Sunday, January 27, 2008

ECO-FARM, a wrap up.

We just spent a wild three days in the company of the best, brightest, oldest, youngest, weirdest, loveliest, hungriest, and most experienced members of the sustainable food scene from across the country (and the world!). And we loved it.

Eco-Farm, a conference put on annually by the Ecological Farming Association, brings together farmers and food activists for worthwhile conversations, various farm-related songs (talent show!), and sessions on topics from organic orchard pest control to the threat of evil LBAM and LBAM sprays. Jesse and I performed "Satan Gave Me a Taco", by Beck, at the talent show, hoping to end up with the $500 dinner for four, but alas, the guy with the cutesy song about worms won instead. We did make it to the finals due to the very drunk persuasion of the judges by an anonymous audience member, who came up to the stage and insisted that we were "amazing". No, what was really amazing was the lanky ecological landscaper playing his congas/voice arrangment, "Mouse in the House". And our new friend, Dan Sullivan, from the Rodale Institute, did his rendition of a classic Neil Young song with new lyrics, titled "Keep On Rockin' in the Label-Free World". I will post the video of that when I can.

The rest of the conference:
As is normal for these types of events (in my experience), the scheduled sessions ended up being the least exciting part. I did attend a couple that rocked my world, though, including:

1) Water Conservation Leadership in Sustainable Ag,
where Brock Dolman of the OAEC (who we'll be interviewing in February) conducted his usual fantabulous powerpoint presentation. His rap included some of my favorite Brock-isms. Brock-isms are language altered for a better reflection of reality and for humorous effect--replacing "global weirding" for global warming, "fossil fools" for fossil fuels, and "bi-pedal sacks of saline solution" for human beings. Brock gives me hope that if more people in the sustainable agriculture movement were lucid, eloquent, funny, and hopeful, we'd have no problem getting other people excited about watershed activism!
2) Indigenous Wisdom,
featuring Diana Almeadariz, "the Tule Lady", who carries on traditions of her people by teaching the history, importance, and uses of native plants, especially the native tule reeds of the central valley. She used great stories and photos to illustrate the connection between her family and the resources they relied on. Also presenting was Chuck Striplen, an academic working to answering the question: if we are going to "restore" the landscape of our protected state and federal lands, what are we trying to restore it to? He defines "restored" by investigating the relationships indigenous Californians had with their environment. Through ethno-botanical research, Chuck has learned how natives supported and selected for the survival of certain plants and animals, and how this management created the landscape early settlers saw when they arrived. His research has added ammo to the case that far from being an Eden-like paradise untouched by human hands, pre-colonial California was effectively a huge garden that provided food and sustenence for large numbers of native Californians while maintaining thriving biodiversity. Surely a model to look to for a sustainable food system!
3) The closing Plenary speech by Andrew Kimbrell. I met this guy the night before, at the CAFF mixer, and he told me that he "didn't know" what he was going to talk about. He sure knows how to fool a guy. His speech was hopeful, funny, inspiring, and obviously well thought out. Best of all, it ended with the word "love". There was nothing to argue with; he just laid down why we fight for sustainable agriculture in such human terms that I almost forgot that he is a lawyer.

Really, though, the reason to go to Eco-Farm is for the people and the connections made.
I met many heroes, many peers, and more than a few of the subject interviewed or to-be interviewed for In Search of Good Food. I was having so much fun talking to everyone, swapping seeds, and checking out nametags, that I nearly forgot to get any footage!

We did interview Bob Scowcroft, the Executive Director of Organic Farming Research Foundation. Let me say that the best thing I've found about the "old guard" of the sustainable food movement--those that started institutions which have formed the foundation for the immense success and growth of the organic food industry--is that they actually appreciate the younger people in the movement. They seem more excited about interns coming in to take the reins than getting recognized for their years of hard work! Bob also talked about the obvious need for more federal funding of organic and sustainable production research, and the joys of bringing music into sustainability efforts. That's another thing: organic farmers and their supporters seem to be a very musical bunch!

However, that does not mean that the band the EFA booked to play the big dance, Blue Turtle Seduction, was any good. They describe theirselves on their website thusly:
Well its jam-newgrass?, how about gypsy rock?, no its Duran  
Duran meets String Cheese Incident, meets the Clash.
Not exactly my cup o' tea. I danced, mostly because I was there with friends and it seemed like the right thing to do. And then it dawned on me: I haven't danced to a jam band like this since, hmmm...the Horde Festival in 1996. Wow. Bringin it back.

Regardless, I will definitely be back to Eco-Farm. And big thanks to all the wonderful people who make it happen!

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