Feast Days and Potlucks

homegrown feast for two

homegrown feast for two

Growing up Catholic I was familiar with the term Feast Day. It was a day when certain saints were remembered. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any food feast on those days and the only celebration would have been attending Mass. I assume other cultures somewhere celebrated with a food feast at some point, and maybe still do. St. Patrick’s Day receives a lot of attention. We have feast days within our family when we celebrate birthdays. Weddings, especially, are feast days and the happy couple celebrates that day from then on. We need to declare other events in our lives as feast days, if only for one day, and pay particular attention to the feast involved. I’m sure you can find many things to celebrate, so I’ll concentrate on the food part in this post. This photo is one I took when I was writing my Homegrown Fridays post in 2011. Our dinner that evening was sorghum noodles, tomato sauce, and steamed collards—all food from our garden.

Every bite we take is a vote for how we want the earth used to grow our food. If we really take that thought to heart we become mindful of what we are eating and where it is grown. To be healthy beings, our food needs to be grown in healthy soil. My other posts, my DVDs, and my book will help you plan your garden to feed the soil, while growing to feed yourself. Most likely, you are not growing all your food. That brings the opportunity to find growers who pay particular attention to the soil to provide you with good food. Farmers markets have sprouted everywhere and many have times when they are open during the winter months, allowing you to source your food directly from the growers. That way you can inquire about their practices. Grocery stores, even big ones, are carrying more local food. Foodhubs have been established for small growers to pool their produce to sell to the large buyers. In the big scheme of things, it is not practical for a large store to deal with many, many small-scale growers. Also, there are small-scale growers who don’t want to sit at the farmers markets waiting for you to come by. For them, the foodhub is a welcome place to sell what they grow, as are restaurants. Eat at restaurants that buy from local, sustainable growers. You can find sources of local food at www.localharvest.org. Find out what you can about each grower you buy from. Just because they are local doesn’t necessarily mean they are organic or sustainable.

travel table service kit

travel table service kit

We are often involved in potluck dinners. That’s the way to go with a large group of people. Hopefully everyone brings a large dish of food to share so there is enough food for however many people show up. When I was the faculty advisor for the Sustainable Agriculture Club at the community college we came up with the idea of a sustainable potluck, since we didn’t want to have to buy or throw away paper and plastic products. In a sustainable potluck, everyone brings their own non-disposable table service—plate, cup, and silverware. We loved it! To make that experience even more enjoyable, one year our daughter Betsy gave me a birthday gift of a travel kit with plates, silverware, and napkins (red work handkerchiefs). Her old bluejeans provided some of the fabric. This kit is so handy. When my husband and I travel we even take it to the hotels that only offer Styrofoam plates for the free breakfast.

The sustainable potluck idea worked so well I suggested it to my beekeeping club. It took a few times for some folks to get used to the idea, but now it works like a charm. There is no trash! I didn’t have to mention it at the handspinning group I joined. They were already bringing their own table service to their potlucks. I belong to one other organization that has a potluck twice a year. When they start to make plans I bring up the idea of bringing our own table service, along with our potluck dishes. Each time the response is a flat-out no, with no discussion. I know that others in the room agree with my idea, but they never speak up. It is painful for me to see the trash accumulate at these events, so I choose not to attend. When new ideas are suggested, if you agree you have to speak up. That is the only way to bring about change.

Every action we take is important—whether it is the food we eat or how we eat it. Where will all that trash go if we choose to generate it? Our county landfill is full and the trash is now shipped elsewhere. Our celebrations should not be responsible for trashing someone else’s backyard. Planning a zero waste event can be a fun challenge. You can learn more about how to do that and feed a crowd at my Homegrown Wedding post.

