Building upon a Strong Foundation
Last month I attended the annual EcoFarm Conference at Asilomar, the amazing conference space in Pacific Grove. The EcoFarm Conference is California’s largest annual gathering of organic farmers. Each year they are joined by researchers, health professionals, distributors, marketers and advocates who are active in the food movement. This year, they were also joined by the members of the PCFMA staff leadership team and nearly all of the members of the PCFMA Board of Directors.
Our goal was to have a shared educational experience that might help us to think differently about the role of PCFMA in the food and farming sector. While many of us had attended the California Small Farm Conference before, only two of our delegation had previously attended EcoFarm. In our debrief session last week – the first time we had all gathered together since the conference – we shared what we learned, what inspired us, as well as what we had hoped to learn but not found at the conference. When we were done, I was surprised to see that our “inspiration” list was the longest, extending well past our “education” list. When I take a step back and look at that inspiration list, I see clearly that we were inspired by stories from a number of sectors that intersect with our world of food and farming. These stories included children of farm workers on California’s central coast who are helping other families reduce the pesticides brought into their homes after working in the fields, researchers building new economic models of the long term financial yields after converting from conventional to organic farming methods, and dozens of stories of farmers who see their responsibility to care for and cultivate the soils on which they grow as equally important as caring for the plants that sprout from that soil. As one of the PCFMA Board members reflected, “In farming, soil is the foundation.”
I think it is universally accepted that strong foundations are essential for growth and stability. (If you are not convinced of this, google “Millennium Tower San Francisco” to see what can happen in the absence of a strong foundation.) At PCFMA, our foundation is our farmers. It was a group of farmers that originally came together with some other supporters to form PCFMA back in 1988, and today, our leadership on our Board of Directors continues to be made up primarily of farmers. It is the incredible products that these farmers coax from their soil year after year that brings customers to our farmers’ markets. Upon that foundation we have been able to build community – working with cities and local community organizations to create community gathering spaces which are all too rare in our society dominated by electronic communication. We have also been able to build upon that foundation to create opportunities for hundreds of food businesses, celebrating and supporting the creativity of these entrepreneurs and innovators.
As our group discussed PCFMA’s role in this work, one theme that came up again and again was “finding common ground.” It is PCFMA’s responsibility to not only create the physical space in which farmers’ markets can operate, but to also help find the common ground of shared passion between farmers and farmers’ market customers, between organic farmers and conventional farmers that sell within the same farmers’ market, between farmers in markets and food businesses within those markets, and between the farm employees who sell within farmers’ markets and the PCFMA farmers’ market managers responsible for that market.
Finding this common ground is a big part of how PCFMA will continue to build upon its foundation this year.