At the end of January we spent a few intense days at the Eco Farm Conference, which is becoming our annual tradition. Away from the complexity of daily routines and a web of Sustainable Solano activities, we were able to focus exclusively on the emerging local food system in our county and to learn from leaders and advocates of this movement.
While the topics of discussion were many, the key idea was clear: Feeding seven billion people is not a small task and agriculture is here to stay. The major question is, what kind of agriculture? As the conference progressed, we spent time reflecting on the consequences of using synthetic nitrogen introduced in the early 20th century, which allowed the production of massive amounts of “cheap” food at the cost of a decrease in quality and nutritional density of this very food as well as the degradation of the planet. This overproduction of commodity crops for profit supported intensive population growth, but the quality of food did not ensure health for the majority of humanity.
We also discussed the importance of yield and how we pushed nature to its limits with our intensive technologies, beginning with the Green Revolution. It became clear that reproduction is the biggest energy sink, and that plants exhaust their energy reserve to deliver the higher and higher yield we demand from them; compromising all their other systems in the process. This results in weak plants that are susceptible to pests and disease and require an increasing number of pesticides, herbicides and other poisons to simply survive.
Eventually we will have to wean ourselves from synthetic fertilizers and return to a more balanced way of producing food. Critics of holistic agriculture (such as true organic, biodynamic, permaculture, regenerative agriculture and others) are quick to point out that the yield of these approaches will not support the demand of a growing population. However, there is such a distortion of truth in the global food economy, where subsidies and tariffs obscure the true cost of food. These costs include the cost to the communities and the environment. We produce grains for cattle, corn for syrup, and food for profit, making it difficult to assess available land and other resources to produce simply food.
As we always say, Solano County is a microcosm of the world. We have two types of agriculture side by side all around us. Large industrial agriculture produces over $350 million worth of products annually that are exported to 44 countries. Smaller, community-oriented farming is here too! Organic farms, such as Eat Well Farm, Cloverleaf, Lockwood Acres, CoCo Ranch; sustainably managed Brazelton Ranch; the lavender fields and olive groves of Soul Food Farm; Ilfar; farm stands; and wineries of Suisun Valley and Pleasants Valley need our support and attention!
Together with our community partners, we are seeking to strengthen our local food system, make it economically and ecologically sustainable and socially just. Justice and equity of food systems was another key focus of the Eco Farm Conference this year. We heard from numerous organizations from across the nation struggling to build a more equitable world. This is an enormously difficult area, with no clear answers yet, but with many promising and inspiring examples and leaders emerging all over the country.
Indigenous wisdom was another key component of everything we discussed at the conference. Biodiversity in and around fields is a crucial component of sustainable agriculture. Time-tested, wise ways of managing our local ecosystem must inform any work done in local agriculture and local food systems.
The three days of the conference were packed with technical knowledge and assistance to the farmers, with topics ranging from tractors to taxes, and with many workshops for the support ecosystems, FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act), food hubs, marketing, legal, policy, even grant writing.
We gathered together at the last hour of the conference, tired but inspired and excited to continue to carry this work forward in our communities. The last key speaker brought us back to where it started and where it all needs to point to: to the sacredness of nature and food as its gift, to the reverence for Earth and all forms of life, to interconnectedness and interdependence of everything and everyone…
Soil is the foundation of life and soil fertility is what life depends upon. Resilience is fertile!