Each day, each meal can become a feast when we contemplate what we are eating and how it is grown. The closer we are to the source, the more sacred our food and the act of eating it becomes. In naming feast days and preparing the food, we have to remember to be thankful that we have something to celebrate and thankful for the food that will be shared. An attitude of gratitude puts us in a position for well-being in so many ways. We all know people who pick out the bad in everything. We need to look for the good. Everything is important and everything has something positive. Find the good and celebrate with food from your garden or local sustainable sources.Homeplace Earth

GrowSustDiet~Cat100%25My new book Grow a Sustainable Diet: planning and growing to feed  ourselves and the earth is now available through my website at HomeplaceEarth.com. The home page contains two recently added preview videos about our DVDs. The purchase page contains more information about the book, plus the “add to cart” button to buy it.

You’ll find more information about what this book is about at my August 13, 2013 post  Grow a Sustainable Diet–the Book! 

williams pride in full bloom 2013 - closeup-BLOG

Williams Pride apple blossoms

What you see in the photo is blossoms on a Williams Pride apple tree. The data stored automatically from my digital camera says that photo was taken on April 16, 2013. What a handy thing that is for the camera to record that information! I surely didn’t at the time. What difference does it make that I know when that happened? Knowing when the bushes and trees in your yard bloom, drop petals, and whatever else they do, helps you to know when the time is right for planting your vegetable crops without looking at the calendar. The study of recurring plant and animal life cycles and their relationship to weather is called phenology. By studying these things, we can learn how our climate is changing from year to year and, more specifically, we can know how things are doing this year. Are things blooming later than usual? In that case you wouldn’t want to be too anxious and plant your vegetable crops earlier than normal. My friends, Pam Dawling and Ira Wallace, keep phenology records of what is happening at their farms in Louisa County, Virginia. In her book, Sustainable Market Farming, Pam says that falling apple blossoms are said to be a phenological sign that conditions are good for transplanting celery and celeriac. She goes on to say that the time to plant is after the last frost and the weather has settled. For planning purposes, I use April 26 as the date for my last expected frost. I imagine those petals would have been dropping by then. You can read more about what Pam has to say about phenology and even see the chart she keeps for the gardens at Twin Oaks Community at http://sustainablemarketfarming.com/tag/phenology/. Ira mentions phenological signs in her book Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. In this era of climate change, the date on the calendar of when to plant things will gradually shift, but nature will already be on top of it.

The temperature of the soil is also an indicator of when to plant. In fact, soil temperature has a lot to do with the phenological signs I just mentioned. Just because the air temperature has warmed up, doesn’t mean the soil is ready for seeds and plants. Over the years I’ve noticed that we have a warm week in the first half of April. The temperature might even soar into the 80’s. I’ve also noticed that in the next couple weeks after that, April will deliver cold temperatures before the weather settles. I taught at a community college and no matter how much I talked about expected last frost dates (and that it wasn’t until late in April in our area), some of my students would plant warm weather crops during those early warm days. A new farmer once asked me when I planted summer squash and snap beans. When I replied after April 26, he said he got that same answer from a neighbor. It was that warm spell in early April and he had just planted his warm weather crops. He thought I was being too cautious. I advised him to only plant early what he was prepared to lose and to plant his main crop when the soil was warmer.  Of course, many farmers have high tunnels and use row covers now to get a head start on planting. They are warming the soil to prepare the right conditions for the seeds and transplants.

compost thermometer in kale bed

compost thermometer in kale bed

You can check the soil temperature by putting the probe of a thermometer a few inches into the soil. I use a compost thermometer for that. It has a long stem that serves two purposes. I can read it without bending down so far and I can find it when I need it. I often leave it in a garden bed or a coldframe so I know where it is. I can readily know the temperature in that spot and pick it up to move it to a new location. I have a thermometer I keep in my kitchen that I bought from a cheesemaking supplier. I use it when I make yogurt, but it would do to check my soil. You can buy an inexpensive (about $7) thermometer at the grocery store. Those thermometers even come with a plastic sleeve to protect the stem. That would do fine to check your soil temperature. As long as you are keeping records of phenological signs, you might record the soil temperature at the same time. Keep in mind that it will vary if you are checking it at different times of the day or in different locations, so be consistent. Nancy Bubel’s book The New Seed Starters Handbook contains helpful charts on Soil Temperature Conditions for Vegetable Seed Germination, the Number of Days for Vegetable Seeds to Emerge at Different Temperatures, and the Percentage of Normal Vegetable Seedlings Produced at Different Temperatures.

