Seeds of knowledge

As Western North Carolina creeps toward spring, now is the time to learn about the intricacies of growing in the Southeast. Although early March may not seem like a particularly productive time for farmers and gardeners, it's a key season to study up on new techniques and approaches. For the past 21 years, professional farmers and amateur gardeners alike have put down their books, stepped away from the wood stove and joined with fellow growers to attend Organic Growers School.

Organic Growers School is a weekend of workshops for dedicated gardeners, commercial growers and the curious public, planned for Saturday, March 8, and Sunday, March 9. UNC Asheville's classrooms will be packed with people who are passionate about everything from soil care to poultry, primitive skills to homesteading. Permaculture, herbs and beginning gardening are popular classes, as well as an entire session on organic ways to combat the dreaded stinkbug.

OGS Executive Director Lee Warren explains that a sense of community is at the center of the Organic Growers School experience. “The weekend offers an opportunity for a broad range of growers interested in organics to come together for the purpose of celebration and education,” Warren says. “There's something about this cross-cultural and cross-experience connection that feels inviting, even compelling.” Warren was named as OGS' executive director last month, succeeding 10-year veteran Meredith McKissick. While Warren focuses on expanding programs for 2014, McKissick is spearheading this year's conference.

You'll find some of the region's most knowledgeable experts standing in the front of the classroom at Organic Growers School. However, the workshops are not didactic in the least. Curiosity abounds as participants jump in with their own experiences, whether they love growing blueberries or want to know more about raising chickens. Sessions also feature local homesteaders and chefs demonstrating techniques for cooking from scratch, giving participants a chance to taste the results.

This year's conference will have a new focus on pollinators, from bees to butterflies to bats. “Pollinators are crucial to our dinner plates, because one out of every three bites we eat depends on the services of pollinators, especially honeybees,” says OGS Board of Directors President Ruth Gonzalez. “We want people to learn what they can do — even in a small yard — to enhance the prospects for pollinators.”

A seed and plant exchange will take place throughout the weekend as well. Participants are encouraged to bring both common and rare seeds to foster the preservation of genetic diversity in our region. Bartering, trading and sharing are all encouraged. It's part of the organization's efforts to bring the principles of organic gardening closer to home.

If you don't have seeds to share, you can still pick up some items to help jump-start the season. A trade show throughout the weekend will offer gardening supplies, books and organic products.

Organic Growers School provides both a gathering place for enthusiastic growers and a chance to study up before the seedlings emerge. “Watching people excitedly attend classes at the spring conference is like watching the first plants emerge after a long winter,” says Warren. “It's inspiring.”

Organic Growers School will take place Saturday, March 8, and Sunday, March 9, at UNCA. Info: organicgrowersschool.org

And on March 5, stay tuned for the launch of our season “Farm & Garden” section.

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