Organic Growers School features hands-on learning for down-to-earth living

Mockingbird Meadows was one of many vendors at the Organic Growers School spring conference.
Mockingbird Meadows was one of many vendors at the Organic Growers School spring conference. Photo courtesy of OGS

Rodney Webb  demonstrates mushroom cultivationParticipants from around the country converged on the UNC Asheville campus on March 7 and 8 for the Organic Growers School 22nd annual spring conference.  The event, which bills itself as the “largest locally-run sustainability conference in the Southeast,” offered attendees the opportunity to learn about a variety of gardening, homesteading and commercial farming topics from a wide range of experts.

This year’s event was particularly popular, and many classes throughout the weekend reached or exceeded full capacity. In addition to the course offerings, participants were able to check out some of the latest farm and garden gadgets and shop for seeds, trees and shrubs from local vendors.

Variety was one of the defining themes of the spring conference with classes ranging from Starting Your First Vegetable Garden to the more nuanced, and slightly more gross, Do-It-Yourself: High Protein Animal Feed. The latter featured an in-depth discussion on the use of black soldier fly maggots as a composting tool and supplemental chicken feed.  Another class, Flame Weeding For Farm and Garden, gave participants a chance to dive into the more extreme side of homesteading.

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While it is hard to spend a weekend inside learning about the outdoors rather than experiencing them, participants were given some engaging demonstrations to distract them from the beautiful weather. During The Secret to Cooking Heritage Poultry, Todd Morse walked the class through proper butchering in order to capture the unique flavor and make the most of the bird. Similarly, Rodney Webb showed his class how to grow their own bounty of mushrooms during Introduction to Mushroom Cultivation using the totem method.

One of the most popular tables in the conference’s exhibition hall was the seed exchange that allowed participants to share seeds from their own farms or gardens with other conference goers.  The table was heavily trafficked with a selection of seeds that expanded throughout the weekend.  Mushroom Mountain, a mushroom farm based in Easley, S.C., also saw brisk sales from participants looking for mushroom spores and growing bags.

Several heritage breed poultry spent the afternoon on UNCA’s quad, allowing participants to see firsthand the difference between the poultry found in factory farms today and the heritage breeds that were present on farms earlier in the 20th century.

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Organic Growers School is a nonprofit that offers a variety of educational events to residents of the Southern Appalachians.  The Annual spring conference is the school’s flagship event with a number of smaller events held throughout the year.  The school will hold its second annual Harvest Conference in September of this year with a range of classes focused on food preservation and winter garden preparation.

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About Josh O'Conner
Josh O’Conner is an urban/land use planner with a passion for urban agriculture. He can be reached at @kalepiracy or @joshoconner on Twitter or e-mailed at josh.oconner@gmail.com.

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