5 Lessons Learned at 2015 Soil Not Oil International Conference

The Soil Not Oil Conference took place on September 4th & 5th (Friday & Saturday) at the Richmond Memorial Convention Center in Richmond, CA. The conference’s theme is one of progressive adaptation of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s designation of 2015 as the International Year of Soil.

While the FAO hopes to raise awareness among civil society and decision makers about the profound importance of soil, Soil Not Oil focuses on the whys-and-hows of sustainable practices emphasizing community farms, organically grown foods, and environmental sovereignty.

  • At least 80 recognized nonprofits and qualified guest speakers showed up to present seminars, teach-ins, documentary films, and participate in the plenaries. Featured guest lecturers included Vandana Shiva (latest book “Soil Not Oil”) and Nutiva Founder John Roulac. Experts ranged from government thinktanks such as the Post Carbon Institute to advocacy organizations such as the Center for Farmworker Families.
  • According to the conference organizer, BioSafety Alliance, it’s geared toward mobilizing Bay Area and California communities through an emphasis on an cross-sector, multi-level and inter-ethnic alliance of over 50 organizations, scientists, farmers, businesses and individuals. (Visitors literally experienced a panoply of sustainably grown treats.)

General things the ordinary attendee became aware of:

  • Soil takes tens of thousands of years to form. It is highly dependent on favorable weather conditions so that erosion may occur. For instance, just one foot of soil can take up to 30,500 years to form. Soil deposition and formation depends on plate tectonic movements and sea level fluctuations that took place millenia earlier.
  • Richmond symbolizes the scene of battles between Richmond residents petitioning against “crude-by-rail” and fighting for environmental justice (such as for decent local health clinics) versus the “endless more” typified by the fossil fuel industry.
  • The idea of giving Soil a voice to say, “We are in danger because of expanding cities, deforestation, unsustainable land use and management practices, pollution, overgrazing and climate change” makes sense, but not to big agricultural lobbyists and corporations.

Overall, the conference was really well-organized even if it felt a bit overscheduled at times. With everthing so centrally located, the atmosphere had a wonderful ambience which was heightened by the volunteer security, meals, and coordination provided by BioSafety Alliance.

Everyone also had the opportunity to meet Richmond Mayor Tom Butt who opened the Friday morning plenary, and ex-Mayor Gayle McLaughlin who opened the Saturday morning plenary.