Another growing season is upon us, and that means gardeners, indie farmers and assorted other earth lovers will be gathering for this year’s Organic Growers School Spring Conference, slated for Saturday and Sunday, March 5-6 (see box, “Just the Facts”).
Now in its 18th year, the event will once again play out on the UNCA campus. Dozens of new classes and workshops are planned, plus a Saturday-evening social event at The Orange Peel. At press time, the exhibitor space was filled to capacity, and organizers were taking bids for overflow space.
OGS board member Ruth Gonzalez says the conference offers something for everyone: “The whole range, from novice gardeners to community growers,” will be there, thriving on the excitement of a new growing year.
The Organic Growers School coalesced in the early ’90s around the vision of building a network of prosperous, independent farmers throughout the Southern Appalachians. Aiming to deliver practical information about all aspects of organic agriculture at a reasonable cost, the first edition hosted just over 100 participants. But the event has grown steadily since then, attracting nearly 1,400 farmers, gardeners, educators, students, consumers and chefs from more than 17 states and Canada last year. Organizers say it’s the biggest event of its type in the Southeast, covering everything from sustainable ways to increase agricultural yields to beneficial insects, artisanal bread-making, beekeeping, livestock production and small-scale wind and solar energy for farm operations.
More than 70 sessions are organized into tracks such as food preservation, permaculture and sustainable forestry. New tracks this year include fruit production, urban farming, primitive skills and raising poultry. Participants can choose up to four classes per day, with many offered more than once to give folks a better chance of fitting them in.
Half-day workshops give a more in-depth look at topics such as fermentation (as in making your own kimchi or sauerkraut), mushroom cultivation or building a wood-fired oven. Costing an extra $5 each, these hands-on intensives enable participants to take their work home.
The primitive-skills track, which will cover things like felting, rope-making, friction fire-starting and other traditional techniques, comes in response to demand from local homesteaders. “It’s something people have asked for every year,” conference organizer Meredith McKissick reports.
A special program aimed at kids ages 7 to 12 will feature yoga, nature crafts and a special session titled “Rabbits Galore” (which will include collecting greens to feed the bunnies while also exploring rabbits’ role in feeding humans). Another session will invite young participants to expand their knowledge of the origins of various foods that end up on our plates.
There’s also a new meal option this year: From 12:30 to 2 p.m. each day, four Asheville restaurants will be selling food made from local and organic ingredients. (Organizers suggest bringing cash, as many vendors are unable to accept plastic.) And the ever-popular Seed & Plant Exchange Table will be open in the Highsmith University Union throughout the conference, so growers can bring seeds and small plants to share, barter or trade.
A hot time in the old town
The headline social happening will be the FarmSoiree, an 8 p.m. Saturday benefit at The Orange Peel. The innovative event will feature a multimedia presentation on the theme of food, using a trademarked format known as Ignite. An intriguing lineup of presenters includes Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell, Camille Kingsolver (daughter of author Barbara Kingsolver, with whom she co-authored a recent book) and Xpress Senior Editor Peter Gregutt. Each will use 20 original slides that advance automatically every 15 seconds, for a total presentation time of precisely 5 minutes per speaker.
A first for Asheville, Ignite was born in Seattle and has since been seen in more than 100 cities worldwide. “It’s an exciting format,” says Gonzalez. “It’s powerful and dramatic. Each [presenter] is an eater and an activist and has a bundle of knowledge and passion to share about our most sacred, yet most embattled right: food.”
Following the Ignite presentations, the conflagration will continue with sizzling licks by the Firecracker Jazz Band.
— Direct your environmental news to Susan Andrew (251-1333, ext. 153, or firstname.lastname@example.org).