My Ride to the EcoFarm Conference

by Ken Foster
Feb. 23, 2015—Just over one month ago, Jan. 20, 2015, marked a unique and unlikely achievement—my fifteenth annual bicycle ride from my hometown of Santa Cruz to the annual EcoFarm Conference, at the Asilomar conference grounds in Pacific Grove—about 60 miles round-trip. That constitutes more than 200 hours of ride time and a total of 1,800 miles. And while it’s not like I won Mavericks big-wave contest three times in a row, and while there is not a category for this feat in the Guinness Book of World Records, it is in my own personal record book.

The unique nature of this annual ride is proportionate to the hallmark level of the conference.

MapQuest says this is a four-hour ride, but that is without stopping. I’ve never done it in less than five hours or the better part of a day. The first year was 2000, when nine of us rode together as the Eco Farm Bicycle Posse. Since then it has been with one or two other riders and a number of years it has been a solo sojourn. Whether in major downpours or on sunny days it has always been a bit of a farm and garden tour, stopping by big and small farms and gardens. Enjoying the sites along the way is always part of the adventure.

Stops on the impromptu Eco Farm bike tour

• A homestead in La Selva Beach
• A heather farm on San Andreas Road
• A spontaneous rendezvous with the annual Eco-Farm Bus Tour at Crystal Bay Farm
• Far West Fungi - organic mushroom farm
• A Lama and livestock farm
• Kayak trip into Elkhorn Slough

A celebration of the Monterey Bay

This ride is a personal challenge, a lightning-rod event and vision quest all rolled into one. It is also a good chance to review yearly goals, practice an Eco Farm talent-show song or do some speech preparation.

In Permaculture design there is a principle called “stacking functions,: achieved by designing elements to serve many purposes. This ride definitely “feeds two birds with one scone.” It’s also a celebration of the Monterey Bay. There are no words to describe the experience of traveling under human power around this special water-place on earth. There is nothing like circumnavigating the bay from Santa Cruz’s north end to Pacific Grove’s southern end six or so hours later. I’ve done it 15 times and never get tired (read bored) of witnessing our glorious Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

We have an amazing ecosystem in this bay that is as deep as the Grand Canyon. This body of water is the end destination of all the watersheds in our bioregion. This also includes all our urban and rural storm run-off, soil erosion, farm and garden fertilizer and pesticide run-off, our cigarette butts, plastic bags and all that non-point-source pollution we so love to hate.

I am reminded that we protect what we love, and there are few better ways to nurture bay love!

Learn how permaculture design principles can inspire true environmental stewardship and urban sustainability, or simply to create an amazing, productive garden Join Ken for a two-day Permaculture Intensive

Eco Farm Planning Committee

I have had the honor of serving on the planning committee for the EcoFarm Conference for over 25 years now. It has indeed been a privilege planning this conference. Members of the committee gather workshop proposals throughout the year, then as we meet we lobby and then vote for the workshop sessions we would like to see at the conference. The committee begins planning the upcoming conference a good eight months ahead. Typically we’ll start with over 400 proposals that we have to filter and sift through to arrive at the 50 or 60 workshops that we actually offer at the conference. The planning committee members constantly keep abreast with the latest innovations, trends and issues relevant to sustainable agriculture and related topics. Inevitably workshops are selected that reflect these leading-edges. The conference is the flagship event of the non-profit Ecological Farming Association with its offices in Aptos, California.

Viva Eco Farm!

The 2015 conference marked the 35th anniversary of this conference that is broadly recognized for providing cutting edge information in ecological and sustainable agriculture. During the three days of the conference you’ll find workshops on everything from Farmer Water Rights to Growing the Best Spuds and from Farming with Wild Nature to On-farm Soil Health Strategies. It is also a place for attendees to network and find support. Every year there is a session entitled ‘Successful Farmers’ where farmers who have been outstanding in their fields are recognized. There is also the annual ‘Sustie Awards’ ceremony during which three recipients are honored for their work stewarding sustainable agriculture. As the name implies this is primarily a farming conference yet there is room for much more than just farmers. Indeed the conference attracts, produce retailers and brokers, home gardeners, homesteaders, landscapers and permaculturalists.

Applied On-Farm Permaculture Design

As a gardener and landscaper, permaculture designer and teacher I tend to lobby for and shepherd workshop proposals in these realms.That advocacy paid off for the 35th annual conference that was kicked off with pre-conferences like the full day permaculture session called Applied On-Farm Permaculture Design that was hosted by the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center (OAEC).

There was a very strong thread of permaculture workshops throughout the main conference. The 2015 conference was bookended with keynote speakers with a permaculture background, beginning with the keynote speaker Brock Dolman from OAEC giving a poignant presentation with the theme The Solution to Climate change is Soil. The concluding plenary speaker was the author Starhawk giving a fascinating keynote entitled Walking the Edges.

From beginning to end there was a thread of permaculture-inspired workshops woven into the main conference, including:
• Drought Proofing Your Landscape and Garden,
• Learning As if Whole Systems Mattered: Permaculture In Schools and Universities,
• No-Till Vegetable Production for the Future
• Vegetable Gardener’s Guide to Permaculture : Creating an Edible Ecosystem
• Productive Perennial Polycultures: Designing an Ecosystem of • Abundance on the Farm
• Assessing and Improving Your Farm’s Carbon footprint

This then is the story of pedaling around this beautiful Monterey Bay to join 1,500 dedicated people, continuing their education into re-generative agriculture that takes care of the earth, the water, the people and the future. Come join us next year!

Ken Foster is a native of Santa Cruz. In 1985 Ken was an apprentice at the U.C. Santa Cruz Farm and Garden, where he received a certificate in ecological horticulture. Ken also has an A.S. degree from Cabrillo College. Ken is a landscape contractor and the owner of Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping, which he founded in 1988. Ken is a certified permaculture designer and has taught permaculture since 2005. He currently teaches at Cabrillo College in the Fall semesters.