Field Trip to the Quivira Conference


The conference was held in a large hotel in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hundreds of people attended the event and consisted of farmers, ranchers, students, scientists, environmentalists, policy makers, and more. Photo by Claire Core.


I’m making a pilgrimage to an agrarian networking mecca; the annual Quivira Coalition Conference. This 3-day conference is packed with amazing speakers, networking sessions, information booths, and more. I’m really looking forward to expanding my mind to the amazing work happening in the field of regenerative agriculture and land stewardship.

About Quivira Coalition

The Quivira Coalition is a non-profit based in New Mexico that seeks to make connections between seemingly disparate groups of people who all have stakes in land management. By bringing groups such as ranches, environmentalists, scientists, students, native people, ecologists, and more, to the table together, people find common goals and create a more dynamic and productive way to gain land health. Their mission is, “to build resilience by fostering ecological, economic and social health on western landscapes through education, innovation, collaboration and progressive public and private land stewardship,” (Quivira).

I became familiar with Quivira through my partner Jeff Adams who works with Quivira in the summers to do upland wetland restoration in the Valle Vidal or northern New Mexico. Jeff has a permaculture design business called TerraSophia and is also the Executive Director of the Canyonlands Watershed Council in Moab. He has been working on watershed health and restoration for over a decade and has a health of information. His favorite group of people are those found at the Quivira Coalitions conference. Needless to say, I know that I am going to learn so much at this conference and meet many people who are doing positive work for human and ecosystem health.


The speakers that I have heard of before are Temple Grandin and Wes Jackson. Temple Grandin is a researcher in the field of humane and efficient animal systems. Wes Jackson started the Land Institute and has ushered in extensive research about perennial crops and their role in building soil health while providing for animal and human needs. Both of these people are an inspiration and I look forward to hearing their words.Beyond these two big names, there is a dozen more speakers who have incredible-sounding presentations.

Notes from Conference Presenters

Throughout the three-day conference, there were nine speakers or panels each day. Needless to say, it was an information-packed few days. I took notes and pictures during each presenter that I saw.  This ended up being necessary for information retention. In the following section, I will be highlighting a few speakers that I especially enjoyed.

Melanie Gisler is an ecologist and the director for the Institute of Applied Ecology’s Southwest Program. Her passion is native seed and restoration using native plant material. During her presentation at the conference, Melanie talked specifically about the importance of native seed banks in the west. She stated that many areas of bare ground from disturbance should be remediated with native plants as the seed bank in the soil oftentimes has been lost. For large-scale restoration, it is important to use locally-sourced, high-quality, native seed because it is adaptable and will create diversity. For this bioregion, Southwest Seeds is a good source as well as the Southwest Seed Partnership.

Melanie brought the conversation back to what each of us could do to help with the native seed revival: Determine your ecoregion, identify target species such as forbs like milkweed, collect seed, determine how far to move the seed, grow the seed, and collaborate with key partners to distribute the seed. Additionally, we can all do our part by buying native seed. Show that there is a demand for quality seed by asking where it came from and asking about its weed seed test results. Landowners can also use timed grazing after the seed has set.

Something that I found to be especially interesting was her tip for large-scale restoration projects when planting for remediation. She stated that you should plant in islands in strategic places or corridors. These islands act as vectors of dispersal and have a bigger impact that other methods.

There was time for the audience to ask questions, so I asked her the question: “How do you determine the island, or vector, locations when conducting restoration?” Melanie’s response was this: “Great question, it is theoretical at this point, but I plan to develop a protocol before for a proposal to do this work in the future.”

Lindsay Shute is the Executive Director of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition, an organization that helps new and young farmers succeed. She stated that young farmer’s face many obstacles when setting out to farm, including expensive land, lack of services, and more. The NYFC gives a platform for young farmer’s to succeed through the establishment of their 30 chapters in 26 states. This grassroots base helps spread information and resources while also working on policy change at the local and federal levels.