ladybug on cowpea plant

ladybug on cowpea plant

Knowing what the insects and birds are doing should be part of your phenological records. If you haven’t gotten your record keeping set up before things start blooming and insects and birds start appearing, take photos and let your camera record the date for you, if your camera does that. If insects are on a plant, by taking the photo, you will have a visual record of the insect and of plants they like, whether they are beneficial insects or harmful ones. This photo shows a ladybug on a cowpea plant. I’ve found other beneficials attracted to the cowpeas. As I write this, we are in the grip of weather colder than normal, even for winter here. Before it hit, someone told me she knew a weather event was coming because she saw bluebirds at her bird feeder. Since bluebirds eat insects, they were usually not visitors to her feeder.

At the very least, even if you never record any of these things, start to notice them. Keep your eyes and ears open and you will become more in tune to where you are and what is going on around you. There is a whole other world available to you, right in your garden. All you have to do is take the time to noticeHomeplace Earth

vegetable cabinet

vegetable cabinet

Now is not the time to be bringing in large quantities of vegetables from your garden to store for future eating, unless you live in a climate much warmer than mine. However, now is the time to be scouting the best places for winter food storage in your house, even if you haven’t had a harvest yet. In the heat of the summer, it is hard to imagine what the conditions are in your house in the winter.

There are books and magazine articles about storing the harvest that will provide details about the best temperature and humidity for the storage places. Somehow humanity has managed to survive without climate controlled spaces for all these years, so use these resources as a guideline and don’t obsess if your spaces aren’t exactly what you’ve read about. We heat our house primarily with a woodstove, using the furnace as a backup. That means the rooms in the house closest to the stove are warmer than the areas further away, which makes for much variation to play with when finding appropriate storage spots. If you use central heat exclusively, you could lower the temperature in a room by closing the heating vent. Lower it further by opening a window or installing a vent. If you have a closet available for food storage, one with an outside wall is best to bring the temperature down. It is not quite as easy to find cool spots in super-insulated homes, but check around.

vegetable cabinet is 58.3 and kitchen is 70.2

vegetable cabinet is 58.3 and kitchen is 70.2

I use a thermometer to occasionally check my storage areas. It has a remote feature so that I can tell the temperature of the space the thermometer is in and also the space I have the remote sensor in. This photo shows the kitchen temperature is about 70 and the temperature of the sweet potato/onion/garlic/butternut squash storage area is about 58. Ideally, sweet potatoes and winter squash are comfortable stored at about 50-60˚ and 60-70% humidity. Irish potatoes are happier at a little cooler temperature and 80-90% humidity.

My husband built pull out shelves in our lower kitchen cabinets. We designated the cabinet area in the northeast corner of the kitchen (top photo) for produce storage after I discovered how cold it was in there one winter day (50˚). It doesn’t stay that cool all the time, but usually that cabinet is about 10˚cooler than the kitchen. The pull out shelves in that area have bottoms made of a heavy metal grid that allows ventilation, yet is heavy enough for a load. Irish potatoes are stored here, in addition to the sweet potatoes, onions, butternut squash, and garlic. Extra potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, butternut squash, and garlic are stored in the crawl space under our house. When the outside temperature dipped into the teens (which it doesn’t do too often) the temperature in the crawl space only fell to 48˚. So, if a polar vortex comes knocking again, we’re still okay. Mind you, that’s with the vents closed for the winter. If the vents were left open that would be a different story and the cold air coming in could freeze pipes that were nearby. Crawl spaces can provide storage spaces with higher humidity.


