How sustainable is the sustainable-farming movement? Well, if simple longevity means anything, the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference certainly measures up. This year’s event, scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 12-14 at Asheville’s Great Smokies Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort, is the 19th edition of the popular annual gathering, which is generally a sellout.
The conference features sustainable-farm tours, a seed exchange and almost six dozen workshops aimed at farmers, gardeners, educators and consumers. No less than 20 tracks of wide-ranging courses span the spectrum from basic to professional: Participants can learn how to grow organic lettuce, develop a farm-internship program, make herbal medicines and even herd worms. (As a vermiculturist myself, I know how hard it is to “head ’em up and move ’em out” when you can’t tell which end is the head.)
Among the pre-conference events slated for Friday, Nov. 12, is a workshop for professional growers seeking to get certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. The program will include an NOP overview, record-keeping templates and cost-share opportunities, as well as information on the certification process, the mandatory organic-farm plan, and how to pick a certifier. Participants are encouraged to bring their field histories, farm maps, input labels and specific questions about the certification process, organic standards, and approved materials, so they can leave the workshop confident that they can complete their own organic-farm plan and get certified. (The five-hour course costs an additional $50; preregistration is required.)
This year’s conference is dubbed “The Real Food Revival”; that’s also the title of the keynote address Cheryl Long, editor in chief of Mother Earth News, will deliver at the Saturday-night dinner. Although American agribusiness is producing more food than ever before, there’s growing evidence that the vitamin-and-mineral content is declining, notes Long. And consumers, she says, are responding by buying organic, demonstrating that they’re willing to pay a premium for healthier, more flavorful food. Long says her talk will include suggestions on how use this information “to broaden the real-food revival into the mainstream” while preserving the integrity of the organic movement.
Alan Muskat, Western North Carolina’s “Troubadour of the Toadstool,” will give a presentation promoting the creation of a wild-mushroom marketplace. A wild-mushroom harvester/vendor for nearly a decade, Muskat believes the idea has great potential for the region.
“It’s a $50 million-a-year industry in the Northwest,” he points out. “With a lot of public education, I could see a sustainable gourmet-and-medicinal wild-mushroom economy in WNC — one based on cooperation.”
The plan, said Muskat, “could be a way to keep our forests uncut and create more lasting employment at the same time. We may not have anything like the volume of wild mushrooms coming out of the Northwest, but we do have the greatest diversity of mushrooms in the country. And there’s always the option of growing them.”
Longtime Xpress garden guru Jeff Ashton, the author of The Twelve-Month Gardener: Simple Strategies for Extending Your Growing Season ( Lark Books, 2001) will be teaching two workshops in the Organic Gardening track.
“The greatest tragedy of the CFSA conference is that it is always held in November, when the traditional gardening season has closed down. … Unless, of course, one attends a workshop which is focused on season extension,” Ashton told Xpress with a self-serving smile.
“The most notable point to be made for beginning gardeners,” he continued, “is that plants have no hidden agendas about whether they are going to grow are not. Plants grow because that’s what the Great Spirit created them to do. In a garden environment, we just need to give some essential needs — air, sun, water and reasonable soil — and combine that with some fundamental enthusiasm which doesn’t falter when our ego-steered assumptions about what is supposed to happen in the garden doesn’t happen.”
And reflecting on his own years of experience, Ashton observed: “It seems anything good needs to get paid for. … Most of my payment for gardening knowledge has come at the expense of my ego.”
Another Xpress contributor, Corinna Wood, will teach courses in the Medicinal Herbs track, including “Edible & Medicinal ‘Weeds'” and “Making Herbal Medicines.” Wood is the guiding light at Red Moon Herbs.
In the Horticultural Crops track, Henderson County organic-apple grower Anthony Owen, whose Windy Ridge Farm is North Carolina’s only certified-organic apple orchard (see “Upsetting the Apple Cart,” Nov. 26, 2003, Xpress), will offer a course highlighting strategies for fruit growers in the Southeast.
Biodiesel, which generated tremendous excitement at this year’s Southern Environment and Energy Expo (“Essential Oils”, Xpress, Aug. 25), will be featured in a course in the Sustainable Energy track that’s aimed specifically at farmers. Rachel Burton, an organizer with the Piedmont Biofuels Cooperative in Pittsboro and an alternative-energy instructor at Central Carolina Community College, will discuss the use of alternative fuels in farming operations. The workshop will also demonstrate small-scale production of biodiesel fuel.
Concerned about the cost? Here’s what instructor Ashton had to say about it: “Conferences are such awesome opportunities to get pumped for the garden. For me, the cost of attending a gardening conference always seems more going into a conference than when I’m done, because I always feel I have received so much value for my investment of time and money when the conference is over.”
Because the conference is usually so well attended and space is limited, participants must register by Tuesday, Nov. 9, to ensure meal and workshop availability.
For Carolina Farm Stewardship Association members, the conference costs $180 advance registration/$220 on site; for nonmembers, it’s $230 advance/$265 on site. Special discounts are as follows: student/apprentice $120/$140; children $90/$110. An individual/family/farm trial membership costs $25.
Early events begin at 7 a.m. the weekend of Nov. 12-14 at Asheville’s Great Smokies Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort, with workshops kicking off at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
There’s an additional charge for meals and some pre-conference events. Registration forms are available online (www.carolinafarmstewards.org) or by phone (919-542-2402).