Lindsay Shute addresses the audience about the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. Photo by Claire Core. 

To explain the need for young farmers, Lindsay shared that the average farmer is 58 years old and there is 1 billion acres being stewarded in farmland, most of which is being held by older farmers. The trends show the continued consolidation of farms as well as farm land being sold to development.


The need for civil engagement by young farmers was also emphasized. This is because the federal government has a large influence on farms. Organic certification, conservation programs, FSA loans farm worker housing grants, and various important policies are all determined by the government. It is important for farmers to be involved in local level relationships with their representatives.

Of great importance to farmers is the Farm Bill, which is slated to be approved next year, in 2017. Lindsay’s talk was given the day after the election and a grave seriousness was felt over the room of conference attendees. All of our minds were attenuated to the fact that we will be facing major changes and political engagement is especially important at this time. The Farm Bill impacts capital, land, taxes, subsidies, and more. It provides the basis of how and where federal money is distributed in the food system and has a major effect on the culture and realities of farming.

Dr. Jonathon Lundgren is a rebel entomologist working on the ground in regenerative agriculture. He started the Ecdysis Foundation and Blue Dasher Farms, which is a center for regenerative agriculture and 100% crowd funded by small donations. They have the goal to use scientific research to remove barriers for farmers, while also training the next generation of scientists and farmers in regenerative principles through the demonstration of regenerative principles.

Lundgren studies bugs and has noticed a loss in biodiversity which he points to the agriculture systems that cover the largest biome on our planet. Much of the agriculture is lacking in biodiversity and is also a brittle system. There are now 3 major crop plants where once there were hundreds of species.

The use of neonicotinoids has been highly impactful to the pollinators and beneficial insects. It is 5-7 times more toxic than DDT and 13% of the country is treated with it along with genetically modified organisms and pesticides.

Lundgren makes that case that pests are not the problem, they are the solution. For every pest species, there are 1,700 species of beneficial bugs or insects that haven’t been adequately studied and that insects provide $63 billion of services annual. This includes pollination, support of wildlife, regulation of herbivores, dispersion and density of plant communities, return of nutrients to soil, and more.


A slide from Dr. Lundgren’s presentation. 

Lundgren states, “The only way to fix the bee problem is to fix the food problem!”Biodiversity of insects influences the magnitude of pest problems. The topics of biodiversity, human and environmental health, pollinator decline, watershed health, and so much more are all linked together!


This was in incredible opportunity to connect with others in the field. A Career Connection job fair was hosted where farmers/ ranchers/ landowners could connect with people who were interested in working on such an operation. A picture of the speed dating style event is shown below.


Organizations of Interest

There were so many amazing speakers and organizations present at this conference, I could never cover it all. In an attempt to cite a few more of the topics that piqued my interest, I will list them below so myself and anyone else who is interested in the topic may look further into the topic.


Images of Agriculture

Culture is a part of agriculture. Art has depicted agrarian life in all eras. Here’s a look at modern farming. Organic farming and Community Supported Agriculture is helping many struggling farm operations stay in business as well as provided a path for new farmers. In the book, “Organic; Farmer’s of the Hudson Valley”, there are many photographs showing the people who are cultivating the organic movement in that region.

The images below of the Hudson Valley farmers shows four faces, all hard worn and sun soaked. None of the people depicted are smiling but there is something beautiful in each face. The people in these photographs show what it means to be a modern, organic farmer.

These images were taken by photographer Francesco Mastalia who used an antique form of photography, called wet plate collodion process, developed in the mid 19th century, to invoke the nostalgia of these images (Organic). With this antique look, we are reminded that the tenets of organic agriculture are not wholly new. Using organic methods is what was always done, up until the advent of chemical agriculture in the past century. Organic agriculture, however, is not wholly antiquated. It incorporates traditional farming practices with new innovations. These images show the juxtaposition of the old and the new, in the faces and styles of the people who practice organic farming.