the dryer used to sit in this spot in the pantry

We have converted our utility room, which contained a washer, dryer, and storage shelves, into a pantry. The washing machine is still there but we gave the dryer away, since we never used it. The sun outside and heat from the woodstove dry our clothes. That left space for crocks holding nuts and fermented food and for jars of dried food, including beans and grains from our garden. We didn’t have a honey harvest this year, but when we do, the honey jars are stored here. Before we lived in this house, there was a furnace in this room. A hole in the floor and another one 4’ higher for vents were left behind. I screened those holes and kept them for air circulation. That room is about 10˚ cooler than the kitchen, also. We just have to remember to keep the door closed.

canning jars in the cellar

canning jars in the cellar

We have a cellar under part of the house. That’s where I keep the jars of food that I’ve canned. I have to go around and down the outside stairs to get there, since there is no access from inside the house. If I could just pop down the stairs from the kitchen, I might store more food there. Canning jars get heavy. You’ll see that we used 2×12 boards for the shelves. It has been interesting finding convenient places to store increasing amounts of food from the garden. Wherever you store food, you need to think of everything that could affect it, such as mice. My friend Susan has a nice house that is built on a slab containing heating coils. That makes her house nice and comfy, but since the coils are throughout the house, even her closets are heated. She stores her harvest in an area screened with hardware cloth in her garage. It was after her peanuts disappeared in the garage that she resorted to screening her storage spot to protect her food from mice.

My upcoming book, Grow a Sustainable Diet, has a chapter on food storage and preservation with more information on handling your harvest. When I have it available you will be able to order signed copies from me at www.HomeplaceEarth.com. Finding a place for what you grow and for the equipment that goes with it is as important as growing the food. If you have no plan for storage, your harvest will spoil or ruin the harmony in your home as it sits around cluttering your living space. Check any possible storage niches in your home with a thermometer and record what you find. It might make for a fun project for your children if they are home on a snow day this winter.Homeplace Earth

Rethink Everything!

Rethink Everything1Rethink Everything! is the title of the last chapter in my upcoming book Grow a Sustainable Diet: Planning and Growing to Feed Ourselves and the Earth. The official release date is March 1, 2014, but I should have copies for some events I’ll be at in February. You can check my website for those dates and locations. When we are growing up, we are pretty much brainwashed by our parents to live according to their beliefs and habits. That’s just how it is. Then we do the same with our children. But, now that you are grown, you are free to decide for yourself. If you are still blaming your parents for how they raised you– shame on you. It’s your life; get on with it. I want to encourage you to rethink everything you do and look at things with a holistic approach. Don’t be afraid to decide that some of the activities you have been active in are not so important in your life anymore. We should clean out our social/activity life regularly, just as we should clean out our closets on a regular basis.

I’m working on a new book. This one is about seed libraries. If any of you are involved in a seed library, I’d love to hear about it. While researching that topic, I came across the website for the Center for the New American Dream where I found a webinar about starting a seed library.  The new American dream that this website is referring to is about more of what matters, not more stuff. It is about developing a plentitude economy; one which has reduced work time, allowing more time for do-it-yourself projects at home and more commitment to community. I have a feeling you are already participating in this type of an economy that will contribute to a better society. Having a garden, preserving your own food, supporting a farmers market, and developing your homestead, whether it is in an apartment or in the wide open spaces, are all part of the New American Dream. Decide what your dream is while you are rethinking everything.

Christmas gift bagsChristmas is a great time to rethink everything. A holistic approach would bring your holiday actions more in sync with the other ecological things you do all year. One thing, if you haven’t already done it yet, is to get rid of Christmas wrapping paper. It is easy to pull out the Sunday funnies to wrap an occasional birthday present, but when faced with wrapping more presents at one time, it took us a little longer to ditch the Christmas wrap. When we did that a number of years ago, it made an enjoyable difference. That first year I had found some Christmas fabric on sale at a deep discount and bought a few pieces to make gift bags. Not all the bags have to be Christmas fabric. Some are solids or prints that could also suit for birthdays. Sometimes I’ve wrapped large packages in an old flannel sheet, usually a red or green one. You might keep that in mind when picking out new sheets. Pillow cases work really well for gift bags, also. The year we were replacing the roof on the barn, we made tool boxes for each of our children from the old boards we took off the roof. Pillow cases were the perfect wrap. I even save the strings we use to close the bags from year to year.

