We had dreamed of attending the annual EcoFarm conference in Pacific Grove, CA for years. We’d see banners advertising for it on our road trips up and down Interstate 5, and we’d hear gushings about how amazing it was from our friends and colleagues lucky enough to attend. Until this year though, our attendance was all but impossible; between our scattered geography, our full-time jobs, and our lack of funds, we just weren’t able to make it work. Fortunately, things are very different this year. I quit my job in the entertainment industry, and the rest of the team has shifted their work responsibilities to make Terra Cultura more of a priority. We’ve all regrouped in Southern California, where we’re currently basing our organization’s operations. With these things in place, we bit the bullet and pooled our Christmas and Hanukkah gifts together to purchase tickets to EcoFarm 2017. There was no turning back, we were going!
The Ecological Farming Association (EcoFarm) is a nonprofit organization based in California’s Central coast. Their mission is “to nurture healthy, just, and ecologically sustainable farms, food systems, and communities by bringing people together for education, alliance building, advocacy, and celebration”. That’s certainly a mission that we at Terra Cultura can get behind. While they offer a wealth of resources and programming throughout the year, the EcoFarm Conference is their largest tent-pole event, offering over 70 workshops each year, for nearly 40 years. We were excited to attend, and learn everything we could about permaculture, climate change, land and water stewardship, and farm business management. So with one more road trip upstate, we found ourselves in beautiful Pacific Grove.
The morning of the conference, we woke up to one of the most exquisite sunrises I’ve ever seen. We sat outside overlooking the ocean as we munched our breakfast and watched the vibrant colors transform into a crisp, clear day. The inn we stayed at was a pleasant 20-minute stroll away from the conference, through neighborhoods of charming historic houses and leafy parks. EcoFarm Conference is held at Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds. It’s a beautiful spot right on the ocean in Pacific Grove. It was lovely to get to explore it as we wandered from workshop to workshop, and a walk on the beach was exactly what we were craving during the lunch break. Supposedly there are deer all over the place, although we didn’t spot any. We did find a gumboot chiton in the tidepools, though!
Deciding which workshops to attend was a multi-week process. The event schedule was full of sessions that sounded both interesting and relevant to Terra Cultura. We decided early on that our team should split up to take full advantage of the workshops being offered at each session, and even then we had a tough time deciding where to go. We settled on a handful of workshops about things like on-farm finances and legal issues, experiential training best practices, funding opportunities, how farmers are adapting to climate change and cover crops. We appreciated the thread of diversity throughout the conference– it was the theme of the year after all. There seemed to be a strong effort to include a variety of voices, and we appreciated the emphasis placed on the necessity of recognizing the intersection of social justice and farming. While the farming community has a way to go in this arena, it was inspiring and encouraging to hear about the efforts so many organizations are making to increase diversity in the field, and access to resources for all potential farmers.
EcoFarm is as much about networking and alliance building as it is about education. The conference is punctuated with a number of mixers, office hours, and other opportunities to meet farmers and organizations, all more than willing to offer support and advice to a fledgling group like Terra Cultura. Having attended numerous other conferences in our professional lives, both in the entertainment and music tech industries, as well as in the environmental advocacy realm, we were struck by how positive, supportive, nurturing and non-competitive the general attitude was at each event we attended. There was a genuine sense of “we are all in this together” that is very difficult to find in today’s divisive world. EcoFarm definitely hits its target of bringing people together.
With notebooks full of hastily scribbled notes, and a tote bag filled with business cards and resource material, we headed back down to San Diego on Saturday. On our drive, we talked fervently about all the exciting new practices we learned, all the new ideas we absorbed, and all the amazing and inspiring people we met during the conference. Thanks EcoFarm, for hosting such a wonderful, and important event for us farmers and dreamers.