The Ecofarm Conference is always an energizing experience, but this year the currents of change seemed particularly electrifying. Maybe it was the weather, which was unusually warm and sunny along California’s Central Coast in early February. Maybe it was the impressive number of young people who have caught hold of the Ecofarm vision of farming in concert with nature. Maybe it was simply the incredible enthusiasm of the 1,700 farmers and food activists who gathered at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove.
Attendees came together under the conference theme of “Raising EcoFarmers’ Voices.” Throughout the three-day gathering, that theme echoed as plenary speakers like food policy activist and current Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie reminded the group that California has always provided leadership to the food and farm movement. Engaging in the discussion and creation of public policy around food and farming is crucial, said Ritchie.
“Policy is important because policy shapes the future,” he said. “If we want things to keep getting better, we have to stay involved.”
Other presenters issued similar calls for increased participation at the local, state, and national level. As part of our work toward a climate-friendly food and farm economy, CalCAN moderated two workshops on engaging citizen participation in the push for a Farm Bill that protects conservation, organic and beginning farmer programs.
On a more hands-on level, we facilitated a workshop highlighting the climate-friendly efforts of the Fetzer/Bonterra Vineyards and those of organic walnut producer Russ Lester of Dixon Ridge Farm in Winters, CA.
Fetzer/Bonterra has done pioneering work in organic wine grape production and recently completed a survey of vineyard properties to develop a benchmark for determining the level of carbon sequestration taking place in the soils, forests and borders surrounding its vineyards.
Russ Lester told workshop attendees about the many ways he has found to create a more climate-friendly farming environment. He noted that government-funded subsidies and grants have been beneficial in helping him reduce the carbon footprint on his farm. He also showcased a system he’s developed enabling him to burn waste walnut shells to generate electricity. Thanks to a bill, the Renewable Energy Equity Act, sponsored by CalCAN, Dixon is now able to connect to the grid and cut his energy costs while lowering his carbon footprint by producing renewable energy from a waste product.
Research, innovation, policy change — all require commitment at the individual level. People coming together to move the farm and food agenda forward in a positive way. That’s the message Ecofarm delivered, and it’s the vision CalCAN carries forward in its work to be the sustainable agriculture voice for climate-friendly farming in California. In coming days, we’ll be moving to increase our organizing activity and our potential for making policy change here in California as we launch the Food and Climate Project. Through this project we’ll be reaching out to organizations, individuals, and businesses with an invitation to take action on initiatives that help California’s farmers and ranchers adapt to climate change and unleash their potential for providing climate benefits. Stay tuned for more details, or contact Ted Quaday, CalCAN’s Campaign Director, for more information.