’World class knowledge’: Sierra Harvest offers annual Sustainable Food & Farm Conference virtually
WHAT: Sustainable Food & Farm Conference
WHO: Sierra Harvest
WHEN: Jan. 20 through 23, 2021
WHERE: Online, Sierraharvest.org and click on the 41st Eco Farm Conference site
TICKET: $199, scholarships available
MORE INFO: Sierraharvest.org
For the past ten years, the staff of Sierra Harvest worked hard to bring experts in farming to Nevada County to educate and enhance those interested in exploring the farming experience through their Sustainable Food & Farm Conference. While the pandemic has increased interest in farming all around, it has also made a live conference an impossibility. Making the most of challenging times, Sierra Harvest has collaborated with the Ecological Farming Association to bring one of the largest farming conferences right into your living room. Using today’s technology, a virtual conference will take place Jan. 20 through 23, 2021.
Co-director of Sierra Harvest, Malaika Bishop, said even though people cannot gather in person, the value of having a conference continues. “The point of having a conference, for us, is to expose our local farmers to world class knowledge on food and farming.”
This year, since it is online, the conference is open to a national audience. Bishop said there are several positive outcomes to holding the conference online. The biggest being the sheer number of speakers available to conference attendees. “There are not just three keynote speakers (as with past events). There is a huge number of keynote speakers, and way more workshops than we ever have, so the content that is available to people is much greater and more varied. As usual, there will be something for everyone.”
A few of the keynotes Sierra Harvest is bringing to the EcoFarm Conference include Rupa Marya who is a doctor with a focus on sustainability.
“She is focused on the bridge between sustainable farming and our health,” saif Bishop. “She’s going to describe how agroecology can serve as the leading edge of transformational practices that can directly heal what ails us. Rupa believes and will explain ’How we tend the soil must also reflect how we tend the people who tend the soil.’”
Another scheduled speaker Sierra Harvest is bringing to the conference is Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin who is from Guatemala. Bishop said he will be sharing how to raise chickens in a traditional way. “Chickens are actually a forest animal, so traditional cultures in Guatemala, they raise their chickens in the forest. He is bringing this indigenous knowledge to farming systems so you can grow a much healthier flock of chickens if you incorporate some of these methodologies.”
Another featured speaker is John Kempf, an Amish farmer who focuses on plant nutrition.
“How to farm regeneratively to build your soil which then leads to healthy plants. I think that would be a good one for anyone who is learning to grow their own food,” said Bishop. “Making sure you have the right biology in there to give the plant the nutrients that it needs.”
The Sierra Harvest mission to educate, inspire, and connect families to fresh, local, seasonal food will continue despite the challenges of mandatory shutdowns. In fact, Sierra Harvest has been incredibly busy due to the increased interest in farming from the community.
“We have our Sierra Gardens program, and we were just slammed with inquiries this spring,” said Bishop. “I think it really brings it home when you go to the store and things you want to get aren’t there.” Bishop said people came to realize the need to be more resilient and to be growing their own food. “A lot more people have become interested in our food system, and where does our food come from and how can I make sure I have it in these crazy times.”
Farm Tour continues — virtually
The ever-popular Farm Tour will also take place virtually. Bishop said participants will go on a prerecorded tour of three local farms.
“We did some classes out on farms this fall and were able to film them so it’s a virtual tour with three different Nevada County farmers: Sierra Silverheels of For The People Seeds who is a seed farmer; Jeremy Mineau who has Super Tuber Farms; and Bryanna and Steven Eisenhut of Stone’s Throw Farm in Colfax who are growing a lot of flowers and lettuce mix and things like that. So, the tour will include those three farms and farmers.”
Bishop added, “One of the unique aspects of this conference is there is a real focus on diversity and farmers of color and really making sustainable farming more inclusive. One of the workshops we are bringing is in collaboration with Farmer’s Footprint on storytelling about your farm. It focuses on an African American mushroom farmer.” Another workshop focuses on Native American land management on indigenous farms and another on contract grazing in the time of fire.
Bishop said there are a great number of workshops and the ability to network and collaborate will be available via chat rooms. “We are still going to have an online expo booth,” Bishop said, “People can look at booths. We’ll have chat rooms and areas set up for people to have private conversations with each other and people can still raise their hand and ask questions during the workshops. We are finding ways to still be able to have that person-to-person connection even though it is harder in a virtual space.”
While the deadline for early bird ticketing has passed, there are several scholarships available for local farmers. Bishop said they will go fast so anyone interested should apply now.
Tickets for the conference this year are just $199, which is a fraction of the normal $700 cost.
“People pay for the conference and then they have the ability to come in and out for the entire four days that it is open,” said Bishop.
For a full schedule, go to Sierraharvest.org and click on the 41st Eco Farm Conference site.
Hollie Grimaldi Flores is a Nevada County resident and freelance writer for hire, as well as a podcaster at HollieGrams. You can hear her episodes at https://www.buzzsprout.com/1332253. She can be reached at holliesallwrite@ gmail.com.
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