Interest in naturally grown, additive-free food seems to be at an all-time high (see “Natural Selection,” Feb. 2 Xpress). For a lot of folks, that translates into homegrown. And for an increasing number of farmers, it means shifting gears. Those two often-overlapping groups are the target audience for the annual Organic Growers School; this year’s edition is scheduled for Saturday, March 12, at Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock.
From its humble beginning as a one-time seminar for a handful of commercial farmers back in 1994, the school has experienced organic growth of its own; some 700 students attended classes last year. And whereas the early sessions were designed for farmers, today three-quarters of the participants are home gardeners.
This year’s schedule includes 56 hour-and-a-half sessions, 10 half-day classes, and two lunchtime lectures on Saturday. A children’s program will also be offered for the first time. The full-day event, titled “Children and Community,” will focus on the importance of agriculture and its place in the greater scheme of things. Via hands-on activities, kids will explore plants, animals, insects and food. The school will conclude on Sunday, March 13, with two on-the-farm workshops.
Sessions grouped under the heading “Back by Popular Demand” will include classes taught by longtime Xpress contributors Jeff Ashton and Patryk Battle. Subjects range from easy raised-bed gardening to integrated pest management to soil-building methods and gardening on difficult sites. The last should generate substantial interest, since it often seems that most sites in these mountains are difficult in multiple ways.
Other classes run the gamut from small-scale (making your own potting mixture) to large (how to buy an organic farm), with a good deal in between. Whether you want to grow mushrooms or tomatoes, keep bees or jump through all the hoops to obtain organic certification for your products, there are classes to feed the soil in your soul.
Although the school has expanded its capacity each year, the level of interest has always seemed to outpace the available space. This year, however, organizers believe they’ll be able to handle all comers, who may top 800 in number. “We’ve increased the amount of campus we are using so as to not have to limit it,” OGS Coordinator Elly Wells told Xpress.
Six years ago, the school’s Steering Committee, which stages the event under the auspices of the Western Carolina Coalition for Social Concerns (a local nonprofit ), decided to hand off the business management to an outside coordinator. For the past four years, Wells has filled that post. In her view, the credit for the project’s impressive growth goes to “the volunteer committee members who make the school happen.”
With even mainstream groceries now jumping on the organic bandwagon and increasing numbers of WNC restaurants serving local organic products, the regional market for chemical-free food is abundantly evident. And in world markets, both the European Union and Southeast Asian nations are rejecting the genetically engineered and chemically treated foods produced in the United States in favor of organic alternatives, lending credence to the argument that organic represents the wave of the future. And at OGS, that future is now.
[For information about this year’s Organic Growers School, visit www.organicgrowersschool.org or contact Elly Wells at 258-3387 or P.O. Box 984, Asheville NC 28802.]
Natural products showcased
Those interested in marketing natural products have an opportunity to learn more about identifying, harvesting and using wild plants at “Growing North Carolina’s Natural Products Industry,” the N.C. Natural Products Association’s second annual conference, slated for Friday and Saturday, March 4-5 at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville.
Botanical workshops will cover such diverse topics as drawing, plant taxonomy, wild-crafting and pathogens affecting medicinal herbs. A separate track will offer classes on salve-making, tonics and plant medicines. Still other talks will explore legal issues and certification requirements.
Although the early registration deadline has passed, at press time, organizer Pam Daubert told Xpress there was still some space available.