A Local Food Security Conference planned this weekend will focus on growing more produce, grain and meat locally so that the region will be less vulnerable to tightening oil prices, lack of credit, drought and global warming.
The gathering at Bellview Grange will involve representatives from several dozen groups addressing sustainability, farming, alternative currency and other topics. Local schools, colleges and governments also will be represented.
The conference will be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Its goal, said organizer Lisa Pavati, editor of the Wellness Guide, is to stimulate action among individuals and groups to dedicate more land, water, seeds and workers toward growing food locally, because local food has more nutrition, uses less oil and protects the region from economic and resource shifts beyond its control.
Responding to a survey predicting drought-caused shortages around the world in this fall's harvests, Pavati said, "This fall is going to look different from last fall. It's apathetic of us if we don't prepare, when we can see the risk factors. The climate changes alone warrant large-scale, community-based action."
She added that, with drought, tight credit and unpredictable oil prices, "It's the perfect storm. And if nothing happens, then we have a lot of food and a better economy. We're inviting people to work together and not face the future in fear and scarcity."
Michael DiGiorgio, manager of the six-acre Village Farm in southeast Ashland and a panelist at the conference, said food security here is "currently terrible," with less than 1 percent of food grown locally.
One of the main trends in food security, he noted, is community supported agriculture, in which residents, instead of growing veggies in their backyard, pay a large organic grower and take delivery of a box full every week.
"You rely on your neighbor instead of a corporation that's driving the produce thousands of miles and you have no idea how they grew it and the nutrition content goes down steadily as it's transported," said DiGiorgio. "That's not sustainable."
Pavati said groups involved in local, sustainable agriculture have approached the Ashland city parks and planning agencies, seeking cooperation on more grower-friendly zoning and water rates and about using parklands for food. City leaders have been receptive, she said.
Mayor John Stromberg, who will represent the city of Ashland at the conclave, said residents are reacting with anxiety to a rapidly changing funding picture at all levels of government.
"A lot of people aren't spending because they don't know what's happening yet," he said.
"I've been in a lot of conversations about food lately. I notice that the issue of food security is getting higher and higher on people's priorities. It's a regional issue and we do control how land is used."
The issues, he said, are land, water, seeds and expertise — and that governments have a lot of tools to educate residents and get them started toward sustainability.
Among other action goals, said Pavati, are supporting local projects in vermiculture (worms), mushroom-growing, composting, food banks, indigenous seed banks, pulling out grass and starting gardens, growing neighborhood gardens within bicycling distance and setting up networks to help define goals and carry out action plans.
"It's more useful to be proactive than to be afraid," she said. "Instead of being paralyzed, let's channel our concern into wise and responsible action."
Among the speakers are Tom Ward, permaculture teacher and author; George Stevens of Synergy Seeds; Scott McGuire, a sustainable living consultant; Planning Commissioner Melanie Midlin; Marc Tobin of Lost Valley Permaculture Education Center in California; and city and county officials.
Groups represented include Transition Town Ashland, Southern Oregon University Ecology Center of the Siskiyous, Ashland School District, Wilderness Charter School, Dynamic Growing Systems, Oregon State University Extension and others.
Cost is $115, including catered lunch. To register or for more information, see www.sustainablewellnessguide.com or call Lisa Pavati at 201-0372.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.