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Sustainable agriculture’s key component? Happiness.

Posted by Zack Frederick | January 6, 2015

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend Tilth Producers of WA annual conference.  We will be posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

Zack Frederick is a second-year student pursuing PhD in Plant Pathology 

Zack Frederick - student guest blogger
Zack Frederick – student guest blogger

The Tilth Producers of Washington annual conference represents a unique opportunity for all. This year, while I expected research presentations, I was surprised by an unusual theme: happiness. More specifically, happiness at the nexus of three points: sustainable organic agriculture, doing what you love, and with a reliable income. Many presentations covered one of these three, but the majority that I attended covered two or all three.

At Tilth, presentations promoted organic agricultural practices that are mindful of environmental and social contexts both on and off the farm. Those like me who fancy being a plant pathologist one day could find many presentations on topics of disease management practices. In theory, these are familiar waters, except that presenters challenged me to consider new environmental and social perspectives. Some social perspectives that were on the agenda included policy compliance at a variety of levels, as well as successful navigation of alterative markets and marketing strategies through careful adherence to guidelines and careful recordkeeping. Sustainable beekeeping, and its effects on crops and the surrounding environment, seemed to be a topic of particular interest this year. This topic even came up in conversation with people next to me in line to get a meal. Questions of what factors can cause declines in bee populations, the potential use of wild colonies or other pollinators, and effective strategies for deploying and maintaining hives were common. These questions paved the way for consideration of deliberate planting of native landscapes as insect forage, and other potential benefits of these plants in a diversified farm operation.

Cider apples. Photo: Rebecca Siegel
Cider apples. Photo: Rebecca Siegel

The presenters at Tilth brought a myriad of experiences to the table, and were genuinely appreciative of questions. Their passion was highly infectious. Not only were they doing what they loved, but they wanted to get the audience on board. I am a graduate student working on soilborne potato disease management and I’m crazy excited about learning more about cider making and seed saving after sitting through several presentations on the subjects. In addition to getting attendees on board, presenters were there to continually remind the audience to never lose sight of doing what they love. With all of the research information, the atmosphere of any given presentation could have come off very academic, but many presentations were conducted more like a round table conversation and less like a lecture. One even had delightful baby animal breaks to give the audience time to digest information and prepare questions before proceeding to the next section.

This year at Tilth, I personally saw a lot of attention paid to fine details. With time, I’m learning to appreciate nuances of any form of agricultural production. At Tilth, this attention to detail was readily apparent in presentations geared towards fiscal stability on the organic farm. Workshops and symposia were packed with a lot of practical tips aimed at having you walk out of the room with information that was immediately tangible and useful in your operation. The challenge for presenters in the future may be making these tips applicable to people with next to no experience on the subject as well as the seasoned expert. Regardless, the content and presentation style at Tilth was as informative as it was interesting for a student like myself.

I attended the Tilth Producers of Washington annual conference this year fully expecting a series of experts expounding on the enticing world that they envision for the future of organic agriculture in the Pacific Northwest. I found more than I bargained for. Amongst the tips, tricks, and guidelines shared by presenters at Tilth, they have not lost sight of reinforcing why many growers do what they do: it is a source of happiness.

One thought on "Sustainable agriculture’s key component? Happiness."

  1. Alison says:

    Nice article Zack! Happiness is really important; seeing people passionate about their way of life is indeed infectious. Thanks for writing about this.

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