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‘High Priest of the Pasture’ returns to Sustainable Food and Farm Conference

Laura Petersen
Special to The Union
Farmer John Tecklin and his crew will grow more vegetables year round in an effort to keep up with demand and supply locally grown veggies to their loyal CSA members in Western Nevada County, Truckee, Tahoe and Reno.
Submitted photo by Mountain Bounty Farm |

Sierra Harvest is gearing up for the 8th annual Sustainable Food and Farm Conference with a new lineup and expanded educational programing, offering something for everyone during four days of workshops, farm tours and internationally-known speakers.

The event featuring farming celebrity Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms known as the “High Priest of the Pasture” is expected to draw a gathering of 600 people during the bleakest time of year.

“I think what makes it so successful is the high quality of education that is offered,” said conference manager Rachel Berry, Sierra Harvest’s engagement director. “We bring in national and regional speakers who really are innovators in their respective fields. People come to upgrade their skills but also to network with like-minded community members, and often end up making connections that last beyond the conference.”

The event held Thursday, Feb. 8, through Sunday, Feb. 11, is not a fundraiser for Sierra Harvest, known for its farm to school programs.

“We put on this conference to move forward with our vision for more successful sustainable farms and gardens in Nevada County,” said Berry.

So much to speak about

“Each year, we choose cutting-edge leaders in the fields of food, farming and ranching, so our local community can benefit,” said Berry.

This is the third year Virginia farmer Joel Salatin has visited Nevada County to speak at the farm conference. Salatin was featured in the award-winning documentary, “Food Inc.” and Michael Pollen’s New York Times Bestseller “Omnivore’s Dilemma.”

His farm services more than 6,000 customers, 50 restaurants, 10 retail outlets and farmers markets with “salad bar beef,” “pigaerator pork,” pastured poultry and forestry products. He will share details from his newest book, “Your Successful Farm Business: Success Profit and Pleasure.”

“Joel is a great fit for our audience. His ideas and applications are leading edge and apply at any scale or size of property. And he is fun to listen to,” said one of the event’s founding organizers Cathe` Fish.

After spending years traveling and studying sustainable farming techniques, Salatin became aware of the widespread use of chemicals to produce food. Salatin wanted to offer hope in a time of dysfunction and give alternatives to toxicity, pathogenicity, nutrient deficiency, bankruptcy and erosion.

“He calls himself a Christian libertarian environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer,” Fish said. “Others who like him call him the most famous farmer in the world, the high priest of the pasture, and the most eclectic thinker from Virginia since Thomas Jefferson.”

Salatin writes a column for Stockman Grass Farmer and Mother Earth News. His books include: “Folks this Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World,” “You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise,” and “Everything I Want to Do is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front.”

Elizabeth and Paul Kaiser from Singing Frogs Farm will share their knowledge about increasing organic matter in the soil, reducing water, while enjoying the benefits from high-yield and profitable crops using high-intensive, no-till ecological management.

The Kaisers grow over 100 different crops at their Sebastopol farm, generating over $100,000 in profits per acre.

“We have lots of small family farmers raising vegetables here in Nevada County, so we brought in the Kaisers who have been extremely successful both financially and also in increasing the fertility and vitality of their farmland,” said organizer Rachel Berry.

Daphne Miller, MD, a practicing family physician, will round out the speaker forum with a talk about the health benefits of eating local and sustainably grown food.

It’s all about education

The conference is a mixed audience with about 60 percent considered active farmers and 40 percent aspiring farmers and homesteaders. Most attendees come from Northern California with about 60 percent coming from Nevada County.

The event kicks off on Thursday, Feb. 8, with a full day economical workshop just for farmers called “Post-Harvest Handling and Food Safety.” On Friday, the much anticipated farm tour returns featuring a behind-the-scenes look at three operations: Mountain Bounty Farm, Browning’s Timber and Fowler Family Farm.

“This is an opportunity for farmers and ranchers to share their passions. We all have our own experiences that build the farm or ranch that we’ve created,” said Alana Fowler of Fowler Family Farm.

“I believe by getting people to these special places we’re given the opportunity of outside perspectives that often creates small changes on our own places,” said Fowler.

The same day, Tumbling Creek Farm will lead a workshop on growing mushrooms.

New this year, a free networking event, the Ag Tech Micro Conference will be held in the afternoon.

Saturday features a full day of keynote speakers, a farm expo and in-depth break out sessions, followed by another full day of 20 workshops on Sunday featuring topics as varied as fermentation, permaculture, medicinal plants, grazing and tractor care.

Learn more and buy tickets: http://www.foodandfarmconference.com

Questions? Comments? Story ideas? Contact Freelance Writer Laura Petersen at laurapetersen310@gmail.com or 530-913-3067.


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