Garden Like a Boss

The Utah Farm and Food Conference

By James Loomis

A cross-cultural gathering of growers, makers, purveyors and eaters

Now in its fourth year, the Utah Farm and Food Conference returns to Cedar City to showcase an impressive array of farmers, writers, agricultural university professors, lawmakers, artisans and artists. In Cedar City on February 6-8, the conference is packed with content to intrigue, educate, and entertain everyone who cares about food.

“This conference is the Utah piece,” organizer Symbria Patterson said, as she spoke to the larger movement advancing the quality and sustainability of agriculture. “Utah is unique; climate-wise, culture-wise, religion-wise. It’s really important for local agriculture to have a place to congregate, to share knowledge and ideas, to include all sides and people. It’s like a well: If there’s no inspiration pumping in, its tough to keep energy pumping out.”

The conference is put on by Red Acre Center, a nonprofit dedicated to helping small famers and food artisans navigate the often complicated web of laws that stand between them and their success in the marketplace. “It’s easy for folks to get bullied by regulation without having someone in their corner to help them understand the laws. Folks can join [the Red Acre Center] and gain help and access to support for understanding the laws around food,”   says Patterson. In addition to helping farmers and artisans navigate the law, they’ve also been instrumental in helping to shape it. Recent legislation that helped make it easier for consumers to access local value-added products, as well as increase their ability to enjoy direct from the farmer dairy products, were both lobbied for by Symbria and the Red Acre Center team.

“If protesters would put down their signs, quit shouting, and engage in productive conversation, more might get achieved,” reflected Symbria.

Increasingly, the Utah Farm and Food Conference is working to further this conversation and dialogue. With agriculturally progressive ideas such as Biodynamics from Brook LeVan to a keynote by the Utah Commissioner of Agriculture Kerry Gibson, the conference has an emphasis on understanding the big picture. “We don’t want to be a rogue conference,” says Symbria. “We want to be integrated and have a voice with how local production is involved with the greater food system.”

The conference will also feature a seed swap, vendors, a “bites and beverages” mixer, farmers market, and screening of the 2005 documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John.

John Peterson, the farmer featured in the film, will also be a keynote speaker. A seminal documentary on small farmers in America, the film follows John on his roller-coaster journey of success and failure as a third generation farmer working to stay afloat in the rapidly changing food system. The film is captivating, life affirming, and inspired many of the documentaries that followed.

Other speakers include Bob Quinn, founder of Kamut International (see March 2019 CATALYST: The Kamut Economy, by Greta deJong). Bob has a passion for organic farming and the preservation of rural agricultural communities. Author of Grain by Grain: A Quest to Revive Ancient Wheat, Rural Jobs, and Healthy Food (Island Press, 2019), he will speak on the past, present and future of organic agriculture.

Constance Lynn of the Boulder Skills Foundation will present on the topic of holistic health and the healing role that nourishing foods play in our lives. Well versed in gifts of eating from the land and connecting with plants as our relatives, she collects medicinal plants from her garden and the mountain desert to create salves, creams, tinctures for her Utah-based company, Night Raven Wild and Organic Herbs.

When it comes to averting and correcting the disasters the industrial agriculture has unleashed upon the planet, regenerative agriculture may be the most potent tool we have. Jared Sorenson, third generation rancher, advocates for restoring damaged ecosystems through the use of principles that mimic the way nature nourishes the land. Utilizing techniques such as the brewing and application of compost tea, high stock density adaptive grazing, and multi species grazing, he is dedicated to implementing principles to enhance the health of the soil on his family’s livestock ranch in Nevada.

New this year, the Red Acre Center has added an art show to the conference that will run the duration of the event at Art Works Gallery in Cedar City. Submissions for the show will be accepted from Utah artists until January 22. Contact Include medium, retail price and dimensions.

James Loomis is a full-time urban farmer, educator and permaculture hooligan. For more information on the Farm and Food conference, and on the Red Acre Center, visit

This article was originally published on December 31, 2019.