I have an amazing staff composed of Margaret Bloomquist, Luping Qu, Lijing Zhou, Reuben Travis, Kelly Gaskill, and Cameron Farlow. Nowadays my time is mostly filled with writing grants, managing grants, and other administrative duties, so the really good work in my program is done by these six people and my graduate students, Jennifer Crumley and Adam Johnson. Starting today, I am going to highlight more of their activities by having them write some of the blog posts from time to time. The first one here is a report from Margaret, Kelly, and Reuben on two recent conferences they attended. We welcome your feedback on this.
with Alternative Crops and Organics Team
Winter has arrived here in Western North Carolina, and our
team is busy in our hive at the Mountain Horticultural Crops Research and
Extension Center analyzing data, writing reports from this past season’s
fieldwork, and working towards new and continuing projects for the seasons
ahead. November was ripe with end-of-harvest energy across the region. We had
the pleasure of attending two conferences back to back mid-month: The Carolina
Farm Stewardship’s 29th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference in
Greenville, SC, and the 2014 Biodynamic Conference in Louisville, KY. Generous support from North Carolina
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCSARE), and from the
Biodynamic Association provided scholarships for two of our Research Assistants
at each conference – much thanks!
Read on for more on each conference and a review of this
year’s SAC from our own Kelly Gaskill.
Conference 2014, Louisville KY
At this year’s Biodynamic Conference, we met
with Sara Weber, Director of Research for the Biodynamic Association, Walter
Goldstein of the Mandaavin Institute, Hugh Lovell, author of Quantum
Agriculture, and Steve Divers from the Horticulture Department of University of
Kentucky. We exchanged updates on national and regional research efforts, and
discussed potential collaboration. How wonderful for our program to connect
with these other passionate researchers and to hear the exciting specifics of
their efforts! Here are links to some of the collaborative projects that Dr.
Goldstein and Sara Weber discussed: http://www.mandaamin.org/home
Workshops and Networking: This year’s Biodynamic Conference
theme was called “Farming for Health: Exploring the Intimate Connections between
the Health of Soil, Plants, Animals, and People.” We connected with friends and colleagues from
up and down the eastern seaboard, and attended a variety of keynote lectures
and educational workshops including engaging topics such as Connection of Soil
Health and Human Health, Biodynamic Solutions to Pest Problems, Biodynamic
control of Wooly Adelgid for Eastern Hemlock trees, Health from the Ground Up,
Farm-based Education, Healing Plants / Healing Gardens, Soil /Food /Health
Connection, No-till Permaculture Solutions for Staple Crop Production, The
Emerging Biodynamic Marketplace, and more!
Farmers, Doctors, and Academics: Speakers and conference
participants included doctors, farmers, soil scientists, educators, herbalists,
business owners, students, professors, gardeners, ecologists, beekeepers,
nutritionists, entrepreneurs, researchers, winemakers, and academics. It was a
wonderfully diverse and inspired group of people. There is growing recognition
of the important connection between farming practices and human health,
expressed in the growing demand for organic and biodynamic foods in the
marketplace. Dr. Rudolf Steiner, the
Austrian scientist, philosopher, and founder of Biodynamic Agriculture, was
among the first westerners to see that the inevitable loss of soil vitality
that would follow the post-war reductionist agricultural practices dominating
the American agricultural landscape would lead to significant imbalances. He was
also among the first to elaborate on the effects this would have on the
vitality of the human organism.
Ecological awareness is common rhetoric among many
graduating university students from a variety of disciplines. Scientific
understanding of the interconnectedness that we see echoed and expressed
through Biodynamic practices is well-established through research in the fields
of Ecology and Quantum Physics. “Sustainability” is one of the latest buzzwords
in contemporary mainstream American culture, and the global organic foods
market is expected to grow to $104.7 billion in 2015.
This growing interest and awareness was certainly evident in
this year’s conference turn-out! There were several hundred attendees of all
different ages, with a substantial showing of young people, some of whom were both
students and farm apprentices.
Where from here? In response to this growing demand, and to
establish practical and regionally applicable information regarding biodynamic
agricultural practices, our program continues to seek funding to do Biodynamic
research, and we seek to provide farmers of the southeast with the information
needed to meet the growing consumer demand for biodynamic food.