earthingbookcoverdropshadleft21Life can be pretty stressful. So, as people go into the New Year they often begin thinking of how to live a more relaxed life. I have been reading an interesting book that can help with that. Earthing, by Clinton Ober, Stephen T. Sinatra, MD, and Martin Zucker explains how grounding ourselves fills our bodies with the unlimited supply of electrons from the earth that will connect with the free radicals floating around doing damage in our bodies. Those free radicals are why you always hear of needing to consume antioxidants. Although you can buy special earthing products to use, the authors make it clear that you can ground yourself just by walking barefoot on the ground outside. I have long known that being in my garden has a calming influence on me and communing with nature is widely known to be good for you. In the summer I don’t wear shoes if I don’t have to. I’ve found that by going barefoot I don’t track as much dirt in the house, but I didn’t realize just how good for me going barefoot was. I have to say, I haven’t been strolling barefoot in the garden since the weather turned colder. Walking barefoot on the beach or swimming in the ocean are also grounding activities.

Apparently you could get the same grounding effect by having your feet on an uninsulated, unpainted concrete floor. If you have a basement with a concrete floor, you could ground yourself there in the winter. The grounding mats that are available for sale allow people to be grounded while they sleep, are at their desk, or just watching TV. People who have used them say they sleep better and pain is diminished or gone, doing away with inflammation that is the cause of so many diseases, including heart disease. Grounding thins the blood and sets your body up to heal itself. One thing I thought was particularly interesting was that you can avoid the stress of jet lag if, when you get to your destination, you take off your shoes and socks and spend ten minutes with your bare feet in the grass.

All this is fascinating. Combine grounding with meditation and just think how healthy we can be! Meditation involves work on our part to discipline ourselves to it, but it is free and you can do it anywhere. Can you imagine doctors writing prescriptions for their patients to go sit in the grass and clear the chatter in their heads? I hope you have a wonderful holiday and terrific New Year. I’m taking a short break. My next blog post will be January 14. Until then—rethink everything!Homeplace Earth

Vegetable Gardening in the SoutheastWherever you garden, the climate determines how you go about it and what crops and which varieties you plant. Timber Press has set out to help you with the details by publishing guides specific to different areas of the country. Ira Wallace has written their Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast. Ira is the ideal person to write this book. Not only does she live in Virginia and is part of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, but she has lived other places, including growing up in Florida. Southern Exposure is a seed company cooperatively owned by the members of Acorn Community. It serves customers across the U.S. and Canada, however it emphasizes varieties that perform well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.

To be more specific about what is included in the Southeast region of the U.S., Ira distinguishes between the Upper South and the Lower South. There is a map in the book showing which states are included in each designation. The Upper South has long hot summers where the temperature might reach 100˚, but not for long, with the nights being relatively cooler. The lows could reach to 0˚, but usually not below. The Lower South has long hot humid summers and shorter winters. Although in much of the U.S., gardeners welcome the summer heat, in the Lower South it can be a bit much and gardeners look to avoid the heat in August. The southernmost part of Florida where the temperature never goes below freezing is not included in this book.

author Ira Wallace

author Ira Wallace

I’ve found that even though I’ve been gardening for many years, there is always something new to learn.  Ira’s book is good for someone starting out new in vegetable gardening and for someone new to gardening in the southeast. It is also a good read for those of us who have been gardening in this region for a long time. She brought heat zones to my attention. I didn’t know that the American Horticultural Society publishes a Plant Heat Zone Map which divides the country into twelve zones indicating the average number of “Heat Days”.  A Heat Day is one which reaches a temperature over 86˚. The amount of heat you are getting is important to consider in the southeast, particularly when, as Ira points out, pollen for tomatoes, bell peppers, lima beans, and snap beans is killed at temperatures above 95˚ and the stigma dries up. The plants recover when cool weather returns. I experienced that when I grew peppers in a small greenhouse, thinking that it would be a good thing. In the height of the summer they were not productive at all, however, once it cooled down they flourished.

