Having just walked out of the most transformative conference of my life, I feel that now is the time to reflect on all that I have learned in the last three days. I attended the Quivira Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I had never heard of this organization before, but my boss had heard from reliable sources how important it was and told me, “Just go.” So I went.
The Quivira Coalition has been around for 18 years. For 14 years they have been holding annual conferences which strive to empower, educate, and inspire farmers and conservationists worldwide. The diversity and caliber of the presenters and attendees was greater than I have ever seen together in one place.
Every person I talked to had an inspiring story about how they were working to make changes at a landscape level and an individual level in the agricultural world. The ideas were complex and yet so simple in their implementation. Real changes are happening within this small group of people. And it’s not arbitrary. It’s not ideological. These were the most practical and down to earth people I have encountered. It seems that they have chosen to turn away from fear that the doomsday sentiment we so often hear from the media and even scientists can make us feel. They have embraced the challenge and are making changes that can create a paradigm shift from the land up.
My first realization at the conference was that sustainable agriculture is antiquated. We cannot simply sustain the resources, specifically the soils and water that we have on our lands and expect that this will bring about real change. We must be trying to regenerate those soils and create more beneficial water systems. Regenerative agriculture is where conservation has to progress.
I came away from every presentation that I attended with new ideas. One of the most brilliant and rousing presenters was Owen Hablutzel. He is a consultant in Holistic Grazing Systems and Keyline Design. He spoke of how the Keyline system has proven successful around the world. Innovative water runoff methods and no till plowing create vastly different landscapes. Spending time on the land and getting to know its ecological systems is one of the most important elements to being able to properly bring back beneficial natural systems. He emphasized the importance of the 3 R’s for successful lasting change. Relationships, Reflection, and Risk.
The most revolutionizing speech was that by Rebecca Burgess, the Executive Director of Fibershed. This is an organization located in the San Francisco Bay Area that strives to expose people to the idea of local fibers, local dyes and local labor. The same processes that enrage us about our food manufacturing systems are also being used to produce our clothing. Child labor is widely used in the cotton fields of Egypt and in the factories where our clothes are produced. Pesticide use on cotton is astronomical. And the multitudes of synthetic chemicals which our clothing is treated with and the amount of resources that go into mass produced clothing items really makes this issue vital to the health of our planet. Fibershed offers a very exciting opportunity to think about producing local, grass fed, clothing made with locally grown organic dyes. These clothes can be reused for years and composted at the end of their life.
The Quivira Coalition is at the forefront of solving many imperative issues for the prolonged success of agriculture in an ever changing climate. This was a gathering of hundreds of passionate, creative and innovative members from all walks of life coming together for a short time to share their projects, research and vision for the future of agronomy. Not temporary solutions, but long term blueprints for the perpetual health of our planet.
This is a conference I don’t plan to miss in the years to come. I will attempt to implement what I have learned on Bear Yuba Land Trust Preserves and be prepared to return to Albuquerque next year with stories to share. Surely there will be successes and failures on the path to creating regenerative agricultural systems, but I must keep telling myself that it’s never too late and it’s never too little.
~ Stewardship Program Manager, Erin Tarr