Eco-friendly farming celebrates milestone

In its 25 years, the Ecological Farming Conference maintains
sustainable farming focus
Organic farmers and industry insiders will convene at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, Calif. on Wednesday to celebrate a quarter-century of earth-friendly farming techniques.

The Ecological Farming Conference started out as a one-day meeting of 45 people with just one speaker. Their goal was to educate farmers about sustainable agriculture and how to adopt more sustainable farming practices. The goal has expanded as the organization has grown.

Transformed by the growth and popularity of organic farming, the EFC’s latest meeting is expected to draw more than 1,200 people over the course of the three-and-a-half-day event.

About two thirds of them will be repeat attendees, according to conference coordinator Zea Sonnabend.

Some 63 workshops and sessions are scheduled, from “New directions for the sustainable agriculture movement” to “Don’t be chicken, it’s eggciting!” but one of the real standouts promises to be the a session titled “Ecological consequences of what we eat,” said Sonnabend.

“We have a scientist coming from the USDA Agricultural Research Service and another from Ohio State University,” said Sonnabend, referring to presenters Michael Pollan and Sandra Steingraber. “It’s about some of the most very recent research on the benefits of ecologically sound growing.”

Sonnabend expects around 40 percent of the crowd to be made up of farmers and growers like Phil Foster, a long-time supporter and sponsor of EFC programs. The San Juan Bautista resident worked as a conventional farmer in the Central Valley, supervising thousands of acres of cotton and wheat as well as other commodities.

“He came over here to ranch with his cousin, couldn’t keep his hands off the implements and ended up farming a piece of the ground,” said Terence Welch, Foster’s sales manager. “He started out with just a few acres – around 20 – and kept adding acreage. Now we have 250. We’ve been pretty steady at 250.”

Farms like Foster’s, rather than the tiny boutique operations most buyers picture, are becoming the industry standard as the organic movement has grown “from a fringe community to an industry of some $13 billion a year with growth rates of 25 percent a year,” according to EFC press releases.

Members of the public are able to attend the conference. Visitors may want to snap up the EFC cookbook, a retrospective including 25 years of recipes from the conference. Most are vegetarian recipes featuring organic foods and seasonal produce, and recipes are scaled to allow kitchen whizzes to choose between portions for a family meal and dinner party feeds for 50.

For more information, visit www.eco-farm.org or call the Ecological Farming Association’s Watsonville headquarters at (831) 763-2111.

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