Experiencing the Future of Farming

This year CSANR sponsored travel for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference in Yakima, WA. We are posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. To view student posts from this year and prior years, visit https://csanr.wsu.edu/tag/tilth/

Cass Riggan is originally from Wenatchee, WA and is a sophomore at WSU studying Organic and Sustainable Agriculture.

Cass Riggan head shot.
WSU student Cass Riggan

“Honeybees are not as great as you might think.” This was said by a representative of the Xerces Society, Eric Lee-Mader. The Xerces Society, according to Wikipedia, is a non-profit environmental organization that focuses on the conservation of invertebrates. Eric was presenting at the Tilth Conference Saturday afternoon. His session was not only interesting, but  funny and very new. Never had I heard of actually growing less to produce more. In his session Eric spoke about multiple canola farm studies where the farmers dedicated one third of their farm to native plant species as habitat for beneficial insects. In turn this would allow for invertebrates to boost production more so than dedicating the entire field to canola; astounding. He went on to introduce hedgerows, these are basically shrubs and bushes that are used as a physical barrier for keeping wildlife out and for housing beneficial insects. He and his team introduced many of these hedgerows in orchards, grain fields, and small-scale gardens and the results were amazing. Healthier plants, better soil and less pests. This was my favorite part of the entire Tilth Conference.

And while Eric’s presentation was my favorite, the entire weekend was a rich and valuable experience for me. Driving in Friday afternoon to the Red Lion hotel 20 feet from the actual conference, I was relieved to see the proximity of the facility. Meals were delicious, all you could eat; we had continental breakfast, tacos, and a lovely three course dinner Saturday night. To open the conference, we were welcomed by the local Yakama Tribe, an all women group performing multiple dances. Some were about celebrating, some were about mourning. All in all, being welcomed by the local tribe of the Yakama people was an experience I will never forget and something that I am very grateful to witness. Their love of the land as well as their tight community is something you don’t see very often.

Next came the keynote speaker, Javier Zamora. A man who went from farming on just 1.5 acres to eventually owning 200. A certified organic farm in California, he told his story of becoming a farmer, learning how to produce sustainable food and the true meaning of success. A man whose energy could light up a room and charisma could take some weight off your shoulders. It was an absolute pleasure getting to hear how farming should be done and the real purpose to growing food and sharing community. I have learned a lot through that conference, seen some great role models and been inspired to pursue sustainable practices not only on the farm but with the people in my community, giving back and putting wholesome, nutrient rich, delicious food on their plates. The 2019 Tilth conference was a definite highlight of my year!