The young man with long dread locks is not the typical image most people conjure up when visualizing a farmer. But in fact, people from many walks of life are finding their passion in farming. I found an interview with the young man in this photograph. His name is Jay Uhler. On a Peace and Carrots farm in the Hudson Valley, Uhler works as a laborer, sleeping in the greenhouse at night. The farm life is good for him. In the interview, Uhler says that while farming, “I’m happier,” (Dirt-Mag).

For many farms, the conventional methods have failed due to a variety of reasons but many of them being external forces such as market fluctuations and the push to consolidate into large scale operations. Many farms are going under while still others are adapting to the changes and growing what consumers want: local, organic, interesting and value-added. The Hudson Valley farmer’s are filling those niches.

When looking through other images from a magazine article published about Peace and Carrots farm, which is a small farm operation on the grounds of a larger family dairy. The small vegetable operation is ran by a young woman who is the descendant of many generations of dairy farmers. The young woman has red dreadlocks and looks both bright eyed but apprehensive. Standing next to her is her father and grandfather who are weathered with time, who’s hands show the labor of decades on the farm. Those men are facing the reality that the farm as they know it cannot exist in the economic realities of today and are mourning this change.


Change is hard, and to those who have worked a lifetime, only to find it failing economically, is a burden to the soul. May the old merge with the new in a positive way to provide to the livelihoods of people, be good for the environment, pay homage to tradition, look towards creative innovation and may all prosper in the future.


Mastalia, F. (2014). Organic: Farmers and chefs of the Hudson Valley. Brooklyn, NY: Power House Books.




Roles and Activities of Work-Play Parties

A Review and Analysis of “Huskings, Quiltings, and Barn Raisings; Work-play parties in early America”

Author: Victoria Sherrow

Published by Walker in London, 1992


A barn raising near Toronto Canada.

Summary of Book

Victoria Sherrow’s 1992 book, “Huskings, Quintings, and Barn Raisings; Work-Play Parties in Early America”, takes a view back to the roots of America, to rural frontier culture. This book describes the need for rural people to rely on their neighbors in times of abundance as well as during times of hardship. Making one’s way as a farmer has always been hard work yet it was especially taxing in the days when the infrastructure was still being created, when the people broke the prairie sod for the first time, felled the forest and started from scratch. These huge tasks were usually done at the family scale but at times, outside help was needed. Fortunately, getting together with one’s neighbors can also be fun. These work get-togethers are the “Work-Play Parties” described in Sherrow’s book. The rural people would make an occasion out of the work gatherings, calling them work-parties or more specific names such as quilting bees, barn raisings, and sugaring-offs. There was always food involved with these gatherings as a payment of gratitude for the neighbor helpers. There was a time of work and then a time of fun, often with games and dances after the work was finished for the day.

The author, Victoria Sherrow, is a prolific author of young adult’s literature, haven published over 60 books (Good Reads).  Many of her books are nonfiction and of historical content.

This book’s intended readers are young adults in the age range of 8 to 14 and is a part of agriculture literature non-fiction genre.  This book contributes to the understanding of rural culture in America which revolved around the farm and homestead since this country was founded.


As we read children’s and young adult’s literature, which are created to inform young minds,  the messages and morals being taught in the stories are highly important. One theme that is not blatant but that reoccurs often is the difference of roles between men and women during work-play parties. In the next few paragraphs I will show examples of this and explore how it may be interpreted by young readers while contributing to their understanding of agrarian culture.


In all examples of work-play parties described in this book, it included what men and women would each be doing. The roles were generally divided by hard outdoor labor for the men and home, food, and cloth-related duties were for the girls and women. A good example of how a passage from this book explains the roles is as follows, “During the 1800s, in the western frontier areas, men joined together to raise a log cabin. Some took up to three days to build… The women and girls of the settlement might spend weeks preparing the food that would be served.” (Pg. 17, Sherrow). Males do the work of raising the cabin in a day or more and the females spend weeks preparing food to nourish all of the helpers. While physical work is seen as more difficult, spending weeks to prepare food is equally taxing and just as important.

