Food & Drink: Passion Project

The National Heirloom Expo Recap

The annual National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa features hundreds of varieties of organically grown heirloom squash, tomatoes and watermelon. Photo by Tanya Henry.

There is no other festival that conjures up my hippie roots (pun intended) quite like the annual National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa. The mix of gardeners, activists, farmers and hipsters who flock to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds for three days to learn about seed sharing, sustainable farming practices and food policy takes me back to my childhood, where I was raised on a farm six miles up a dirt road with no electricity.

Perhaps the only thing in greater abundance than the hundreds of varieties of organically grown heirloom squash, tomatoes and watermelon, is passion. The Expo, which took place Sept. 5-7, included an impressive speaker lineup that featured 80 of the country’s leading experts and most dedicated advocates in multiple fields including permaculture, seed sharing and non-GMO activism. Albert Straus, founder and CEO of Straus Family Creamery and longtime advocate of organic and non-GMO dairy production, spoke about environmental stewardship and the importance of family farming. Robert Kennedy joined Dr. Vandana Shiva for a panel discussion on ways to save our seeds from the likes of Monsanto and corporate interests. Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the Organic Consumers Association, gave salient advice to a rapt audience on effective ways to attain “global prosperity.”

Vendors exhibited everything from heirloom seed packets and irrigation supplies, to fair-trade chocolate and hemp-made garments, while a nearby stage featured a steady stream of live, toe-tapping bluegrass music.

The Heirloom Expo boasts a small town state fair sensibility, combined with a strong dose of Northern California activism. There is a reason that it reminds me of California circa the 1970s—the issues continue to be as relevant and critical today as they were four decades ago.

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