Moving beyond sustainable: Acclaimed ag speakers on tap for Jan. 8-10 Susatainable Food & Farm Conference |

Moving beyond sustainable: Acclaimed ag speakers on tap for Jan. 8-10 Susatainable Food & Farm Conference

Laura Petersen
Special to The Union
Mushroom scientist Paul Stamets is one of the top speakers at the Jan. 8-10 Sustainable Food & Farm Conference in Grass Valley.
Submitted photo |


Who: Sierra Harvest presents

What: 6th Annual Sustainable Food & Farm Conference

Where: Various sites Grass Valley

When: Jan. 8 to 10

More information:

A morning call for an interview caught rancher Gabe Brown in the middle of doing his taxes.

The good news is his 5,400-acre unconventional ranching operation, Brown’s Ranch, made money this year — again.

On Jan. 9, Brown will visit Grass Valley to be one of three big-name agricultural speakers at Nevada County’s 2016 Sustainable Food and Farm Conference.

Twenty years ago, Brown’s Ranch was losing money year after year, and his family could no longer afford the expensive chemical inputs that had become the norm among his peers.

So instead, Brown turned to nature and developed ranching methods that restored the health of the soil rather than degraded it.

“That’s the key. You observe nature in healthy environments and try to mimic on your own operation,” he said.

In turn, his animals are healthier and ultimately, so are the folks who eat the food he produces.

“It all goes up the food chain until it reaches human consumption. We have a health care crisis in this country — a large part of that I think is our food system,” said Brown.

As an award-winning sustainable farmer and rancher, Brown’s lectures are in demand all over the country — so much so, that he is booked out for the next two years.

His family teaches how they holistically integrate a natural approach to grazing beef, sheep and poultry in the Central Plains where bison once kept things in balance.

No-till cash crops and over 25 multi-species of cover crops help to regenerate the land.

It’s taking things to the next level, going beyond sustainable to regenerative.

“I’ve seen the difference it’s made in our lives. People all over the world are practicing regenerative agriculture,” said Brown.

Brown believes by building healthy soil, other resources stressed by climate change can be improved, such as infiltrating water in the face of drought and carbon sequestration for cleaner air.

Joining Brown are plenary speakers Paul Stamets, a world-renowned mushroom researcher, and Jean-Martin Fortier, a “rock star farmer” known for making six figures on his one and a half-acre Canadian farm.

Stamets is a leading researcher of mushrooms as a keystone species for soil and plant health, bio-remediation and habitat restoration.

“He is the mushroom guru of the U.S.,” said conference organizer Malaika Bishop.

Stamets has filed 22 patents for mushroom-related technologies, including: pesticidal fungi that trick insects into eating them, mushrooms that can break down the neurotoxins used in nerve gas, mushrooms that can treat cancer and mushrooms that can break down oil (from oil spills) and radiation.

Stamets is the author of five books including the classic, “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.”

Fortier is passionate about demonstrating how farmers can grow better — not bigger — by optimizing small organic cropping systems and making them lucrative and resilient.

He and his wife Maude-Hélène Desroches live on an organic 10-acre micro-farm, Les Jardins de la Grelinette, in the very small town of St-Armand, Québec.

Regularly featured in mainstream newspapers, radio shows and television, Fortier believes in replacing mass production with production by the masses.

His book, “The Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Growing” illustrates how to successfully earn a living from selling vegetables through CSA shares and local farmers markets.

“Increasingly it’s a great opportunity for our community and greater region to see some of these speakers we normally wouldn’t get to see,” at a fraction of the cost seen at other farm conferences, said Bishop, who is also the co-director of Sierra Harvest.

This is the first year Sierra Harvest has taken on the conference as official sponsors.

By educating the community and inspiring farmers and gardeners, the conference is in line with Sierra Harvest’s vision, said Bishop.

Sierra Harvest is known for its active farm-to-school programs that teach young people where their food comes from through farm tours, chefs in the classroom, tastings, garden carts, backyard garden assistance for low income families and goals of revolutionizing school lunch programs.

This year’s three-day conference will kick off with a tour of four innovative area farms: AM Ranch, Super Tuber Farm and Robinson Ranch in Penn Valley, and Tumbling Creek Farm — the first certified organic biodynamic mushroom farm in the country.

On Sunday, a full lineup of workshops will keep conference attendees busy.

Keeping in line with the mushroom theme, naturalist and horticulturist Daniel Nicholson, a local mushroom man and organizer of Yuba Watershed Institute’s Annual Fungus Foray, will give a talk about how he enhances his San Juan Ridge farm with mushrooms.

This year, lunch is included in ticket prices.

Tickets are available online at: or by calling the Sierra Harvest office at: 530-265-2343.

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at or 530-913-3067.

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