Reuben Travis and Margaret Bloomquist 2014
Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Greenville, SC
A big thanks goes out to Carolina Farm Stewardship
Association for putting on a wonderful conference! Jeanine Davis and Research Assistants, Kelly
Gaskill and Margaret Bloomquist, traveled to Greenville for three days of
research networking, regional meetings, and fantastic workshops. We began with
Hugh Lovell’s Introduction to Biodynamics Intensive. If you haven’t checked out
Hugh’s book Quantum Agriculture – its good holiday time reading. Quantum
agriculture presents the interplay of soil, water, plant nutrition,
biochemistry, physics, and more in a unique perspective. His book provides an
engaging way for the left-brained scientist types to delve into deeper topics
and arenas such as biodynamic agriculture.
Regional and National Collaborations. The Sustainable
Agriculture Conference is an opportunity to connect with our regional and
national partners from CFSA, Organic Seed Alliance, Cornell University, and of
course all of our regions farmers and policy influencers that make our work
possible and meaningful. Meetings and discussions relating to the multi-state
Organic Cucurbit Breeding Project (USDA-NIFA
Sponsored), Western North Carolina Participatory Organic Broccoli Project (Funded by Organic Farming Research
Foundation), and the Organic Participatory Tomato Breeding Project (Funded by USDA-OREI) were highlights as
Memorable Sessions at SAC. Practical workshops we attended
included: Farm Mechanization for Increased Efficiency, for medium sized
vegetable and grain farms, Organic Soil Fertility with Oxford University’s
Daniel Parson, and an informative workshop on Post-Harvest Handling by CFSA’s
Patricia Tripp – very relevant to our research and regional farmers in light of
GAPs and pending FSMA regulations.
A memorable keynote jumpstarted this year’s conference, Mark
Sheppard – the king of Restoration
Agriculture - his experience and practical management to infuse
permaculture into a financially viable farm and lifestyle within a framework
for healthy local economies brought enthusiasm to the conference attendees (see
more on Mark Sheppard below in Kelly Gaskill’s reflections).
Personal review of
the SAC from Research Assistant Kelly Gaskill:
Stewardship Association’s annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference is always a
favorite of mine. One of those great events where you are reminded that hard
working dedicated farmers have support through an abundance of networks. Here
we get to gather with a part of the population that wants to invest in the
well-being and success of small scale farmers in any way we know how. Here we
share similar values around healthy choices for our bodies and our planet. This
is where people come together to honor, support, learn, and educate. We share
stories, triumphs and heartaches, disasters and accomplishments felt in a
single growing season or a life time of doing what we love. An event like this
offers a common bond, a wealth of opportunity, a networking system to any
person interested in food growing and consuming in a wholesome way.
Excitement for me came
in the form of the keynote speaker- Mark Sheppard of New Forest Farm- a
permaculturist with a large voice, witty sense of humor and the ability to
seemingly offend and inspire everyone in the room within a single evening. He
called us out- telling us to act on our ideas and stop merely talking about how
to change the world. He’s right, we don’t need to agree with everyone all the
time but we sure do need to get along with one another to make things happen.
He is one of the many at this event doing amazing things.
I’m also pleased to
report the frequency in which I heard presenters emphasize the importance of
healing the earth with agriculture. To me, this is the way. Considering that
industrialized agriculture has inflicted great damage to our earth, why not
grow food in a healing, nurturing way that helps maintain a healthy balance for
all life on the planet? Examples of where I saw this theory in action included
Chuck Marsh’s Innovative Horticultural Strategies for a New Permaculture
Century, Daniel Parson’s Ecological Pest Management: Encouraging Beneficial
Insects to Control Your Pests and Hugh Lovel’s Introduction to Biodynamics.
So how will I be a
doer? For starters, the fence I just built to keep my dog from the neighbor’s
ever tempting compost pile was built from found objects and inspiration by
Chuck Marsh. Old twine, discarded bamboo and lots of downed limbs worked well,
so well that she became a doer, too- by finding a new path to the goods. Some
dogs will keep you on your toes!
Planting flowers to
encourage a diversity of insects is so fun and rewarding- Daniel Parson
encouraged this practice to the fullest. Getting to know which insects I’m
dealing with and which flowers to plant encourages me to get to know both of
these life forms even better. In the
past few years I have been planting farmscaping around our hop yard to increase
biodiversity, attract beneficial insects, feed pollinators, create habitat,
experiment with varying seeding strategies, and display beautiful bouquets in
my home. Taking time to get to know my surroundings is so rewarding.
In sum, I am excited
to be a part of the growing network of support for our local farmers and food
systems. The momentum is growing and events like the SAC are good examples of
creating and strengthening connection, collaboration and expansion of the local
foods movement while caring for the earth.
-By Kelly Gaskill 2014
Labels: biodynamic conference, Sustainable Agriculture Conference