When our editors aren’t deep in manuscript work, they’re often on the road, keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the (sometimes literal) fields represented in Storey books.
Earlier this year I flew out to California from my home in rural western Massachusetts to attend EcoFarm, the 36th annual conference of the Ecological Farming Association in Pacific Grove, just north of Monterey. This is a rather decent part of my job — attending the great gatherings of the organic farming/sustainable living movement, which include EcoFarm, NOFA (the Northeast Organic Farming Association in Massachusetts and New York), MOSES (the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service in Wisconsin), and the growing number of Mother Earth News Fairs all over the US. These events offer an opportunity to see what’s going on and to prospect for book ideas and authors.
EcoFarm is an exuberant, crowded, inspiring event with about 100 workshops crammed into 3 days, attended by up to 2,000 people — from 5th-generation to first-time farmers and everything in between, plus gardeners, herbalists, flower growers, orchardists, beekeepers, chefs, farmers’ market managers, writers, planners, educators, activists, and many more.
You arrive a day early for a bus tour of four organic farms in the area, each year carefully curated for interest and contrast. It’s finally raining in California and the incredibly fertile fields shimmer under the gray sky. Here are strawberries, destined for the world’s produce markets by May:
This year’s tour takes us from a postage-stamp market farm in upscale Carmel Valley …
…to a Salinas Valley operation growing cabbage and carrots for kimchi and kraut:
The next morning, you take an early walk to see the full moon fall into the ocean, then catch a 7 a.m. yoga class and a quick breakfast before your first workshop. You attend as many sessions as you can from 8 a.m. into the evening.
You hear Cuban farmers, Northwestern cherry growers, pollination experts (The Xerces Society), shepherds whose sheep prune vineyards, market gardeners selling greens and strawberries in San Francisco farmers’ markets, grizzled gurus, celebrity chefs, and legends presenting to an engaged, enthusiastic audience.
Meals are at big round tables. You have a terrific conversation to your left, another to your right, and a third with the entire table, with people who hail from the West Coast, New England, France, South Africa, New Zealand, Brazil, Ireland. The food is carefully sourced (with full credits to farmers) and artfully prepared. You witness sunrises, sunsets, rainstorms, rainbows, farm films, cheese tastings, a contradance. You fall into bed at the end of the day hearing the distant surf, sharing your room and your thoughts with four roommates, each with her own story, passion, and mission.
Trends and talked-about topics this year included fermented foods, organic textiles, fresh produce for the competitive urban market, bee issues, weeding and watering alternatives, and above all, ways to make farming sustainable environmentally, socially, and economically.
A most obvious development since my last visit: the attendees’ average age has gone down. The young people in overalls and hoodies, clutching clipboards, who once filled the aisles — they are now on farms. In fact, their farms are succeeding, and those young farmers are now leading workshops and serving as role models for a new generation pouring into this conference and this way of life.
All told, it’s a healthy, invigorating boost, to dive into this throng and absorb the big ideas, the little conversations, the fast-changing trends and slow evolutions, the health of the organic movement, the relevance of Storey’s publishing program — and of course, the sublime beauty of a morning moonset over the sea.