Organic Growers School Spring Conference ushers in the WNC growing season

Leah Penniman
SHIFTING GROUND: Author, farmer and activist Leah Penniman will present an evening lecture, Farming While Black: African Diasporic Wisdom for Farming and Food Justice, as part of this year's Organic Growers School Spring Conference. Penniman co-founded Soul Fire Farm in New York, a community farm led by people of color with the mission to end racism and injustice in the food system. Photo courtesy of Organic Growers School

For Western North Carolina farmers and gardeners, spring is heralded by more than just soil prep and seed starts. Now in its 27th year, the Organic Growers School Spring Conference welcomes growers and sustainability-minded folks of all types for a weekend of region-specific educational offerings, a trade show, seed exchange, guest speakers and opportunities for socializing and networking.

This year’s conference takes place Friday-Sunday, March 6-8, at Mars Hill University. More than 150 classes and half-day workshops are scheduled in 17 learning tracks, ranging from permaculture to cooking to livestock, on Saturday and Sunday, with additional events scheduled on Friday at locations in Buncombe and Henderson counties. Visit for more information.

Notable among the Friday offerings is Farming While Black: African Diasporic Wisdom for Farming and Food Justice, an evening lecture with farmer, author and food sovereignty activist Leah Penniman. In 2011, Penniman co-founded Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, N.Y., a community farm led by people of color with the mission to end racism and injustice in the food system.

“[Penniman] is actively a part of a movement that’s reviving younger people of color, providing trainings and shifting policies,” explains OGS board member Tarinii Shanai, who is in her third year teaching and organizing the garden track for the spring conference. “As we work to heal inequality and insecurities in our food system as a whole, it seemed like a perfect time to ask her to come and speak for OGS.”

OGS program coordinator Sera Deva agrees with Shanai that although the spring conference tries to feature mainly local experts as presenters, Penniman was an obvious choice for a headliner. “Leah just published her book, Farming While Black, last year, which has made a big splash in the sustainable agriculture community,” she says. “This, married with OGS’ commitment to social justice and wanting to bring that more as we sink deeper into our organizational learning, made her an obvious pick.”

Hendersonville Farmers Market comes to Seventh Avenue

Starting Saturday, May 9, shoppers craving farm-fresh goods will have another option in Hendersonville. The new Hendersonville Farmers Market will set up shop at the Historic Train Depot on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Maple Street from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. every Saturday through Oct. 31, with holiday markets planned for Nov. 21 and Dec. 5.

The market is a project of Hendersonville’s city government under the auspices of its Downtown Economic Development Department. “We are excited for this opportunity to support local products that are homegrown or handmade and see the market as a catalyst for local business health and customer growth in downtown overall,” said Lew Holloway, the city’s director of downtown economic development, in a press release announcing the market.

Vendor applications are currently open, with priority given to Henderson County residents; sponsor and volunteer opportunities are also available. More information, vendor guidelines and sign up forms are available at

Stock up

  • The French Broad Food Co-op hosts the Plants for Everyone Sale on Friday, March 6, 12-6 p.m. More than 150 varieties of bare-root edible and ornamental trees and plants will be available; prices range from $1.50 to $10 per plant or tree. For details, visit
  • Profits from the Spring Equinox Bare Root Plant Sale at Sow True Seed, held 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday-Sunday, March 20-21, benefit The Utopian Seed Project. Founded by Chris Smith, the project researches regionally adapted food crop varieties. Details available at
  • Dozens of nurseries from across Southern Appalachia descend on the WNC Farmers Market for the Growing in the Mountains plant sale on Friday-Saturday, April 24-25, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sponsored by the Blue Ridge Horticulture Association, the event will offer vegetable and herb starts, berry bushes, ornamental perennials and more. More information available at

Seeds of knowledge

  • Sow True Seeds rolls out its new kids program with a workshop on worms and what they do on Saturday, March 7, 10:30 a.m.-noon. Hosted by Johnny Robbins, the self-described “head worm wrangler” of Johnny’s Got Worms in Marshall, the class will feature interactive demonstrations on vermicomposting. More information and registration available at
  • John Murphy, director of Bullington Gardens in Hendersonville, puts on a three-day course of vegetable gardening basics Tuesday-Thursday, March 17-19, 3:30-5 p.m. each day. Soil improvement, planting selection and timing and pest control will all be covered. Registration and details at
  • Wannabe WNC grape growers can get their start at the Jewel of the Blue Ridge Vineyard in Marshall on Saturday, April 25, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. A workshop hosted by vineyard owner Chuck Blethen will explore proper hole digging, soil preparation and planting techniques for mountain grapevines. Details and registration available at

Beyond the garden

  • Jubilee! Community Church hosts retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientist and nature photographer Roger Helm for The Inspiration of Awe and Challenges of Climate Chaos, a workshop series exploring the realities of and solutions to climate change, on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. from March 11-April 15. More details at
  • Bill McKibben, founder of and nationally recognized climate advocate, gives a public lecture at UNCA Asheville on Thursday, April 2, at 7 p.m. His talk, Our Changing Climate: A Global Movement of Reform, is free to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. More information available at
  • WNC for the Planet has launched an online calendar of environmentally focused volunteer opportunities taking place in April to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. A similar effort last year generated over 4,200 hours of community service. Event times and details are available at
  • A coalition of concerned Asheville citizens launched the Energy Justice Listening Project with the goal of engaging marginalized groups in the conversation around transitioning the city to 100% renewable energy. Listeners plan to be available at the YWCA of Asheville and the Arthur R. Edington Center soon. For interview slots and more information, contact Cathy Holt at

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