Spotlighting Organic: EcoFarm Conference Celebrates 40th Anniversary

This is a guest post from Refresh Working Group member Amy Wu, founder and chief content creator of From Farms to Incubators, a multimedia initiative that spotlights women in food, farming, and agtech. She is also a member of EcoFarm’s diversity committee.

Among the vast spectrum of conferences in food and farming, EcoFarm remains one of my favorites. Last year was my second year attending, and now it is a staple on my calendar. It helps too that it is held at Asilomar, a premiere conference center surrounded by the picturesque Monterey Bay.

Over the course of its 40 years, the annual conference, organized by the nonprofit Ecological Farming Association, has grown from a handful of workshops to hundreds. If you can, I recommend blocking out an entire week to attend, especially if you are coming from out of town, since its program is jam-packed with so many amazing workshops. And that doesn’t include the optional cheese and beer tastings, wine tastings, cocktails, and after hour dances, which leave ample opportunity for befriending people with a similar passion.

While the conference was launched in California and tends to draw a West Coast growers crowd, in recent years it has attracted growers from all over the country. To be sure, California has become a platform to spotlight topics that are critical to those in agriculture across the board from how to tackle the severe labor shortage and realities of climate change, to the art of seed preservation, reducing tillage, and how to extend land ownership to women and people of color. The exhibition center showcases the latest farming technologies and includes one of the best bookstores for agriculture and ecology. In between workshops, there are film screenings and book signings.

It is no wonder that at times the nearly weeklong conference can feel a bit overwhelming, like SXSW for organic growers. It is both a gathering of the best minds in organic farming and a celebration of agriculture. Agriculture and growers don’t have a reputation for being sexy, but somehow EcoFarm manages to maintain a balance between cool and innovative content and more thoughtful deep dives, with engaging conversations on timely topics that resonate for all growers, such as the broad and yet very critical umbrella topic of soil health.

In 2019 the conference’s keynotes included some rock stars in the soil health stratosphere, like Dr. Kris Nichols, a renowned soil microbiologist and former chief scientist at the Rodale Institute. Nichols’ presentation on the challenges and opportunities within soil health attracted an audience of hundreds. Refresh Working Group member Karen Washington of Rise & Root Farm in New York also drew a large crowd.

As EcoFarm celebrates its 40th birthday, it reminds us that topics affecting California’s agriculture sector are equally relevant across the country. EcoFarm has become a platform for sharing and exchange. For those who can’t attend, many of the workshops are recorded and can be accessed after the conference ends.

And if you have a topic within organic farming, EcoFarm is open for workshop proposals through June 1. I plan to submit one on Asian/Asian-American growers and a second on the art of using social media to tell stories. If anyone is interested in joining me in submitting the proposals for these workshops, please email me at amy@farmstoincubators.com. It would be great to attend EcoFarm together.

Ben Thelen
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