Back in the summer of 2008, a conversation with one of my favorite farmers at the downtown market found its way around to the topic of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA). I’d heard of the group, but I assumed that only active farmers were members. Not so, Mary told me; they welcomed anyone interested in organic, ecological, and sustainable agriculture in the state.
Well, I prefer my food grown sustainably, thanks, so I thought, I’m in! I submitted my application and fee and hooked up with the local chapter, conveniently meeting at the library downtown.
Through the chapter, I saw familiar faces from the downtown market, along with other folks from organic and ecological farms in this county and neighboring ones. I kept my ears open, hoping to learn a few things.
At the same time, being on the membership rolls put me on the email discussion list, so I could find out about all the other OEFFA-related events around the state: workshops, meetings, questions and answers, and more. I also started to hear about the annual conference, a weekend event that brought together farmers from around the state for educational workshops on a wide variety of topics.
Coming from a family that prized education, I found the thought of a farming conference exciting. (I know, I know — I have a warped sense of fun.) But I couldn’t attend last year’s conference and had to wait for this year’s event.
The 2010 theme was presented as “Growing With Integrity, Eating With Intention” — which pretty much summed up my approach to food and farming. The program appeared to have a mind-boggling array of workshops listed, so I knew there was no chance of me being bored. And since I had a friend in town willing to put me up overnight, I saw no obstacles to signing up.
Good thing I did: this year’s conference sold out. Approximately 800 people crammed into Granville Middle School for the conference, and from what I saw, everyone else had as much fun as I did.
While I didn’t get to every workshop I’d circled in my program, I did learn a few things from those I attended:
- At the workshop on weed control, I learned that the 5-7 week period after planting seeds or seedlings is the critical time for weeding — and that I’d better get a good hoe in my tool “box.”
- While I found several large-scale grain growers at that chapter meeting, I found more small-scale grain growing information at the afternoon workshop on “High Quality Organic Small Grain Production.” I also met a couple of other people who were intrigued by my experience of growing a 10′ x 10′ plot of buckwheat and wanted to learn more.
- For a friend, I stopped by the “Solar and Wind as Cash Crops” talk Sunday morning and learned about some of the existing incentives for farmers to install renewable energy equipment on their property.
- Going beyond washing hands, the session on “Food Safety Begins on the Farm” really opened my eyes about the many ways that produce can be mishandled — and how to avoid those problems.
I also made several passes through the exhibits in the gymnasium (pictured above), picking up brochures and information sheets and talking with people about their organizations and products. At one end of the gym, a long row of tables held countless books on sustainable agriculture, and surprisingly, I only bought one.
Okay, I tell a lie: I bought two. But I wouldn’t have bought the second had not my dear contrary friend Gene Logsdon been sitting there, signing them. Having met Gene a couple of times before, I greeted him gladly and gave him a friendly bit of ribbing that he thoroughly enjoyed. As sustainable farmers go, he’s been out and about for years, spreading the word, and it was good to see him at the conference — especially after I’d been talking up his book Small-Scale Grain Raising at the previous day’s session.
All of this talk about the workshops ignores the point that we also enjoyed some very fine local meals at the conference, and I had the chance to talk with a number of similarly minded farmers, both beginners and veterans. What a treat!
Exhaustion hit a day or so after I returned home, but the excitement of what I learned lingers on as I plan my course for this season’s growing.
With integrity and intention, of course.