In the following passage, we hear about the clearing of land for homes and fields, where both men and women helped in the effort. This is an example where women used tools in outdoor labor, which is the only mention of such activities in the text, “Women and children helped to cut smaller trees and bushes with a small ax or a bushwhack, a metal tool with sharp edges that was often use to chop away underbrush,” (Pg. 11, Sherrow). This had to be done when clearing land for the first time for fields and homes, indicating that this occurred in the east, south and Midwest during westward expansion, most likely in conjunction with the Homestead Act era after the 1860s. Perhaps, by the 1800s and beyond, women were gaining more flexibility in their roles on the farm. As time has progressed, women have gained more and more access to work alongside men in the fields and with tools and machinery.

Women were crucial to the establishment of rural communities. From a section on settling the Great Plains, it is said about gender, “On the plains, very few single men attempted to operate a farm or ranch by themselves; they clearly understood the need for a hard-working wife, and numerous children, to handle the many chores, including child-rearing, feeding and clothing the family, managing the housework, feeding the hired hands… During the early years of settlement in the late 19th century, farm women played an integral role in ensuring family survival by working outdoors,” (Great Plains).

Women played a vital role in the rural communities, often being the ones who initiated and organized their social lives. This quote gives examples of the types of events they would create: “(Women) often sponsored activities that combined work, food, and entertainment such as barn raisings, corn huskings, quilting bees, Grange meetings, church activities, and school functions,” (Northern Plains). This passage shows us that women helped build the connections and relationships that initiated the work-play parties as well other important social events that not only allowed for socializing but also helped the families survive.

I began to wonder about the universality of gender roles divided between physical labor and tending to home and family. While exploring this question, I came across a paper about gender roles in Africa. In the cultures studied, men do the physical hard labor while women tend the home and for people, as is often the case in Europe and America, (World Regional Geography). This is a big question, but it is worth noting that from a young adult’s novel on rural culture, a question about universal truths has been born. This book has great inspiration for all its readers and provokes some necessary questions.  It is hard to say if men’s work or women’s work is more taxing, but what is certain is that both sexes worked hard in their daily lives as well as in the times of work-play parties.  This book does a good job of not instilling a hierarchy on the different jobs done and acknowledges the different but equal roles that men and women played.


Women and men work side by side at a volunteer event to build an adobe bench at a park in Moab, Utah.

Works Cited

Cover photo: Galbraith, Alexander W. A barn raising north of Toronto, Canada. Digital image. City of of Toronto Archives. City of Toronto. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.

Pulsipher, Lydia M., Alex Pulsipher, and Conrad M. Goodwin. World Regional Geography: Global Patterns, Local Lives. New York: W.H. Freeman, 2002. Print.

Sherrow, Victoria. Huskings, quiltings and barn raising: work-play parties in early America London: Walker, 1992. Print.

“Victoria Sherrow Books.” Victoria Sherrow Books. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.

“Victoria Sherrow.” Goodreads. Web. 25 Oct. 2016.

World Heritage Encyclopedia. “Great Plains.” Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

World Heritage Encyclopedia. “Northern Plains.” Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.

Autumn Abundance

hpsexchange1Although not a farmer, this class, The Farm and Literature, has helped me contemplate what role I can play in production. I believe in increasing local foods and participating more in a local economy, so recently, I’ve been seeking out what is already available in my community. I can also empower myself to use my skills to help in my own way to further the local foods economy.

With the tools of technology to get the word out, a backyard to salvage from, and a idea, I organized a Fall Harvest Exchange, to connect the interested members of my community to come together to share their extra organic abundance. That’s the flyer that I made for the event.

dsc00543The exchange was hosted at the CommuniTea Garden, a place that some friends and I started this spring which has turned into a budding gathering space and a source of many annual flowers. This is what the CommuniTea Garden looks like as of late October, 2016.

dsc00561We were able to yield much marigold seed from this garden to have available to share.

