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Freshly inspired: Sierra Harvest welcomes Sustainable Food and Farm Conference for 10th year

Hollie Grimaldi Flores
Special to Prospector


WHO: Sierra Harvest

WHAT: 10th Sustainable Food and Farm Conference

WHEN: Friday Feb. 7 through Sunday Feb. 9

WHERE: Nevada Union High School, 11761 Ridge Rd, Grass Valley

HOW: Ticket prices vary, go to foodandfarmconference.com for more information

The Sustainable Food and Farm Conference was born ten years ago when Penn Valley homesteader Dennis MacDonniel was disappointed about missing an opportunity to attain tickets to see  American farmer, lecturer and author  Joel Salatin share his experiences on all things farming at an out of area event. So, MacDonniel decided to bring Salatin here to speak to Nevada County Farmers and Ranchers about regenerative ranching. MacDonniel and a few volunteers did just that, and, as a result, founded the Sustainable Food and Farm Conference.

One of those early volunteers was Malaika Bishop who grew up farming and is now co-director of Sierra Harvest. Sierra Harvest has taken over producing the event as a way to fulfill part of the organizations mission to “transform lives and strengthen community through fresh, local, seasonal food.”

Bishop said that happens in a big way at the conference. “People who are interested in farming meet other farmers. People who are purchasing meet some of the farmers. Farmers connect to companies that are making products that support their farms. So, there is a lot of community networking that happens at the conference.”

In addition, it allows locals to hear from major players in the sustainable food arena. “We do the Conference because it is an opportunity to bring in world renowned speakers with cutting edge knowledge in the sustainable food and farming realm to share best practices,” Bishop said. “What is amazing is the farmers who come always go back and apply what they have learned on their farms and often are making more money because of it. So, it is about supporting the local farming movement and helping the farmers be more successful and more profitable while farming in a sustainable way.”

Farm Conference Producer Stephanie Stevens said this year they are bringing world renowned and highly respected speakers for both farmers and non-farmers to enjoy. “One of our big draws this year is Dr. Vandana Shiva, who is coming from India. She is kind of like a rock star in the sustainable food movement.”

“Shiva is an award-winning food sovereignty activist,” Bishop said. “Dr Shiva is an international hero and she has never spoken in Nevada County before. If there is one reason to attend, see this woman speak. She is pretty remarkable.”

In addition to Dr Shiva, other keynotes include Jim Gerrish, a very well-known and respected rancher, who will share his experiences around grazing lands for economic and environmental sustainability, and Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser. The Kaisers are crowd favorites and owners of Singing Frog Farms. They first spoke in 2018 and are returning to the conference to share some of the cutting-edge practices they use.

Stevens added, “The speakers all have a lot of great information to share and they are really fun. They are good, dynamic speakers who are also appealing to non-farmers. It’s going to be information that is relevant to eaters, and everybody eats, so it is pertinent to everyone. These are very inspirational speakers.”

The Food and Farm Conference was one of the big draws for Stevens when she was looking to move from Central California and found Nevada County. “Our farming and sustainable farming community up here and really the community in general is very committed to transforming our food system. The reason this conference survives up here is because people come to it and support it. It’s a reflection of how great this community is.”

Many attendees are from the region though the bulk of attendees are local. Stevens said, “People keep coming back because they keep learning new things. It just goes to show we do not rehash the same things every year. We try to really offer new or more in-depth information year after year.”

The conference kicks off Friday Feb. 9 with the now sold out Farm Tour that will take participants to a first visit of “For the People Seeds” farm which plants, harvests and processes organic seed for sale; Legacy Ranching which does rotational grazing to increase biodiversity and create fire protection; and Mountain Bounty Farm, the oldest and largest organic community supported agriculture farm in the county.

Saturday’s program features an Expo, inspirational talks with the three keynotes and breakout sessions with the keynote speakers as well. The day concludes with a meet and mingle mixer at Grass Valley Brewing and Roost Kitchen in downtown Grass Valley, at 141 E Main St.

Sunday is packed with 20 different workshops appealing to a variety of audiences from how to ranch for profit to how to grow cut flowers and a great variety of topics in between. While it is not possible to attend all the workshops, tracks are set up to help guide attendees to their areas of interest. Other workshops will discuss the business side of agriculture to aid in increasing profits and making the best use of land for long-term sustainability.

For the non-farmers, there will be how to’s including Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply Product Development Manager Sarah Griffin-Boubacar’s session on how to make soft cheese with an easy technique; The Ham Stand Owner Jason Jillson breaking down a pig and then offering techniques to make your own cold cuts; and Rachel Berry teaching attendees how to find easy to identify weeds that are actually nutritionally dense food sources as well as others that are known to improve overall health.

Bishop emphasized the conference really is for everyone. “We always say the Farm Conference is for farmers, ranchers, homesteaders and foodies. So, if you have an interest in eating fresh local food then there is something for you at the conference.”

For a full schedule and tickets, go to http://www.foodandfarmconference.com.

Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire. She can be reached at holliesallwrite@gmail.com.

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