Phenology was another thing Ira covered that I’m not as well versed on as I’d like.  Phenology is the study of recurring plant and animal life cycles and their relationship to weather. She has a list of some natural gardening signals taken from the records kept at Acorn and Twin Oaks Communities. Pam Dawling, author of Sustainable Market Farming, heads up the garden at Twin Oaks and has mentioned phenology in her book and in her blog. Long ago I had heard that the time to plant warm weather crops was when the lilacs were blooming (one of the signs on Ira’s list). We had lilacs so I thought I would pay attention that year. I started tomatoes in the window, as usual, but realized that I had another sign altogether that I could use. When the leaves became so big on the maple trees in the backyard that they shaded the window, it just happened to be the right time to plant out the tomatoes! From Ira’s book I discovered there is a National Phenological Network. Heat Days and phenology seem like good topics for future blogs, so stay tuned (but don’t hold your breath).

Water is a recurring topic throughout the book and she suggests ways to increase water efficiency. There is an easy to understand description of why you would want to garden organically and suggested organic amendments. Ira strongly suggests you get your soil tested because if your pH is off, the nutrients won’t be available to your plants. I recently heard Clif Slade from Virginia State University say the same thing in a talk about his 43,560 Project.

This book is about growing to eat out of your garden all year. After the Get Started section, there is a section devoted to each of the twelve months of the year, each with a to-do list. The third section is Edibles A to Z showcasing vegetables you might be growing in the southeast, complete with separate planting and harvesting charts for the Upper South and the Lower South. Those are general charts, however, and Ira encourages her readers to look to their local cooperative extension service and experienced gardeners in their areas for more specific dates. When to use floating row covers is mentioned in the crop descriptions. They are used for protection from both insects and frost.

Ira Wallace demonstrating saving flower seeds at Acorn Community

Ira Wallace demonstrating saving flower seeds at Acorn Community

With so many varieties of each crop offered in seed catalogs, the suggestions in the book for varieties for this hot, humid region are helpful. Last year I welcomed Ira’s help to review varieties of staple crops that I listed on a regional chart for my Mother Earth News article Best Staple Crops for Building Food Self-Sufficiency. Of course, there are seed saving tips in this book. Seed saving is an important skill for gardeners to learn.

If there is a gardener on your Christmas list, Ira’s book might be just the gift you need. The scheduled release date for Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast is December 11, however it is already available in Southern Exposure’s online catalog here. If you want to buy it directly from Ira, this is the place to do it, unless you find her at an event somewhere. She does get around. If you live somewhere outside the southeast, keep your eyes open for Timber Press guides for the other regions. The guide for the Pacific Northwest is already out and the ones for the Mountain States and the Northeast are due out in January. All are written by people knowledgeable about their region and all have the same format as Ira’s, with sections for Get Started, Month-to-Month, and Edibles A to Z. Embrace your regional climate with Homeplace Earthinformation just for you.

vabf logoI attended my first sustainable agriculture conference in 1990. At the time I was a home gardener and hadn’t ventured into the area of market gardening yet. That would happen two years later, and when it did, I was much better prepared than I would have been if I hadn’t had the benefit of hearing real-life stories of how others were doing it. Besides hearing from the farmers, I learned about the research being done at our land grant colleges. That first conference I attended was sponsored by the Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF) and was their third annual, if I remember correctly.  There was a disconnect sometime in the 1990’s and no conference was held for a few years. I see that this year’s Virginia Biological Farming Conference is billed as the 15th annual, the count beginning over when things started up again. Now the conference is a joint project of VABF and Virginia State University. In 2014 it will be held January 31-February 1 near Richmond, VA, with extra workshops offered on January 30.

