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This agrarian life: Sustainable Food and Farm Conference supports thriving farm community

Laura Petersen
Special to The Union
Rancher Doniga Markegard, along with her husband and four children, raises grass-fed beef, lamb, pastured pork, chicken and dairy cows on 10,000 acres.
Submitted photo to The Union


WHAT: Sierra Harvest’s Sustainable Food and Farm Conference

WHEN: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 7-10, 2019

WHERE: Nevada Union High School, 11645 Ridge Rd., Grass Valley

TICKETS: Purchase tickets at http://www.foodandfarmconference.com

INFO: Visit http://www.foodandfarmconference.com for more information

Every year, farmers and those who love local food come together for an extended weekend of learning and networking at Sierra Harvest’s Sustainable Food and Farm Conference.

Beyond a fun reunion for foodies, the event is making a noticeable difference in Nevada County’s agricultural community, said Sierra Harvest’s co-executive director Malaika Bishop.

According to the Nevada County annual Crop Report, between 2014 and 2018 local farmers increased gross vegetable sales by over one million dollars on the same amount of acreage.

“We are producing a higher dollar value on the same size land — that tells me that farmers are becoming more skilled at building their soil and increasing their production per acre,” said Bishop.

Upon visiting local farms, Bishop has witnessed farmers applying cutting edge strategies they learned at Sierra Harvest’s Sustainable Food and Farm Conference, and in turn, farmers are seeing higher profits generated from their land.

“To me that is part of the value of the conference,” she said. “It helps our community of farmers. We want to see a thriving agricultural community where farmers are making a living doing what they do.”

Big appetites

Nevada County farmers produce less than five percent of all the food eaten by the people who live in the region. Sierra Harvest’s goal is to grow that to 20 percent in coming years and one way to do that is through education and awareness, says Bishop.

In anticipation of the annual farm conference, organizers have teamed up with Nevada County Arts Council to host an Agrarian Art Exhibit and Open House with artists Jude Bischoff, Karel Hendee, Ruth Chase, Kathryn Wronski, Lori Lachman and more. The art show will be held from 5-7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, at Sierra Harvest’s office located at 313 Railroad Ave. Suite 201 in Nevada City.

Sierra Harvest’s Sustainable Food and Farm Conference will be held Feb. 7-10 in Grass Valley. The event features collected knowledge totaling over 8,000 years from highly sought after presenters that attract people from all over the U.S. and includes four days of workshops, field days, farm tours, keynote speakers, a farm expo, evening mixer and film.

“Every year I come and I learn a little bit more and it deepens my knowledge. But what really happens is that I get truly inspired and that really makes things happen for me,” said farmer Julie Howard.

Speakers with a lot to share

This year’s speaker lineup for Saturday is already causing a buzz in town. Leaders and innovators in the organic farm movement, Paul Miller and Dru Rivers will travel from their 400-acre certified organic farm in the Capay Valley to talk about three decades of hands in the soil producing a diversity of 80 different vegetables, herbs, nuts, flowers and fruit year round.

Full Belly Farm is a “quintessential old school organic farm” said Bishop, known for marketing successes with wholesale and retail, farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions. Full Belly Farm has influenced the way with outreach like educational tours, school groups and the Hoes Down Harvest Festival, an event that draws thousands of visitors to the farm.

“They have been models for a lot of farms. They have been movers and shakers in the organic movement. They have a lot to share,” said Bishop.

Rancher Doniga Markegard will bring her background in permaculture and her training as a wildlife tracker and naturalist to regenerative agricultural practices that build soil, sequester carbon, capture and purify water and enhance wildlife habitat. She is the author of “Dawn Again: Tracking the Wisdom of the Wild.”

Along with her husband and four children, Markegard owns and operates Markegard Family Grass-Fed LLC raising grass-fed beef, lamb, pastured pork, chicken and dairy cows on 10,000 acres in the rolling California hills around the Bay Area.

Jeff Lowenfels is the founder of the national program, “Plant A Row for The Hungry.” Active in all 50 states and Canada, the program donates millions of pounds of garden produce to feed the hungry every year.

His best-selling books, “Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to The Soil Food Web” and “Teaming With Nutrient: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition” have made him a notable person to watch in the organic gardening and sustainability movement.

Field Days, farm tours & workshops

The Farm Conference begins on Thursday, Feb. 7, with educational Field Days that are designed to help farmers and backyard gardeners take things to the next level with a Quickbooks class for the small farmer, whole animal butchery and innovations in ag technology.

On Friday, Feb. 8, the popular, always sold out farm tours will be held in Oregon House to visit an Alpaca Farm (Heart and Soul Alpacas and Spinery), a grass-fed cattle ranch (Richardson’s Grassfed Beef) and an olive grove, home to award-winning Apollo Olive Oil.

The same day, Rowen White, director of Sierra Seeds and project Coordinator for Indigenous Seed Keeper Network will lead a workshop called, “Seeds for Life: Growing and Saving Seeds” and Ruth Bleau of Blue Oaks Ranch will lead a Cheesemaking workshop.

Saturday, Feb. 9, is devoted to a full day of speakers and the Farm Expo followed and evening mixer at ol’ Republic Brewery.

The conference concludes with a full day of dozens of Sunday workshops with topics like Growing Medicinal Plants, Diversifying Farm Income with Agritourism, Fermentation for Health and Happiness and Preserving Agricultural Land in Perpetuity.

Learn more and purchase tickets at http://www.foodandfarmconference.com.

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at laurapetersen310@gmail.com. Sierra Harvest is one of her clients.


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