At the Eco-Farm conference last week in Asilomar, on the coast of California in Monterey, the sun was shining. For one day at least, then it began drizzling and I didn’t mind being indoors listening to a host of engaging speakers and panelists.
A theme kept arising - where are we headed? It’s a pertinent question for organic and sustainable agriculture, looking back over 30 years of progress with both pride and misgivings. Common themes were voiced and common quesions about whether the movement was being corrupted by the mainstreaming of organic food.
Michael Sligh of Rural Advancement Foundation International, a longtime participant in this movement, talked up the concept of “multistreaming” as opposed to “mainstreaming.” It’s a good concept, since that’s where we’re headed - food with various values and characteristics sold in a variety of ways and channels. There’s no mainstream these days, just ever more segmented markets which is why the be-all-things-to-all-people retailers are struggling. Small and focused is beautiful, and profitable.
My message - or the one I tried to convey in a plenary - was that a lot of energy gets expended on anxieties about bigness. I think more work needs to be put into “What’s Next?” Whether it’s a more vibrant local scene, social justice, fair trade - whatever it is. But judging by the number of people on hand, I’d have to say those issues are being discussed in a way that will create the next wave in this movement.