We set up a table for the seeds which we had collected, left room for the goodies that we hoped the community would bring to share, and offered free hot tea to help us warm up to the festivities.

dsc00563This was truly a celebration of our valley’s abundance.  We had many people bring their seeds, extra produce, cut flowers, and indoor plant cuttings.


I started with simply seeds and an idea and went home with a handful of new varieties of seeds to try in the spring, pounds of produce, a new level of love for our community, a warm belly and happy heart.

dsc00570The next day, I spent processing the produce I received. I made 6 quarts of green salsa from these tomatillos!

dsc00557One of my favorite contributions were these ‘hedge apples’. I hadn’t seen this plant since I lived in Iowa growing up. What I heard about them is that they keep spiders away so you put them in corners of your house and behind your bed, places where you don’t want those friends. Also, you can make a good guess about where old property lines in the country were because farmer’s would use this plant as a hedge to mark their property from their neighbors. My mom, who has an artist’s soul, uses hedge apples as decoration and I think I will do the same.


This neat root stock is walking onion, which is a prolific allium which reproduces in the most interesting way: when the seed heads on the end of the tall stalk gets heavy in the fall, it falls over and while still attached to the original root base, the seed head borrows into the ground and propagates itself where it fell. This is the walking motion inferred in the name.

We are one of many harvest events and seeds swaps taking place. This traditional practice is becoming more and more common as people are reconnecting with their communities, their bioregion and their histories while also seeing the importance of seed saving for tradition. Check out this trailer the movie, Seed: The Untold Story. 

Other sources of inspiration include Vandana Shiva and her work on promoting seed saving as a means of ecological imperative  as well as cultural protection.

There are also a few seed saving companies that I am inspired by. Native Seeds Search  is one of them and is most applicable to the Moab region where I live as they are based in Arizona and so have bioregionally appropriate seeds for here.


This harvest exchange will hopefully become a tradition in my community. It was an easy action that produced great benefits for everyone who came. I’m glad to participate in a practice that celebrates the harvest season, boosts the community’s connection to the land, improves the local economy and food sovereignty, and brings people together in a fun, social and meaningful way.

Articles of Interest


Celtic folk lore about good kings ‘marrying’ the land to ensure prosperity:

Indigenous view of corn, maize:


Using market-scale perennial grain for beer:

Quotes from the recently deceased pioneer of permaculture, Bill Mollison:

Bike-powered urban gardening:

Regenerative agriculture- storing carbon in the soil while also providing for human and ecosystem needs:

Western Colorado fruit tree mapping initiative: 

Goats as ‘lawn-mowers’:

Urban, closed-loop, farming in Milwaukee, WI:

Urban hops grown on under-utilized land:

An amazing non-profit that connects various groups to promote sustainable land stewardship:

Mini composter:

Traditional Culture

The traditional practice of growing amaranth in Mexico:

Shrine of Demeter, goddess of agriculture, discovered:

Impact on wool on Viking culture:

Gladiator diet:

Seed saving as cultural preservation and resistence:

1700 year old wool tunic found in melting ice in Norway/ importance of wool during Iron Age:

Art and Agriculture

High definition photographs of seeds:


The effects of diet on newborns:

How to make elderberry syrup, a home remedy:

Cilantro as water purifier:


Seed saving tutorial:

Drought-tolerant plants:

Indoor ginger harvesting:

Food Systems:

How to teach about food systems:

Cost Co buying land for organic farmers:

Building a better farm bill:


A Walk at Walden Pond

While on a cross-country, family-visiting adventure, my partner and I made many stops related to our various interests. One of these stops was at Walden Pond in Massachusetts as I had just read a section by Henry David Thoreau’s, “Walden” for my class, The Farm in Literature. When we think of Thoreau, farming usually doesn’t come to mind, but he actually tended a little plot of land and had many thoughts on the spiritual and societal impacts of tending land.


