A Message of Hope in Difficult Times – The National Heirloom Exposition Continues to Inspire

Shiva was clearly speaking to the converted at the Expo, giving presentations frequently punctuated by outbursts of applause and encouragement. A panel concluding the three-day event that featured Shiva, Jim Gerritsen of Wood Prairie Farm, and Dave Murphy and Lisa Stokke of Food Democracy Now occasionally had the feel of some of the Southern Baptist congregations of my youth, with the ‘amens’ replaced by a litany of anti-Monsanto hollers.

Vandana Shiva & Jere Gettle. Photo courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
Vandana Shiva & Jere Gettle. Photo courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Vandana Shiva and the National Heirloom Expo published a remarkable manifesto for the event on the state of seed and the food system in a perilous age. Seed Satyagraha (Civil Disobedience to End Seed Slavery), a free twenty page newspaper distributed to attendees, is well worth a read and can be found on Shiva’s website and at the Petaluma Seed Bank.

Three straight days of 100 + temperatures likely helped keep things pretty mellow during this year’s Expo, coming as it was during the tail end of a memorably hot summer of 2015. Among a bunch of attendees, vendors and speakers I spoke with, there seemed a universal belief that the crowds were a bit smaller this year, and the heat was to blame. Still, the crowd was believed to be over 15,000 over three days.

The highlight of this year’s Heirloom Expo was undoubtedly the repeated focus of so many speakers, vendors and exhibitors on regenerative agricultural solutions. Organic Consumers’ Ronnie Cummins suggested we circumvent some folks’ resistance to the word “revolution” and call it “regeneration.”

At a time when drought and climate change urgently demand our attention and our burning of fossil fuels must come to an end, various methods of agroecology and agroforestry, carbon farming, no-till farming and many other methods offer both high yields and hope. These topics were widely discussed by a large number of the over 100 speakers at the Expo.

I can think of no more exciting and hopeful note to close the three-day event than Petaluma’s own Erin Axelrod & collaborator Ariel Greenwood speaking on the extraordinary potential for feeding people and the soil promised by carbon farming and a holistic approach to agriculture. It would be well worth your time to take a deeper look at these subjects and the work of this innovative new generation of ag innovators.

Much gratitude goes out to Jere Gettle, the Baker Creek gang and everyone else who participated in this year’s National Heirloom Expo. Gettle’s grow-your-own message of hope has been evident in the North Bay since at least 2008, when he opened his first seed branch outside Missouri in the old Sonoma County Bank building in Petaluma. This highly symbolic move, coming just one week after General Motors declared bankruptcy amidst the economic collapse that became known as the Great Recession, combined with the inspiration embodied by the National Heirloom Exposition, remains an inspiring beacon of hope in difficult times.

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