Attending a conference such as this is a terrific opportunity to meet the movers and shakers in the sustainable agriculture movement. At my first conference Fred Kirschenmann was the keynote and told of how he returned to the conventional family farm to help his father and converted it to organic production. Fred stars in the film My Father’s Garden that has been made since then, showcasing the struggles that farmers face and why they make the decisions they do. I highly recommend it. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak again at a conference in 2007. A word of advice—if you ever have to take a plane to speak at a conference, make sure you are wearing something you wouldn’t mind getting up in front of hundreds of people in, in case the airline loses your luggage. That’s what happened to Fred in 1990.

The first edition of Eliot Coleman’s The New Organic Grower was published in 1989 and he was a presenter at one of the early conferences I attended. His books helped many market gardeners get started. Coleman was back in Virginia to speak at the VABF conference in 2011. I used his book Four Season Harvest as a text when I taught at the community college. Conferences are a good place to meet authors with new books. Jean-Martin Fortier is on the schedule at the VABF conference this year. His new book The Market Gardener is not out yet, but the previews remind me quite strongly of New Organic Grower. Fortier may just be the new leader of small-scale market growers.

pasa conference 2014I got a taste of what it was like to attend agriculture conferences and even started a market garden operation, only to have no conference to attend for a few years. I always shied away from organizational politics, so I don’t remember what happened there, just that there was no conference. By the time VABF was ready to put on another conference in 2000, I had made plans to attend the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) conference. It was wonderful! Some presenters that come to mind are Vandanna Shiva, William Woys Weaver, and Elaine Ingham (vermicompost tea was a hot new topic at the time). PASA’s Farming for the Future Conference is February 5-8, 2014 in State College, PA.

Southern SAWG puts on a large conference each year. This year it is in Mobile, Alabama on January 15-18. Some years a busload of folks went from Virginia. I heard it was great fun for all, but always at a time when the college semester was getting started and not a good time for me to be away. I attended the Southern SAWG conference in Chattanooga, TN in 2011 as a presenter. Being in another part of the country, it was great to meet a whole new set of faces. That year was the first time in over a decade that I wasn’t teaching at the community college in January, with a new semester of students to be planning for.

oeff conference2014sbThe Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association holds a conference each year. In 2014 the OEFFA conference will be February 15-16 in Granville, OH. I have not been, but according to their website, 1,200 people are expected to be in attendance. I’m sure there are many more conferences planned by many more sustainable agriculture groups around the country. In addition to the speakers, these conferences are a great place to meet like-minded people. When our daughter was a volunteer at Heifer Ranch in Arkansas years ago, she and a few other volunteers attended the second day of a goat conference. They went for the information they knew they would receive, but were confused because so many people already knew each other. It appeared to be a gathering of friends and not quite what they expected. A few months later, she was back in Virginia and attended a VABF conference with me. Then she understood—it was a gathering of friends. It was a time for those of us who already knew each other to catch up on each other’s lives, which made for a lot of friendly banter. It is a time to make new friends, also. I encouraged my students to attend and chided them if they sat together at meals. They could see each other in class each week. I wanted them to embrace the opportunity to meet new people.

Farmers, researchers, authors, vendors, and friends (both new and old)—what more could you want to nudge you out of your winter hibernation and get the wheels turning in your head with new plans? Times have changed since 1990. Back then, most people I knew didn’t have a computer yet (including me) and of course, didn’t know anything about the internet. Now you can watch webinars and youtube videos about every subject imaginable. What you can’t do is witness the passion that a speaker has for the subject as you can in their in-person presentation, with the added benefit of impromptu conversations about the matter with other attendees. I’ve told you about the people I was most impressed with who presented at the early conferences I attended. I’ve left it up to you to check out the conference schedules to find out who you might want to see this year. If there is no money in your budget for a vacation, make continuing education a line item and find a conference near you to attend.Homeplace Earth


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