Designing Resilient Farms for a Changing Planet

Tilth Producers of Washington 2011 Annual Conference

It's a bird, it's a plane... no, it's Super Farmer! (Click on the image to attend a "virtual conference.")

Visit a modern supermarket and what do you see? Pictures of farmers, the picket fence, the silo, the ’30s farmhouse and the green grass. Nice photos, folks, but very little of the food – and “edible food-like products” – sold there actually comes from a small family farm. In fact some of it doesn’t come from a farm at all, but a factory.

When you rub elbows for days with farmers of all ages, there is no doubt where your food comes from!

For three days, November 11-13, at the Tilth Producers of Washington Conference, hundreds of farmers, consumers, agencies, vendors, and academicians concentrated totally on discovering new ways to bring good farmers and good food back into the spotlight. The full weekend was built around four pre-conference events – Dryland Organic Agriculture Symposium, Research Symposium, Microdairies Symposium, and Policy Symposium – and a two-day conference that included 36 workshops, a poster session, a small tabletop trade show, and networking events to bring together farmers and friends of all ages.

(Attend the conference “virtually” by viewing this slideshow.)

Kicking off the Conference was Miguel Altieri, UC Berkely, who has applied the concept of “agroecology” to cropping systems that impact pest populations – by encouraging beneficial insects and discouraging the harmful ones. Agroecology encompasses productivity, stability, sustainability and equability by studying the environmental, social, and economic issues of agriculture, all of these with a focus on diversity, accentuating biodiversity.

Speaking to a packed house, Altieri discussed how agroecological technologies can bring significant environmental and economic benefits to small farmers, rural communities, and urban populations.

Beginning after the keynote, were the first of 36 workshop sessions – many of which were presented in both Spanish and English in recognition of the ethnic mix of Yakima County, America’s “Fruit Basket.”

Young farmers, new farmers, and beginning farmers learned about Getting Started with Vegetables, All About the Organic Certification Process, Poultry Breeds for Small Farm Meat Production, Farm Paperwork and Business Management, and Using Technology to Increase Sales and Efficiency. An especially useful session, presented by two young farmers, talked about the steps from apprenticeship into farm management and business ownership in After the Apprenticeship.

Certified organic farms need to look for creative ways to manage pests and weeds, and several workshops concentrated on these issues: Ecological Weed Management, Biodiversity and Pest Management in Orchards and Vineyards (presented by Professor Altieri), Pests from Hell, and on the other side of the issue: Avoiding Contamination from Broad-leaf Herbicides.

To encourage Washington’s young farming community, the documentary film The Greenhorns was screened. While the documentary is part of a larger move for agricultural reform, it combines stories and voices of young farmers to show young people the benefits of farming as a career choice.

It wasn’t all work and no play! The weekend included an “intergenerational” social mixer; wine, beer, and apple tastings; a dance to the music of Junkyard Jane; and lots of good, organic food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!

When the New York Times recognizes that an industry is in trouble, it is time to correct the problem – fast! Young farmers need capital, land, and health care. How do they get it?

It’s clear when you look around the audience at events like the Tilth Conference, we’ve got a cadre of tough, energetic, smart and dedicated young men and women who want to farm. They’re ready! All we need to do now is give them the financial support they need to do the job.

Special Thanks

We’d like to give a big “Thank You” to all the people who made this event possible. It took a lot of hard work, finesse, and coordination to pull an event like this off with no hitches – no obvious ones, at any rate! With the understanding – and apologies – that we will certainly miss someone who should be recognized, we say “Thanks for a job well done!”

  • Nancy Allen, Managing Director, Tilth Producers of Washington
  • Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, WSU, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • David Huggins, WSU, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • Diana Roberts, WSU Extension Agronomist
  • Claudia Coles, WSDA Organic Program
  • Bob Quinn, Kamut International
  • Diane Dempster, Charlie’s Produce, President of Tilth Producers of Washington Board of Directors
  • Anne Schwartz, Blue Heron Farm, Tilth Producers of Washington Board of Directors
  • And the many hands that made the 2011 Tilth Producers Conference a success!

Read other coverage of the conference events:

Where have all the farmers gone?
Plumbing the Agroecology Zeitgeist

Attend the conference “virtually” by viewing this slideshow.

The Dryland Organic Agriculture in the Pacific Northwest Symposium – the most detailed and concentrated of the four pre-conference events – was particularly enlightening and we will be covering it in a separate article. Watch for it.