Yesterday I had the pleasure to attend the first day of the Organicology Conference in Portland. The purpose of the conference was to bring together practitioners of organic agriculture for “the study of a sustainable food future.”
I spent most of the day in an 8-hour intensive session on the Next Generation of Organic Leaders. We were a diverse group of around 100 people with most participants under the age of 40, and over a dozen “organic elders” — people who have been working in the organic industry for 30+ years. At the beginning of the session, we put together an historic timeline of key events in the organic foods movement — from the introduction of pesticides in agriculture in the 1940s to the recently established organic garden at the White House. My small group leader, an organic farmer turned activist/policy analyst from Eugene, was instrumental in working in working with Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) in the passage of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, the legislation which set up today’s organic farming and certification guidelines.
As one of the few media representatives in the workshop, I was a bit of an outsider amidst young organic farmers and distributors. But when we began to talk about our values and vision for the organic foods movement, we realized that we do have a lot in common. Living an organic lifestyle is about more than putting edible items into your body in order to survive. It is a commitment to personal health, care for the earth, and the desire to help others achieve a healthy and sustainable diet. Throughout the course of the day, we talked about action strategies needed to strengthen the organic foods movement, what personal leadership skills each one of us needs to develop in order to be a part of the movement, and created persnal development plans reflecting our individual roles. I left feeling truly inspired.
In the evening, there were several social activities to choose from. One was the opening receiption for the Lexicon of Sustainability exhibit, which featured photography and text designed to educate people on a new language of sustainability. For example, I learned it is much better to purchase “pasture raised” eggs than “cage free” eggs because cage free could still mean the hens were raised in a cramped indoor environment.
At the Seed Swap, conference attendees shared a wide variety of organic seeds. You could also join the Organic Seed Alliance’s Seed Stewardship Network, a network of farmers who support the notion that producting, saving, and improving seeds are central to expanding agricultural diversity and innovation.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner were included in the conference registration fee, and all meals included an abundance of organic foods. My favorite meal was lunch, where I had one of the best salads ever — loaded with mesclun greens, carrots, cucumber, broccoli, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, cashews, tomatoes, beets, grilled tofu and champagne vinaigrette. I managed to save room for a slice of banana nut cake too!
Mycologist Paul Stamets, author of Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World gave an enthusiastic keynote address about the power of mushrooms, one of the few organisms on eath “that can feed you, that can heal you, that can kill you, that can send you on a spiritual journey.” Wearing a hat made from the Amadou mushroom (Fomes fomentarius) of Transylvania, Stamets outlined the incredible power of mushrooms — from their ability to survive cataclysmic events that have led to mass extinction of over 90% of species at a given time, to their ability to redesign the Tokyo Subway System (which is way too complicated for me to explain, but Stamets put forward a compelling theory).
I regret not being able to stay for Friday and Saturday’s conference events as well, which looked to be rather insightful.