Producers and growers can learn the latest about agriculture when theWestern Colorado Food and Farm Forum returns Friday, Jan. 24 and Saturday, Jan. 25 at the Montrose Pavilion Event Center. This year’s theme is “Synergy of the Soil: Growing Healthy Food.” The event is open to the public, and those with a passion for or background in agriculture are especially encouraged to attend. 

The conference will feature half-day workshops on Friday and session speakers on Saturday, each providing information and perspective on the field and future of agriculture. 

“It’s a two-day conference that is designed for producers and students of agriculture as a way to gain education and knowledge, and hear the latest in agriculture technology and development,” said Amanda Laban, event coordinator. “The idea was that people on the Western Slope wouldn’t have to travel so far for a conference, and to do it at a time of year when farmers aren’t so busy to get them connected to more and diverse agriculture information.”

The event also provides scholarships for beginning farmers, with increased funding this year through the event’s sponsors. In addition, a pop-up bookstore will be available at the conference, new this year through a collaboration with Maggie’s Books. 

The theme of 2020’s conference will focus on soil health: how it affects livestock, crops and, ultimately, human health. Half-day workshops are offered, one on Friday morning and two concurrently on Friday afternoon. The following day, multiple conference sessions will run at the same time, including a room dedicated to holding sessions in Spanish. 

“People have an opportunity to pick and choose, if they want to stick with one track or explore different options,” Laban said, emphasizing that all workshops and sessions are led by established leaders in the agricultural field. 

Carol Parker, event volunteer and board member of the Valley Food Partnership, hopes that the increased ability to provide interpretation will open up the conference to a more diverse group.

“We’re hoping to see an increased attendance from our Latino members of the agriculture community, and we’re just hoping that all of the attendees have a great time and learn a lot and provide us with a lot of good feedback,” Parker said. 

The conference brings in guests and speakers from around the state as well as from outside Colorado — this year, in addition to local presenters, speakers will be in attendance from six states and three different countries, bringing multiple perspectives to the Montrose community. 

“That’s been a huge aspect of the conference: to bring together farmers and ranchers from all production levels and levels of experience,” Parker said. “We think this conference is one of the pieces that keeps agriculture a strong part of our local heritage, economy, and future.”

Laban hopes this year’s event will give the Montrose community an opportunity to showcase its agriculture and connect to the field on a larger scale.

“I think what I really want to see happen is just a gathering of people and a chance for people to connect across different areas,” Laban said. “It’s designed to be a great networking opportunity for new farmers, and I think if people get an opportunity to strengthen their agriculture community or their personal community within agriculture, that will be a success.”

This year’s hosting agencies are the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado State University Extension, Engage Colorado, the Shavano Conservation District and the Valley Food Partnership. More information, including registration details and the full schedule, can be found at foodfarmforum.org

McKenzie Moore is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press and Delta County Independent.

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