2016 26.1 2015 Conference Highlights

Building Tilth: Fields, Farmers, and Community was a stimulating conference for all who attended in Spokane, WA November 13 – 15, 2015. The three-day event was over in the blink of an eye with full workshop rooms, a bustling trade show, and enthusiastic social events. The conference—with 600 producers, researchers, educators, students, and activists, filling meeting rooms, hallways and dining rooms throughout the weekend—was a keen place to exchange ideas and information, learn from one another, and network with the Tilth community.

The weekend began with three events—two hosted in partnership with the Spokane Conservation District, Farm-a-Palouse-a Sessions and Beyond Farm to Table Tour and one hosted in partnership with Organic Trade Association, Organic Grains Stakeholder Meeting. (See below for a full recap of the Friday programs.)

After the educational programming on Friday, attendees were welcomed at Friday night’s event, “New Shoots & Deep Roots: Community & Farmer Mixer” at the Red Lion Hotel in the Skyline Lounge. With a picturesque view of Spokane, attendees mingled while playing bingo, cornhole, and listening to music from Conway West.

The 2015 annual conference presented attendees with 25 workshop options, and two exciting keynote speeches. Dr. John Reganold of Washington State University called for the strengthening of alternative farming systems, empowering the crowd. His impressive speech stressed the need for a food system that takes into account nutrition, social, and environmental factors, helps the public make more informed choices, and pushes agriculture into a more sustainable direction. The closing keynote by Ray de Vries of Ralph’s Greenhouse reminded us to think about where we have come from, personally and as a movement. Ray emphasized his farming lows and highs, and encouraged young farmers to keep trying.

While the excitement of the conference can’t be recreated, you can still gain valuable knowledge through audio recordings of the keynotes and Friday, Saturday and Sunday workshops. Take advantage of your member benefit and visit tilthproducers.org/library/conference-audio/ to download conference audio.

The 2015 Tilth conference marked the official announcement of the merger between Tilth Producers and Seattle Tilth. The announcement generated energy and excitement for the future of Tilth. This union of the two prominent Tilth organizations will create a dynamic future that honors our roots while expanding our mission. It was exciting to hear people share their plans and dreams for the growth of a sustainable organic food system in the Pacific Northwest: the theme of Building Tilth: Fields, Farmers, and Community was ubiquitous.

The conference is no small feat, and there are many people who receive the grateful thanks from the Tilth Producers staff and board. Without the generosity of our sponsors, trade show vendors, food and beverage donors, presenters and our ever-patient attendees, the conference would not be possible.

Annual Conference: Friday Highlights

Farm-a-Palouse-a Sessions
The Spokane Conservation District hosted the 5th annual Farm-a-Palouse-a small farms conference in conjunction with the Tilth Producers annual conference as part of the Friday programming. It featured workshops specific to new and beginning farmers with a special track for returning veterans seeking agriculture careers.

The Vets on the Farm track included a film screening of Operation New Mission: From Battlefields to Farmfields. State Senator Michael Baumgartner introduced the film and spoke about the importance of farming, small business, our veterans and our economy. Film director Dulanie Ellis was in attendance and presented an extended version that included follow-up interviews with the veterans to show their progress over the years.

A highlight from the For the Farm track was the presentation on pollinators by Hilary Sardinas of the Xerces Society. Attendees were wowed by the breadth of pollinator information presented in such a short time and appreciated the easy-to-implement principles of maintaining pollinator habitat.

Beyond Farm to Table Tour: Creative Connections Between Small Farmers, Buyers, and Brewers
The Spokane Conservation District also coordinated the sold out farm-to-restaurant tour. The tour focused on two producers involved in the Local Inland Northwest Cooperative (LINC) and local buyers and brewers. Beth Robinette, co-founder of LINC, served as the tours informative guide.

The first stop on the tour: Casa Cano Farms operated by young farmers Jorge McConnell and Madyson Versteeg. Located just south of Spokane, the farm has been in production since 2014 producing vegetables, chickens, eggs, and pork. They utilize a “not CSA” distribution model, in which customers purchase memberships at the beginning of the season to reap the benefits of wholesale prices at weekly “Member Markets” held at the farm.

The second stop: nearby Heron Pond Farms, a goat dairy that produces artisanal cheese and recently began growing heritage hogs.

Steam Plant Restaurant and Brewery provided a locally-sourced lunch for all attendees. Beth and LINC’s marketing director Dan Jackson shared their process of forging connections between farmers and institutional consumers. They answered questions regarding the distribution process and next steps for getting local food into Spokane area schools.

The tour concluded at Black Label Brewing, a new micro-brewer in downtown Spokane. The stop highlighted a new malting project by LINC, to source locally grown grains to produce local malt for brewers in the region. Local brewers from Black Label as well as Steam Plant spoke to the need for local, high-quality malt to craft their unique beers. (See page 1 of this issue for the article Selecting and Breeding Barley for Craft Malt and Organic Barley Production).

Farm-a-Palouse-a and tour attendees learned something to take back to their farms and the Spokane Conservation District looks forward to the 6th annual Farm-a-Palouse-a to be held November 5, 2016 at the Spokane Community College.

Tags: Conference 2015, Farm-a-Palouse-a, Farm-to-Restaurant Tour