Scholarship Recipients Soak Up Knowledge and Make New Contacts at Research Symposium


OFRF was pleased to offer scholarships to qualifying applicants wishing to attend the 2016 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium in Pacific Grove, California. We awarded 20 scholarships in all.

Presented by OFRF and University of California Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension (KARE) Center, the symposium featured current and ongoing organic research findings on topics ranging from soil health, seeds, and plant breeding, to biodiversity and organic livestock systems.

Thank you to USDA-NIFA for the Organic Research and Extension Initiatve (OREI) grant that made this event possible. Thanks also to Gaia Fund, The Organic Center and Rodale Institute for their generous support.

The following are excerpts from reports submitted by the scholarship recipients.

Ashraf Tubeileh, California Polytechnic State University
This opportunity enabled us to keep up-to-date with new developments in organic farming research, gain new ideas, and network with the main players in organic agriculture research in addition to key organic growers and policy makers.

Extracting cover crop juice, trap crops for the bagrada bug, and using open-pollinated varieties for organic production are some examples of the new ideas we have learned at this conference that might be of interest and use at the Cal Poly Organic Farm and for our students. In terms of networking, we have met several people of interest to our research and teaching plans.

I have already started to use some of the information learned at the symposium (such as cover crops) in my Cropping Systems class, an upper division class for Agricultural and Environmental Plant Sciences major.

Kelsey Juntwait, University of New Hampshire
Being accepted to present at the Organic Agriculture Research Symposium held in Pacific Grove, CA on January 20, 2016 was an absolute honor. I imagined getting to meet and speak with people who would further inspire and guide my research, and I was fortunately granted that opportunity.

The day started off with Andre Leu and Mathieu Ngouajio introducing us to some history of organic agriculture, expressing the need for more organic agriculture, and touching upon how this industry plays a crucial role in our current fight against climate change. All important information, no doubt. It wasn’t until one of the breakout sessions though, that someone said something that really just turned my mindset upside down.

He spoke about the idea of looking at agriculture on an ecosystem scale- looking at the bigger picture. It sounds so simple. Like we have always been doing this- approaching each of our own research with thoughts not only directly related to our own field, but the fields of others. But have we?

I then sat listening to presentations and explanations of research that by itself stands alone as a crucial piece of this much larger puzzle- mine and my colleagues’ research included. I got to thinking about this idea mentioned earlier though- looking at the bigger picture. What exactly about this research is ultimately fulfilling the needs and goals of the future on an ecosystem scale? Is this research just one piece of the puzzle, or is it one piece that could benefit or destroy other pieces that surround it? How far does this puzzle actually extend?

Because if you back up far enough, I have no doubt that this puzzle extends to places we can’t even imagine; and I think the future of our planet and our population depends on the acceptance and application of this idea.

Devon Kaufman, Western Washington University
The take away for me after the introduction to the conference, was the level of grant support that is given, and also not given to researchers and farmers; in addition to the examples of organic agriculture being used to improve crop production, and even manage pests.

The talks on soil health covered science regarding soil microbes, common diseases and even natural solar fumigation through black plastic sheeting. The next set of talks I went to covered the economics of organic farming and its feasibility in the industry. Organic farms have a rap for not being able to keep up with the production of conventional farms, but this is not the case. Organic farms were proven, through the studies I witnessed, to produce at levels that meet current conventional production standards, are just under those standards, or in some cases were even more productive than their conventional counterparts. Although switching to organic farming seemed to be quite the challenge, the outcome was evident, especially for the sake of human health.

In the later sessions, an ecosystem approach to organic farming was highlighted in working towards making a farm more stable and profitable. I learned that bee pollination proved to increase the value of strawberries produced, and in turn led to the profits of specific organic farms. Also, the importance of cover crops for farms to prepare for the winter resonated with me as well. They have great value in controlling nutrient run-off and future soil health.

The closing talks for that day could not have been any more ground breaking. Real evidence for the dangers of pesticides and genetically modified ingredients were made astonishingly clear. This well guarded science was described in such gruesome detail that evening. I learned what I would have never otherwise. As common knowledge, even amongst those in the field of sustainability, it is believed that genetically modified ingredients have no negative impact on human health. Oh, how wrong that is!

Gabriel MuroCalifornia State University, Monterey Bay Graduate
I attended the Soil Health, Long-Term and Strategic Research, and Biological Control concurrent sessions. I also spoke with several other attendees about my own research and the sustainability of organic farming in general. The experience was always positive and I am planning to present my own research at next year’s symposium. I would never have learned so much or made so many new contacts if I had not attended the symposium.

The 2016 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium is available here.