Because of the pandemic interruptions of life on the Western Slope, the Ninth Annual Western Food and Farm Forum will go virtual this year. According to Carol Parker, founder of the event, it will feature live question and answer sessions, film screenings, and even a virtual happy hour. In the past, the forum has been held live at the Montrose Pavilion.

Asked about a virtual happy hour, Parker said, “Fingers are crossed on the whole virtual thing. We’re trying to make lemonade out of lemons.” Then again, it won’t be the first time folks have watched what’s happening on a screen with a beverage or snack in hand.

“We are going to do everything we can to preserve the conference tradition, including providing informal networking and dialogue opportunities,” Parker, a long time Western Slope rancher who initially organized the event to bring farmers, ranchers, and agricultural advocates together.

Like many other events that have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, the forum will adapt and provide virtual workshops that will be benefit anyone, either in agriculture or the public. Networking and agri-business workshops focused on innovative soil, crop, livestock, and financial management are the foundation of the gathering.

The virtual format allows the forum organization to bring speakers to the event who otherwise might not be available. The normal forum features such as workshops, sponsor and vendor displays will be showcased in virtual rooms.

“We are using this year’s need to go virtual as an opportunity to not only learn from local and state experts but to also tap into a couple of international speakers who we could not bring otherwise,” says conference chair, Harrison Topp. This attitude helps bring speakers, like Allan Savory, who operates farms in Africa and New Mexico to the audience in Colorado.

Savory is an internationally recognized farmer and change agent, whose paradigm shifting ideas on holistic management have been implemented worldwide on 32 million acres. Savory will speak via the Internet from his African venue. He brings “a message of hope” for humanity by helping to bring about a shift in agriculture, from being a contributor to climate change to playing a major role in combating it.

The keynote address from the Buckminster Fuller Institute awardee will discuss the crucial role holistic decision-making plays in the production of food through the complexity of institutions, nature, and economies.

Another distant speaker is Ian Mitchell-Innes of South Africa, who will share his years of experience covering the subject entitled “Utilizing Nature’s Energy to Achieve Animal Performance.” He describes how the efficient use of land and nature’s solar panel will create diversity and stability in a cattle producing operation.

The virtual sessions will bring Richard Perkins to the screens of Colorado from Sweden. His session called “Making Small Farms Work” will detail how sales, marketing, and a diversified set of enterprises can be integrated with key decision-making and financial planning tools.

According to the organizers, additional sessions focus on soil health, irrigation methods, dealing with climate change impacts, seed issues, and a workshop on pollinators related to creating regenerative food systems. ENGAGE and the Valley Food Partnership invite participants to weigh in on exciting regional food system developments. The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union hosts a panel discussion on the rise of heritage grains and the cooperative grain supply chain with special guest, Liz Carlisle, author of the Lentil Underground.

Attendees will need to register for the conference and can do so at foodfarmforum.org or by calling Amanda Laban, event coordinator at 781-264-1882.

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