other path is less well-marked but it is green and healthy.” This is our time to choose, said LaDuke, “a choice between life and death, between oil and water, a choice for our food and our future.”  See her current work at www.honorearth.org

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