In my last blog, I wrote that going forward I would be more investigative and more objective in my examination of my subjects and subject matter. It seems like I’m not quite there yet.
Tagged as “The Future of Urban Food Systems,” the Grow Local O.C. Conference in Southern California last month left me with only good things to write about. The organizing sponsors, Seedstock’s Robert Puro and Jason Reed, brought stakeholders together for this important gathering and their work is to be commended. Christina Hall from the OC Food Access Coalition rounded out the event’s organizing team. “In the five years we’ve been doing this I’ve seen a lot more sophistication of the panel speakers and the audience. It’s a maturation of the market” noted Reed.
Held on the campus of Cal State Fullerton on a warm November day the program guide focused on
- Important discussion and exploration of how to strengthen Orange County’s local food system infrastructure
- To be inspired; to meet and network with experts – from growers and entrepreneurs to policy makers and investors
- To learn from practitioners who have found success in developing unique, innovative policy and sustainable business models to reinvigorate agriculture and food systems in cities across the U.S.
Those are ambitious goals but in fact the organizers far surpassed them, including a “Future Farm Field Trip” on Day 2.
The latter, a half day journey to four OC farms included a gig for me acting as “farm guide” during the group tour of Irvine’s landmark indoor vertical farm, Urban Produce, the place where I got my Ag start in late 2015.
Day 1’s turnout was strong with several hundred people in attendance. Among them were SoCal growers, entrepreneurs, food policy experts, educators and university students (Cal Poly Pomona brought a strong contingent). The organizers brought Ag fire power with the keynote speaker being California’s current Secretary of Agriculture, Karen Ross. The Secretary, possessing a keen sensitivity for her audience, noted her office’s focus on food waste, children’s health, farmer’s markets and the agency’s areas of assistance through the USDA’s National Agricultural Library, California’s Center for Land-Based Learning and the Farm-to-Fork Office.
The day’s panel topics included everything from community development and access to healthy, local food to obtaining funding for farming ventures. My particular area of interest was in the “Controlled Environment Farming in the City” panel as moderated by Hort America’s Chris Higgins. Erik Cutter of Alegria Fresh (a organic farm located in Irvine’s Great Park), Dr. Nate Storey of Bright Agrotech (makers of the ZipGrow Tower™), Chef Adam Navidi (owner of Future Foods Farms and Oceans & Earth Restaurant) and Urban Produce CEO, Ed Horton shared insights and real-world experiences. “It is possible to bring urban organic farming back to the city employing local people while growing organic food commercially” stated Horton.
As someone born and raised in “The OC” I take special pride in what the organizers have attempted to accomplish with this conference (see my earlier blog: Irvine: Planning Agriculture for the 21st Century) and my hope is for all assembled to make a mark on OC Ag in their own unique way. Or as Seedstock organizer Robert Puro summed up, “What struck me today was that the audience was extremely diverse; Urban Ag’ers, niche farmers, indoor growers and students all coalesced around a market opportunity. “
I promise in my next blog I’ll be a true critic. For now, it’s a group hug. Grow Local O.C. indeed.