The replica of Thoreau’s cabin. My 6 foot tall frame for spacial reference. A true tiny home. 

Thoreau grew much of the food that he ate during his two-year foray in the woods. He gardened in a simple manner, without added manure for fertilizer and hand hoed, sowed, weeded, and tended to his plot regularly.

Although his gardening was a major part of his daily routine, there was no garden at Walden Pond currently, much to my disappointment. I was hoping to see the meager rows of beans tended by a scruffy gentlemen farmer play actor.

…I learned from the experience of both years, … that if one would live simply and eat only the crop which he raised, and raise no more than he ate, and not exchange it for an insufficient quantity of more luxurious and expensive things, he would need to cultivate only a few rods of ground, and that it would be cheaper to spade up that than to use oxen to plow it, and to select a fresh spot from time to time than to manure the old, and he could do all his necessary farm work as it were with his left hand at odd hours in the summer.”- Henry David Thoreau, ‘Walden’ 


The view from Thoreau’s cabin, Walden Pond!

Thoreau’s simple farming method was slow and thoughtful, using his time in the field as a time to reflect and feel connected to the earth. He said of his time in his garden that it, ‘yielded an instant and immeasurable crop.’

Many of us who garden understand this connection when we work in the soil. I think his routine of daily morning gardening helped keep him motivated and grounded during his time of intense reflection.

Equinox and Agriculture

This week’s theme of the spiritual in farming comes at a perfect point in time, as today we are entering the first day of fall, the Autumnal Equinox, when the day and night is equal and we move into a phase of increasing darkness. In the Northern Hem-
wheatisphere, this marks the time when summer turns to fall, and symbolically marks the time when the fruits have been harvested and the attention is turned back to the earth itself, back to the soil, where microbes are turning the fallen fruit and leaves into fertility for the next cycle. This is the time to focus on building the roots, to nourish in darkness, and to give gratitude for the previous cycle’s harvest abundance.

The patterns of lightness and darkness was noted in traditional cultures around the world and many societies throughout time have celebrated the points around the cycle of the seasons. The northern hemisphere’s autumnal equinox has been celebrated as the harvest festival, where the gods and goddess of agriculture are invoked.

The Chumash tribe of Southern California, celebrate the fall harvest festival with gifts on harvested goods to honor the Earth Goddess (link to source). autumnindians

Traditional Christians celebrate Michaelmas around the time of the fall equinox with a feast of a goose fed from the remnants of a harvested field (link to source).

Ancient Greeks celebrated their wine harvest by invoking Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, who mourns her daughter Persophone’s fate of 6 months in Hades by causing the crops to lose their vigor and brings the time of harvest (link to source).

Many people still celebrate this time of year either as an authentic continuance of their culture or as a rekindling of relationship to earth’s cycles. Modern pagan or Wiccan people call this time holiday Mabon and reflect on the seeds that were planted in the spring and the fruits that came from those efforts. The seeds and fruit can be symbolic of day to day actions or a literal harvest, but acknowledge the importance of nature, cycles, and abundance that come with the seasons in our lives (link to source).

A poem from Mother Goose summaries the the gratitude that comes from the harvest this time of year,

We have sown, we have tended
We have grown, we have gathered
We have reaped a good harvest
Lady, we thank you for your gifts
Lord, we thank you for your bounty
I thank you for [fill in yourself].

From the School of the Seasons.

wotyWhat are you harvesting this time of year that was begun as a simple seed?


In the European wheel of the year pictured above, many of the celestial holidays are represented by the crops that were abundant at that time of year. This shows the importance of  agriculture, food and cultivation to people across cultures and time and place.


In a time when weather patterns and seasons are shifting, what does it mean to hold onto our connection to our ancestral knowledge and wisdoms imbedded in the cycles of the year?