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.
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.
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.
- The Land Institute: Perennial agriculture research center.
- The Greenhorns: Promote, Recruit and Support New Farmers in America.
- Camino de Paz Montessori Middle School & Farm: A place for young teens to explore their identities as emerging adults, to learn about the world around them in an authentic way.
- Green Fire Times: News from the sustainable southwest.
- Western Landowners Alliance: A network of landowners who share a vision of a healthy West that sustains its natural and cultural values well into the future.