Saturday, December 6, 2014

Reflections on the Biodynamic and Sustainable Agriculture Conferences

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.


November 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.

Biodynamic Conference 2014, Louisville KY
Biodynamic Research: 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, https://www.biodynamics.com/biodynamic-research.
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.  
For more information about this year’s conference and the Biodynamic Association visit www.biodynamic.com/conference
-By Reuben Travis and Margaret Bloomquist 2014

29th 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 well.
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.
Check out the CFSA’s website for more information on this year’s conference and opportunities to download material you may have missed: http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/sac/
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).
-By Margaret Bloomquist 2014
Personal review of the SAC from Research Assistant Kelly Gaskill:
Carolina Farm 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