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Community celebrates sustainable agriculture

Ashland farmers know their land on the outskirts of town is a precious commodity. Now, some of them are coming together to ensure the land's preservation for future generations.

Members of Ashland's Village Farm and Restoration Farm joined about 20 members from the community on Sunday to support local farms and discuss the value of land trusts with Portland sustainable farming expert Will Newman II.

The groups held their third annual Farm to Table Dinner to raise money for Village Farm. Those in attendance were treated to a buffet featuring local produce, wines and beer.

But the discussion took on a serious tone, with Newman joining Village Farm owners Chris Hardy and Michael DiGiorgio, Restoration Farm owner Chuck Burr and a group of Ashland residents at the Restoration Farm Sunday, as part of an interactive dialogue to educate the public about concerns in the local farming community.

"Here in America, we don't like small farms," Newman told the guests. "We have no laws to protect small farms." Newman helped found the nonprofit Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust, where he has worked for the past 15 years. He has used the group to champion a wider use of land trusts for farmers.

The trusts function as a means of protecting wild land from influxes of urban sub-development. Newman called such trusts a critical means of protecting land from developers over long periods of time. He warned farmers to be wary of builders who would want to buy into their land.

OSALT has worked to lock eligible pieces of land throughout Oregon into these land trusts, thereby securing their use as farmland into the future.

"We want to be here for 100 generations," Newman said. "We don't want to just do this for 30 or 40 years."

Chuck Burr with Restoration Farms said the discussion offered a chance to spread word of the issues confronting local farmers — land acquisition and development being high among them. The farm offers an on-site permaculture course, designed to educate the public on developing sustainable living habits.

Burr says he farms with three principles in mind: building topsoil, increasing biodiversity and building a sense of community among fellow farmers.

Speakers focused on the latter Sunday, coming together to eat fresh food and unite over a set of common issues facing the farming community.

Michael DiGiorgio with Village Farm was pleased by the turnout, calling on more farmers to come together for the good of the town.

"This a joint venture between Restoration and Village Farm. We want to figure out how to better utilize our efforts with them," DiGiorgio said. "We've put a big part of our effort in this land, lots of energy and money so we'll know it's going to be here."

Guests paid on a sliding scale to attend the dinner, with proceeds going to support Village Farm's efforts in the upcoming growing season.

Newman with OSALT spoke to the guests in a question-and-answer session. He said sustainable farming practices will always have a place in the community because there will always be a need for local farming — though it may never guarantee wealth for those who put in the effort to keep them alive.

"Money is not the reason we farm," Newman said. "We farm for the same reason artists make art. Because we need to."