Cultivating, Inspiring, Educating, Connecting
Sierra Harvest’s 2019 Sustainable Food and Farm Conference
Yes, it may still be summer, but for most farmers and gardeners, the seeds of next year’s dreams are already germinating in their imaginations. Most of them are always thinking about next season: which varieties will work best, which breeding strategies will be most successful, how to better irrigate… you get the idea.
In the same way, even though the 2019 Sustainable Food and Farm Conference is months away, it’s actually a great time to begin thinking about the winter calm and the inspiration the colder months bring!
Now in its 9th year, the Conference is a winter standby for local and regional growers, and for home-scale gardeners and foodies alike. Since 2011 this gathering has been bringing globally renowned experts to Grass Valley for a long weekend of education, inspiration, and practical strategies for sustainable farming, gardening and eating.
Over the years the Conference has brought in a host of stellar expert speakers that have included Joel Salatin, Elaine Ingham, Jean-Martin Fortier, Elliot Coleman, Paul Stamets, Ben Hartman, and Daphne Miller.
Many conference-goers make it an annual tradition. Take, for example, Jacob Nachel from the Great Basin Community Coop in Reno, who said,
“I keep coming back to this conference because of the quality of the headliners. You’re getting people at the forefront of the organic food movement! I’ve also noticed that this community is really special in how it supports its farmers and how they support each other. If you look at any co-op across the country, BriarPatch has the smallest local food radius of any of them! Most places can’t source so much quality food from a 20-mile radius—they need at least 50-100 miles.”
Nachel is right! Our community has an unusually rich culture of supporting its farmers, and BriarPatch Food Co-op is the key market for many local farm businesses. Our co-op continues to sponsor the Sustainable Food and Farm Conference and the ongoing work of Sierra Harvest.
The keynote speakers at this year’s Conference include:
• Paul Muller and Dru Rivers of Full Belly Farm in the Capay Valley
• Rancher Doniga Markegard of Markegard Family Grass-Fed LLC
• Jeff Lowenfels, a soil food web expert
Paul Muller and Dru Rivers are two of the owners of Full Belly Farm, a 400-acre certified organic farm located in the beautiful Capay Valley of Northern California. They own the farm cooperatively with Andrew Brait, Judith Redmond, Jenna Muller, and Amon Muller.
Full Belly has been farmed using organic practices since 1985 and is certified by CCOF. With help from about 80 employees, the farm produces an amazing diversity of vegetables, herbs, nuts, flowers, and fruits year-round. The farm is also home to a flock of chickens and of sheep, a tribe of goats, and several cows.
Full Belly’s system includes: growing and marketing over 80 different crops; providing year-round employment for farm labor; using cover crops that fix nitrogen and provide organic matter for the soil; selling produce within a 120-mile radius of the farm; and planting habitat areas for beneficial insects and wildlife. Wow!
One of the farm’s goals is to integrate farm production with longer-term environmental stewardship. Full Belly products are marketed both wholesale and retail to restaurants, at farmers’ markets, and through a Community Supported Agriculture project, or CSA. You can find Full Belly produce seasonally here at BriarPatch.
Full Belly is also home to many outreach activities, including educational tours, school group visits, and the much-acclaimed annual Hoes Down Harvest Festival that celebrates rural life and sustainable food production.
Doniga Markegard is the author of Dawn Again: Tracking the Wisdom of the Wild. A regenerative rancher, Doniga offers a holistic perspective that’s rooted in nature. Mentored by leading wildlife trackers, naturalists, and Native American spiritual leaders, not to mention her background in permaculture, Doniga brings a unique perspective to Regenerative Agricultural practices.
She is dedicated to working with the land and her community through regenerative ranching practices that build soil, sequester carbon, capture and purify water, and enhance the habitat. Along with her husband and four children, Doniga owns and operates Markegard Family Grass-Fed LLC, which raises grass-fed beef, lamb, pastured pork, chicken, and dairy, supplying the Bay Area with local, nutrient-dense foods. The family ranch also leases coastal ranches throughout the Bay Area that span more than 10,000 acres.
Jeff Lowenfels grew up on his father’s hobby farm in Scarsdale, New York, where he helped out until he left to pursue a degree in Geology at Harvard College. He is a reformed lawyer and the author of three award-winning, best-selling books published by Timber Press:
• Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to The Soil Food Web
• Teaming with Nutrients: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition
• Teaming with Fungi, The Organic Grower’s Guide to Mycorrhizae
Lowenfels is also the founder of a thriving national program, “Plant A Row for The Hungry.” Active in all 50 states and Canada, this program has resulted in millions of pounds of garden produce being donated every year! Additionally, Jeff pens the longest-running garden column in North America.
In 2005, he was inducted into the Garden Writers Hall of Fame, the highest honor a garden writer can achieve. One result of his best-selling books is that Jeff has become a leader in the organic gardening/sustainability movement.
Of his three best-selling books, Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to The Soil Food Web was reviewed as the most important new gardening book in 25 years… and maybe even ever! It is now out in a revised edition, and has been translated into 7 languages.
As usual, the keynote addresses will be complemented by in-depth weekend workshops on a variety of subjects, ranging from the specific (Looking at your Compost with a Microscope!) to the general (How to Save Water in Your Garden).
Kicking off with a tour of local farms and ranches, the Conference will be headquartered at Nevada Union High School from February 8-10. Early-bird and farmer discounts are available. For more information visit