When hundreds of small farmers from across California gather in Paso Robles at the end of the month to attend more than 50 workshops and forums, there will be many folks from Santa Barbara County in attendance, including featured panelists Guner Tautrim from Orella Ranch and Melissa Sorongon from Piedrasassi Wine & Bread. This year, the 32nd annual California Small Farm Conference, which runs from February 27-29, will be focusing quite a bit on regenerative agriculture, so I touched base with the organizers to see what attendees can expect to learn. Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What is regenerative farming?
Hunter Francis, Cal Poly Center for Sustainability: It is the next big thing in agriculture. Unlike biodynamics and organics, it’s a newer way of approaching agriculture, and regenerative is evolving. It does not have a well-agreed-upon set of “rules.” (Biodynamics and organics each have a well-defined, even legal, set of certification standards.) A very common focus is the adoption of agricultural, ranching, and forestry practices that help sequester carbon in the soil, and thus strengthen the soil biome. California’s Healthy Soils Program is noteworthy for the many incentives it is giving producers to adopt such practices.
Is regenerative farming on the rise across the Central Coast?
Tim LaSalle, Regenerative Ag Initiative, Chico State: It is on the rise in the Central Coast, based upon phone calls, requests for radio shows, and increases in such things as bioreactors being built here in this county. Also, a viticulturist who has attended some of the workshops at Paicines Ranch and Chico has started to gather neighbor grape farmers and teach them more regenerative practices.
Why is the practice better than organic farming?
Delmar McComb, Blossoms Farms: It incorporates ethics, such as animal welfare; sustainability, such as soil-building practices; and consideration of farmworker conditions. I believe organics, as it stands now in this country, falls short in fully considering all of those areas. Regenerative farming is a forward evolution of organics and helps to address some of the “watering down” of organic certification requirements that has occurred the past few years.
What’s the goal of this annual gathering?
Paul Towers and Evan Wiig, Community Alliance with Family Farmers: Surviving as a small farm in today’s world isn’t easy. To succeed, farmers must continually innovate, hone their skills, collaborate, advocate collectively, and build supportive networks in their own communities. Our goal is to cultivate a space here in California once a year where they can do all of that.
It’s important to remember that California, and California agriculture in particular, is especially unique. From the variety of crops to the cost of land and water to a perpetual culture of trailblazing, few places on earth boast the same opportunities or the same challenges as California. So we need a conference that is uniquely catered to California farmers. Our primary goal is that attendees leave each year feeling more inspired, prepared, and supported as they get back to work growing food for California.
See casmallfarmconference.org for tickets and more info.