This January, Our-Sci’s Project Coordinator, Amber Subers, attended the Ecofarm conference in Monterey, California. This is the first conference our staff has been able to attend in person in quite some time, and we took the opportunity to catch up with Amber and hear about her experience. Note: This conversation has been edited for space & clarity.
Tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do.
I got to practice my quick pitch a lot at the conference! I ended up telling most people that I support a suite of tools created for farmers, by farmers, with the goal of having quality tools accessible to anyone, without limitations like economic factors.
What is Ecofarm?
I didn’t know about it before I went! But it’s a group of farmers that are trying to farm in a particular way who come together to help each other learn more. They describe it as “”Bringing together farmers, ranchers, and food system workers to inspire each other, and to be the change that makes a difference.” That really shows in the community they’ve built–that through their support, so many people have been able to be successful and connect. One thing that surprised me is how long Ecofarm has been going on. This was the 43rd year, and I met people who had been attending all along.
What were your days like while you were there?
Days were really long! Fortunately our table was right next to the coffee booth, so we were able to catch lots of people while they caffeinated. Lots of conversations, with lots of friendly, curious people who understood that everyone is there for a bigger picture of farming, in the best way possible. We were also the only software group that was tabling, so that was a unique position.
What were you most excited about?
I’d heard from Laurie [Wayne, of Open Food Network] that in her previous visits to Ecofarm, she had seen a need for what we offer, and that there was this established community of organic and ecological farmers. So I was excited that we could connect in that way – “We’re just like you, but in software!”
I also learned about the farming school ALBA, the Agriculture And Land-Based Training Association- they had a lot of people represented there, and hearing about the work that they did and the impact they had was incredible. I attended a Farm Bill session, and half of the room were ALBA students, many of whom were non-English-speaking, and many of whom had transitioned from being laborers to farm owners. Seeing that community represented and hearing from them was definitely a highlight.
Tell me about some other groups that you connected with.
We connected with Tend, who are a group that does similar work to farmOS, and we talked about the Farmer’s CoffeeShop and the schemas we are creating, so there’s the potential for interoperability there. We also saw a group called Farm-ng show off their electric micro-tractor, a version of which recently won the Community Alliance of Family Farmers Small Farm Innovation Challenge. They build a remote control tractor with camera and sensors, and also share their blueprints and work with universities to have students build and improve their model through the Farm Robotics Challenge. That was fun to see.
CCOF was also strongly represented. I think they had 40 people there; it was like their own party. We also spoke to a lot of USDA people– there were three different USDA booths and another three state agriculture booths. They talk to so many farmers, and it helps them to know what tools are out there. Since we are a part of so many USDA projects this year, I have lots of follow-up conversations planned for them.
Do you have advice or recommendations for next year?
I didn’t have big intentions of participating after the exhibit hall, but it sounds like that’s where the fun was! Somehow plan to have at least one night where you stay the whole time.
We did stay out until nine pm one night, which felt late to me! But even all these people operating on farmer’s schedules did not let that hold them back. I made so many great connections in the after-hours events. There were even late-night bonfires!
Do your best to make it to at least one panel a day. We missed the keynotes, but so many people were talking about it afterward! Also next time I would pack more snacks.
What were your biggest takeaways from the conference?
People were much more interested than we thought they would be! All the exhibitors were so nice and friendly. I felt like there was something in the air around farmers who have been managing everything on spreadsheets, and are ready to make the move onto a digital platform. It was exciting, full of great conversations. It was fun!
If you have questions for Amber, or to find out more about the work that we do, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to see you at an event near you soon!
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