At one time, area growers had to travel to the Piedmont for an agricultural conference. Doing so was not only costly, but it also allowed attendees to only harvest a bit of useful information; growing tomatoes in the mountains is different than cultivating them near the coast. In 1993, several farmers got together to create an educational opportunity in Western North Carolina, and the Organic Growers School Spring Conference was born.
Twenty-five years ago, 100 people attended the conference, but this year’s event will see roughly 2,500 people descend on the campus of UNC Asheville March 10-11. Participants can choose out of more than 150 classes in 17 different learning tracks, such as permaculture, earth skills, herbalism and homesteading.
“Over the years, we’ve broadened to include nonfarmers and to meet the needs of our farmers as they advance,” says OGS Executive Director Lee Warren.
Warren wasn’t part of the organization when it held the first conference, but this anniversary has given her the opportunity to reflect on the event. She has spent time pulling together past conference programs to share online in honor of the milestone.
In doing so, she saw another way the nonprofit and its flagship event could evolve. “We are working internally to be an anti-racist organization,” Warren says. “Specifically to take a stand about not only inclusivity but equity and how to bring in the wisdom of people of color.”
For the 2018 conference, that means recruiting local people of color to lead tracks and serve as guest presenters to talk about issues related to race. Warren believes the attendees will diversify organically as a result of this involvement.
Friday’s pre-conference workshops include “Food for All: Growing Our Community as We Grow Our Food” with Bronx-based farmer and activist Karen Washington, who will teach urban gardening Saturday and Sunday as well. Sobande Moss Greer, a holistic nutritionist and herbalist from Tennessee, will lead workshops on “Herbs, Slavery & the South” and “The Underground Railroad & Soul Food Diet.”
Other special guests include Dan Kittredge, an organic and biodynamic farmer from Massachusetts, and Beth and Shawn Dougherty, “independent farmsteaders” out of Ohio.
Local speakers and instructors also abound, Warren says. In fact, she feels WNC has some of the most knowledgeable folks on organic growing and sustainable living, and she promises that even as the conference expands and changes, it will continue to honor the insight of those on the ground here.
“We’re just so lucky,” Warren says, “and I think that’s worth celebrating every single year.”
What: Organic Growers School’s 25th annual Spring Conference
When: Saturday-Sunday, March 10-11, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., with pre-conference workshops on Friday, March 9
Where: UNC Asheville, Friday locations vary by workshop
Details: Registration is $129 for the weekend, with add-ons and single-day tickets available. See organicgrowersschool.org.