by Stephanie Oelsligle Jordan, Sustainable Solano, Local Food System Manager
This was my first EcoFarm conference. When initially sifting through the options for lectures and discussions about a month ago, I noticed the obvious: “how-to” workshops on various technicalities of farming, and peer discussions on what works (or doesn’t) in agriculture today, new inventions, pest management, etc. What I wasn’t expecting were some amazing and relevant discussions and speeches addressing how today’s farmers must intersect with larger social/world issues including hunger, social justice in food systems, honoring Native American lands, and climate change, just to name a few.
But there was another underlying, somewhat spiritual theme that seemed to arise from the workshops and discussions that I attended: our relationship to – and responsibility for – a given place, whether we farm it or not. It was this “sense of place” that I found myself thinking about the most, and how that idea might serve my work with Sustainable Solano’s Local Food initiatives.
I am not an expert in Permaculture or Biodynamic farming (I’m a chef!) but I gathered that this “sense of place” is vitally important in both methods of farming. In a talk titled “Nature Connection, Permaculture & Ecological Responsibility,” Will Scott of Sonoma’s Weaving Earth Center for Relational Education took us on a journey both inside our minds and hearts, and then – literally – out into the woods. His initial argument was that “our sense of awareness of our landscape and surroundings has been limited by the industrialized world….The mind has been colonized, and the story of separation has been ingrained….Modern experience has atrophied our ‘whole being sense.’” But all is not lost!
Through “Nature Connection,” we can regain our sense of connection. He made an interesting point (often forgotten, I might add) that our connection to the natural world just IS. We can’t deepen it. However, we can increase our capacity to interact with it and relate to it. “When love for a place happens,” he stated, “empathy is embodied and behavior can change to ensure the place is taken care of….If we want to start designing or thinking ‘whole system’, then we need to use our whole system too: heart and mind, and not just our intelligence.” He had a quote from someone else, which pretty much summed it up: “Lose your mind and come back to your senses!” So we did. He led us out to the woods, and for about 10 minutes we did nothing but let nature interact with our 5 senses, in what he called a “Sit Spot.”
Another workshop that touched upon this “sense of place” was a discussion group titled “Biodynamic Farming and Gardening for the Future”. Seasoned biodynamic farmers and newcomers to the method were sitting in a circle, and I was struck by one farmer who had previously farmed in Wisconsin. He had lately moved to California, and just wasn’t connecting to the land like he had in the Midwest. (This is a problem, by the way, if you want to be a biodynamic farmer!) As I learned about the importance of the farmer’s interaction with not only the land, but also the solar system, weather patterns, creatures big and small, and everything else in his/her “place,” I began to wonder about the rest of us. Is there a way to connect non-farmers to the land/place through the food?
This question also came up for me at a couple of workshops on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. As you’d guess, the CSA discussions were largely about how to acquire and retain subscriptions. After addressing the logistical issues (marketing, surveys, packaging, software, etc.), the group concluded that 1) education about CSAs was important and 2) people want a connection to local farmers. Here’s that connection theme again!
The final talk I attended was titled “The Farmer and the Chef: Utilizing Abundance” (Finally! Something I understand!) and featured exactly that: Farmer Jeff Dawson of The Farm in Woodside, CA and Chef Stuart Brioza of State Bird Provisions and The Progress restaurants in San Francisco. Here they were, presenting their collaboration, along with all the spreadsheets and systems that have made it work over the past 5 years. This is admittedly a very specialized relationship, in which the majority of us will not experience. However, Chef Brioza made a good point, which is not unlike the CSA programs, and has this idea of connection at heart: “You’re not just partnering with a farm. You’re partnering with abundance, and the harvest….We are telling a story about the farm, on the plate.”
I’m sure I left EcoFarm with more questions than answers. (How can the larger population become involved in that “sense of place” in order to appreciate the value of the farmer’s work? How can this “sense of place” influence our local farmers to take better care of their soil? How are we ALL responsible for this place, whether we farm it or not?) And I think most of the attendees may have left with more questions as well. However, I sensed an energy among all of us that in the midst of all the questions, we all had an unwritten and unspoken commitment to one another to move forward. Everyone seemed courageous….ready to make connections….and do what it takes to care for their respective places on the planet.
Made possible by Solano Public Health in partnership with the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation