Attend A Winter Conference

Reader Contribution by Cindy Conner
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The gardening season is winding down here with the last planting of cover crops. There are still greens and roots to harvest as we need them, but they manage pretty well on their own. As we head toward winter, it is time to inventory seeds, compile and examine garden records, make the garden plan for the New Year and order new seeds. It is also a good time to delve into some continuing education. What better way to continue your gardening/farming education but to attend a conference this winter? Even though the conferences I will be referring to are aimed at market growers, a home gardener serious about producing a substantial part of the family diet will benefit from these programs. If you think that selling what you grow might be in your future, you will surely want to start checking out the sustainable agriculture groups in your area and learn what they have to offer.

The first year I attended such a conference (1990) I was a home gardener intent on learning all I could to grow food to ensure a healthy family. Two years later I established my market garden and started selling to local restaurants. It was a tremendous help to have heard real-life stories of happenings in the field, so to speak. Conferences are also a place to hear about new research, visit vendors, make new friends, and visit with old friends. Even the talk around the lunch/dinner table is instructive if you take the opportunity to listen to what others have to say.

I’m a member of the Virginia Association for Biological Farming (VABF) and attend the conference they sponsor every year with Virginia State University. This year it will be held January 31-February 1 near Richmond, Virginia. The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) sponsors a conference at State College, Pennsylvania. It will be held February 5-8 in 2014. I attended that one in 2000 and loved it. Although I’ve never attended the conference sponsored by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), I know it exists and maybe I’ll get there one year. I grew up in Ohio. Their conference is in Granville, Ohio and will be held February 15-16, 2014. I’m sure there are many more sustainable agriculture organizations around the country offering similar gatherings. If you are considering attending one of these conferences, make your plans now. There may be discounts if you register early. For the VABF conference, that early registration ends November 30. Learn more about these conferences at Homeplace Earth.

Nowadays I’m usually a vendor when I attend a conference, and sometimes a speaker. It is an advantage to meet a lot of people and have interesting conversations, in addition to selling the DVDs and books I’ve brought. However, the disadvantage is that I often miss the presentations of the other speakers. The topics have taken a turn over the years to include things like how to use social media and how to take credit cards on your smart phone, things a market farmer needs to know these days. I still don’t carry a cell phone, let alone a smart one, but I have an iPad now and can take credit cards at my booth. The way people garden and farm is continually evolving, with new ideas in managing crops, animals, family life, and markets. Tap into this information at a conference near you this winter!

Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to