Daisy, a Berkshire pig, and her 13 piglets inspect a large group of people on the annual EcoFarm Tour at Fogline Farm in Soquel Wednesday. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula)
The 32nd annual EcoFarm Conference began Wednesday with about 60 workshops scheduled along with tours of local farms. This year’s theme is Raising EcoFarmers’ Voices.
Deemed by organizers the West’s leading sustainable farm conference, the four-day event offers a comprehensive array of educational and networking sessions for 1,500 farmers, marketers, activists, consumers, students and educators.
Held at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, EcoFarm and the Ecological Farming Association, which organize the event, bring people together for education, alliance building, and celebration of healthy and just farms, food systems, communities and environment. Over the past 31 years, the EcoFarm Conference and educational programs have reached more than 75,000 participants, supporting grassroots leadership and regional solutions to increase and promote healthy, ecologically sustainable farms and food systems.
On Wednesday, three busloads of attendees were dropped off at Fogline Farm in the hills above Soquel Village. Farmers Johnny Wilson and Jeffrey Caspary led the group of 150 people through the rolling hills of their leased farm to share what they’ve learned about raising pigs and chickens and growing 18 kinds of vegetables, grapes, apples and strawberries.
“After being logged, this land has been farmed continuously since 1906,” Wilson said. “This is the land of Bruce Manildi, whose family started to farm here three generations ago. We’re on 35 acres. We raise two kinds of chickens: broiler and egg-laying. We also raise Berkshire pigs, a heritage breed.”
Wilson explained how, through the use of portable pig pastures, he was able to maintain an integrated system of providing manure to soil where vegetables will be planted.
“Animals can provide a lot of benefits to the land,” he said. “When we moved their pen over a harvested lettuce field, the pigs ate most of the lettuce remains and weeds, for starters.”
Caspary talked about learning the soil and how “not to overburden it.” He spoke of the benefits of double-cropping his land, especially after intensive tilling that further stresses the land, and also explored the topic of movable chicken coops that benefit the land with chicken manure.
“Right now we have about eight acres of grapes and 20 acres of apples,” he said. “And the rest is for vegetables.”
Fogline currently grows peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, several kinds of lettuce, beets and more. They commonly sell at local farmers markets.
Mary Flodin, a former teacher at Amesti School, was also on the tour.
“When I taught at Amesti, the school was surrounded by agriculture,” she said. “I want to learn more about the use of methyl bromide in those fields — that’s why I’m on this tour.”
Jutta Thoerner, owner of Manzanita Manor Organics in Paso Robles, said she decided to take the tour for the fourth time to help garnish her knowledge of growing grapes and walnuts. Her 20-year-old business produces organic vintage port and dry-farmed walnuts.
“I’ve heard nothing but great things about the EcoFarm Tour,” she said. “I’m very excited to be on the tour today. Since I make organic certified dessert wine, there’s a great deal of information out there I need to know.”
People who take the tour have an opportunity to learn techniques and practical solutions from experts on topics including soil testing, new irrigation technologies, grazing systems, bees and beneficials, pastured poultry, seed supply, growing grain, food hubs, labor laws, packaging, food safety, business management and alternative financing.
According to the Organic Trade Association, U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $26.7 billion in 2010. Sales in 2010 represented 7.7 percent growth over 2009 sales.
The EcoFarm Tour, headed up by Amigo Bob Cantisano, Sam Earnshaw and Richard Smith, on Wednesday also included visits to Yellow Wall Farm in Santa Cruz, UC Santa Cruz, and Bonny Doon Winery.
For more information about EcoFarm and its events, visit eco-farm.org.
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