Tilth conference looks to boost different voices in ag

The Tilth Alliance wants to help more voices be heard in agriculture.

The Tilth Conference is Nov. 9-11 at the Davenport Grand Hotel in Spokane.

California grain farmer Mai Nguyen will deliver the keynote address.

The conference committee wanted to bring out the farmer perspective, but make space for new voices to share their experiences, said Erin Murphy, education coordinator for the Alliance.

“People wanted a farmer,” Murphy said. “Folks are really interested in having a keynote speaker that tells a different story. Mai is an activist for racial equity, a female and a person of color.”

Audra Mulkern, executive producer and host of the in-development documentary, “Women’s Work: the untold story of America’s female farmers” and founder of the documentary project, “The Female Farmer Project,” will deliver the capnote address.

“She’s local, she’s from Washington state,” Murphy said. “It’s a really cool way to have someone that’s super-involved in agriculture and very well-known nationally. Just the work she’s doing is really awesome.”

The conference includes sessions for various aspects of farming: production, marketing, finances, regulations and certifications and increasing diversity in farming.

“We’re really trying to make space to have that storytelling and have folks say, ‘Hey, we’re all farmers,’ but no two farmers’ experience is exactly the same,” Murphy said. “So really having those opportunities to converse and for people to network and learn from one another.”

Many farmers are considering seeds as a way to diversify their farms and markets, she said. The conference offers several topics about seed production.

A session on farming and mental health has also generated some excitement, Murphy said.

“Mental health is so important … when you’re farming and so focused on getting things done, your overwhelming to-do list, it’s just really important to remember to practice self-care both physically and mentally,” she said.

The alliance’s new executive director, Melissa Spear, will be at the conference. She officially begins in her new position at the end of November.

Murphy expects 350 people to attend.

The conference includes a tour Friday of the LINC Foods cooperative in Spokane, including several member farms.

Murphy hopes farmers leave the conference with a sense of “togetherness,” pointing to the vast diversity of crops Washington offers.

“Not to be super-kumbaya-y, but a little bit of (recognition) that there are people across Washington state that they can relate to,” she said. “Farming can be isolating at times, especially if you have your head down and are focused on your farm. One of the strengths of Tilth Conference is it really does bring together a statewide audience.”