Melissa Spear (copy)

Melissa Spear, Tilth Alliance executive director.

When the Tilth Alliance gathers next week, they’ll discuss how farmers are facing “existential challenges.”

The alliance hosts its annual Tilth Conference Nov. 19-21 at the Lynnwood, Wash., Convention Center.

“I feel like this is a moment in history,” said Melissa Spear, executive director of the Seattle-based alliance. “We’re facing a lot of what many people would call existential challenges, and agriculture and farmers are going to play an important role in addressing those challenges.

Those challenges include lost biodiversity, water scarcity and warming climate.

“This is a moment to lean in and understand the importance of the work that we do, beyond just producing food,” Spear said. “I want attendees to go away understanding the power they are wielding as participants in the agricultural community to address some of these challenges.”

The conference is in person, with COVID-19 protocols. Attendees must either show proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours prior to attending. Virtual participation is available.

Keynote speakers are:

• Thea Maria Carlson, formerly of the Biodynamic Association, now commons alliance facilitator of the Agrarian Trust. Carlson’s experience includes urban agriculture, education, community organizing and leadership development.

• Katherine Un, Organizing and Advocacy Director with the National Young Farmers Coalition. Un oversees national campaigns and grassroots organizing for holistic, structural change in agricultural systems and beyond, on issues such as climate, land justice, student loan debt, government accountability and transparency, and immigration.

Farmers are still managing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including disruption of markets, pivoting to new distribution methods, supply chain issues and farm labor regulations, Spear said.

They’re also grappling with climate change, Spear said, pointing to wildfires and drought.

“Clearly we are going to be experiencing some impacts,” she said. “We as an agriculture industry are going to have to figure out what the best way of managing those impacts are.”

Agriculture is beginning to be recognized as a “powerful tool” to address those impacts, particularly the focus on soil health and carbon markets.

The alliance wants to assure all farmers, large or small, can participate in such markets, Spear said.

“We don’t have answers — I don’t think anybody has answers,” she said. “It really has to be a community process. We just want to make sure the needs and interests of all farmers are on the table as solutions to these problems are being developed.”

At the conference, the alliance will collect thoughts and ideas from participants, making them available as a resource, Spear said.

The conference includes 30 workshops and social events, including a “Stories From the Farm” storytelling event; seed salon and swap and open space conversations.

It’s the first non-virtual gathering in nearly two years, Spear said.

“Just being together this year is really the highlight,” Spear said. “Being together, seeing each other face-to-face and being able to talk to each other, not on a Zoom meeting, is what’s going to be amazing.”

Tickets range from $100 to $400.

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