When Phil Coturri began farming grapes organically, there were no certification organizations; there were few, if any, organic farming products; the organic “movement” was little more than the efforts of a few like-minded farmers to grow the food they wanted to eat and wine they wanted to drink.
In 1981, 45 farmers gathered at a firehouse near Davis, Calif. to discuss organic farming and the Ecological Farming association EcoFarm Conference was born. This year, over 1,500 farmers, producers, grocers, and many others gathered at the picturesque Asilomar Conference Center. Among the gathered denizens were four representatives from Sixteen 600 and Enterprise Vineyards or “Knights in Phil’s Army” as no one has ever called us.
Each member of our EcoFarm crew went with different expectations and came away with very different experiences.
Jesse Apgar- Director of Vineyard Operations
Undoubtedly the biggest dreamer and the hopeless romantic among us, Jesse was reinvigorated by the sessions on biodynamics and organic practices. Jesse loved the idea that the farmer’s consciousness was the alchemical “fifth element” of biodynamic ag, that the focus and intentions of the farmer have direct influence on the outcome of the farm. Jesse’s enthusiasm and alchemical prowess was only hampered this giant burrito.
The burrito of death
Ross Canard- Director of Biodynamic and Organic Operations
A self-described cynic, Ross had little time for the idealistic or abstract at EcoFarm. To Ross, the most valuable sessions dealt with attracting bees and other pollinators to the farm, he also enjoyed other technical sessions such as the biofumigation capabilities of mustard. Unfortunately for Ross, he was Jesse’s roommate, leaving the rest of us to wonder about the biofumigation capabilities of Jesse’s burrito.
Two styles of organic farmer
Max Coturri-Tractor driver and young farmer
This was Max’s first conference and he arrived eager, wide-eyed and wet behind the ears. He dove into the possibilities of sheep grazing in organic vineyards (debunked as inconsistent with our pruning philosophy by known cynic Ross Cannard) and soaked up the techniques for restoring native habitats. His favorite session was “Buckets, Boards and T-Posts: Repurposing Materials for Simple On-Farm Solutions” that was able to combine his newly found passion for welding and his childhood love of finding things at the ranch and pretending they were guns.
At the EcoFarm Winetasting
Sam Coturri- Marketing and Sales
Midway through EcoFarm , Ross offered me the highest compliment he ever has in our 28+ years of friendship, as I wrapped a brief interview with the EcoFarm film crew he turned to me and said “Sam, where would we be without your all your bullshit.” Any good bullshitter knows, that the best bullshit is informed bullshit. From seed collecting to farmer/retailer relations, EcoFarm provided me the opportunity to learn new angles in my efforts to spread the gospel of organic grape-growing and, of course, sell more wine. That said, by far, my favorite session was “Wise Words from Well Seasoned Farmers: Real Dirt from Those Who Were There.” This was basically a discussion between Amigo Cantisano, the godfather of organic agriculture in California and Bill Olokowski, an etymologist who helped pioneer Integrated Pest Management. In a room full of young, starry eyed farmers just starting to tackle issues like delivering consistent deliveries to the local food coop, it was important to hear that just 40 years ago no one had ever heard of a recycling center and the only way to manage bugs in the field was to spray more pesticides.
In all, we left Monterey ready to return to the vineyards and the winery with a renewed sense of our purpose, whether that purpose is to sell wine, attract more bees or finally digest 5 pounds of burrito. However, Max summed it all up nicely, “I feel really optimistic about the future of farming in California.”
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Awesome post. KiPA huh? scary. We are big fans of Winery Sixteen 600's organic wine, and now are fans of their blog. Keep spreading the gospel of Organic Farming. I want to go to EcoFarm.
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