By Doug Graves
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) will hold its 42nd annual gathering online this year. The conference will be Feb. 10-15.
This year’s theme is “Our Time: Essential Links for a Strong Food Chain,” and according to Dr. Elaine Ingham, keynote speaker and soil biologist, it all begins with the soil. She will tell her audience to understand the life in the soil and use it to improve plant and human health.
“Soil is an amazing place, full of life and bursting with diversity,” Ingham said. “The underlying principle of our current agricultural system, the so-called ‘Green Revolution,’ is clueless about what soil really is, and thus destroys everything that promotes soil, plant or human healthiness.”
Ingham is founder and president of Soil Food Web and director of Soil Food Web School. For the past four decades, she has pioneered research in the field of soil biology and is widely recognized as the world’s foremost soil biologist.
During this year’s OEFFA conference, Ingham’s goal is to empower farmers to restore the ecological functions of living soils all over the world, ensuring healthy, strong plants and nutritious food, while eliminating soil erosion and the need for chemical inputs.
“Building soil structure is critically important. Bacteria and fungi are the starting points for building that structure. If the grower builds a better soil structure one’s root system can go down 10, 15, 20 feet into the soil and we won’t have to worry about summer water. The roots will get to it. In addition, there’s no need for inorganic fertilizers, minerals, vitamins or supplements if the right sets of organisms are present to cycle nutrients and outcompete disease and pests.”
Ingham will compare a healthy soil food web, which contains beneficial microbes that help plants grow strong, and a healthy human digestive system, which also contains sets of microbes that provide nutrients to the gut’s lining.
“Nature uses the soil food web of beneficial bacteria, good-guy fungi, protozoa and beneficial nematodes to create the soluble nutrients for plants,” she said. “Plants feed the microbes so the microbes will retrieve the nutrients needed by the plants. Predators of the microbes then make sure the soluble nutrients will be delivered in the right place, at the right time. It’s a wonderfully simple, yet in its own way complex, system.”
Ingham will lead a full-day Food and Farm School Class, “Soil Food Web Structure and Function,” on Wednesday, Feb. 10, and a 60-minute workshop, “Life in the Soil: The Soil Food Web’s Five Over-Arching Principles” on Saturday, Feb. 13.
Ingham is author of the USDA’s Soil Biology Primer, The Compost Tea Brewing Manual, The Soil Foodweb and other publications.
Two other speakers –Will Harris and Navina Khanna – will offer keynote addresses.
Harris, a fourth-generation cattleman from Bluffton, Ga., is a recognized leader in humane animal husbandry and environmental sustainability. He will discuss regenerating land with livestock. Khanna, director of HEAL Food Alliance in Oakland, Calif., specializes in creating a more just and sustainable world through transforming food systems. She will discuss the importance of cultivating a movement for crisis-proof food systems.
More than 60 workshops on sustainable farming, livestock, homesteading, gardening and business will be offered Feb. 11-13. Such topics include Proven Strategies for Profitable Urban Agriculture; Organic Machinery for No-Till and Weed Control; Poultry Disease Diagnosis; Successful Planting and Planning for the Flower Holidays; Irrigation System Design for Organic Production; COVID and Organic Agriculture: One Year Later; Supporting Beneficial Birds and Managing Pest Birds.
Leading these workshops are extension specialists from The Ohio State University, University of Wisconsin, West Virginia University, University of Toledo, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa, as well as other experts.
A full day of food and farm school classes as well as a free soil health workshop will be Feb. 10 while an interactive virtual trade show will be Feb. 10-15.
Earth Tools will conduct online debates Feb. 12-13. Dave Chapman, executive director of the Real Organic Project, and Kelly Damewood, CEO of California Certified Organic Farmers, will share their distinct positions on whether hydroponics can be consistent with organic principles and what the path forward on this contentious issue should be.
A mixology lesson with Western Reserve Distillers will be Feb. 12 and for those with food in mind there will be a chefinar, led by Fest’s top Chef Tiffany Swan. The menu includes chickpea sofrito with creamy polenta and roasted root vegetables and apple galette.
To register, visit www.conference.oeffa.org or call 614-421-2022 for more information.