As you maybe read in a recent email, we attended two farming conferences in the month of January. Winter tends to be the time when all the agriculture conferences get planned since it also tends to be the slowest time for growing and other farm work. We really value these times with our fellow farmers and others in the agricultural space and since we always learn a lot, we wanted to share a little bit with all of you!
The first conference was hosted by Future Harvest, a non-profit organization working to advance sustainable agriculture in the Chesapeake region. Usually around 500 people attend, though that number might have been slightly lower this year due to the big snowstorm we had that weekend! Unfortunately Farmer Sophia was one of those people stuck at home thanks to the snow so this recap comes to you from Farmer Mike!
“I only attend one conference a year, and for the past 15-some-odd years it has been the Future Harvest conference. I prefer to go here for many reasons, but the best one for me is reconnecting with friends. I find that checking in with other farmers to learn about their ideas, connect and chat about the previous season, ask them questions is by far the most valuable component for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I do learn a thing or two during the actual conference sessions, for example this year I went to a discussion solely about how to grow dang carrots!!! Yes, you heard that right, carrots! Carrots are so hard to grow, which is unfortunate because people love them soooo much. The farmers that lead that discussion had years of carrot failure, so they literally spent two years going over every step to figure out how to improve their carrot harvest. The best part is, they were willing to share that very information with us so we can grow better carrots too!!!
It's the little tricks and tips like this that make going to a farm conference rewarding and exciting. I look forward to attending every year to pick up that one great piece of information that will help me grow our farm even better the next season, and for that I am truly grateful!”
Our second conference of the month was a much smaller affair, designed for Montgomery County farmers. Farmer Mike had this idea a couple of years ago and this was our 3rd annual Mini MoCo Conference hosted at One Acre Farm! We had about 30 people in attendance for a day of educational sessions, discussions, and socializing. We had a couple of presentations on grants and funding opportunities for us farmers and how to make the most of what’s out there. We talked about our relationships with Manna Food Center and Community Farm Share, two “institutional buyers” to whom many of us sell either surplus food or contract-grown food for food insecure members of our community. Our region’s representative from High Mowing Seeds, an organic seed company beloved by many small-scale, sustainable farmers, was the keynote speaker. She shared her knowledge of and experience with organic seeds and vegetable varieties, which is of course a very valuable topic for all of us vegetable growers!
Lunch is always a potluck affair, and we are lucky that farmers tend to also be pretty good cooks. The selection was vast and varied and all ate well. We were also lucky (or not depending on your perspective) that the day of the conference was that incredibly warm Friday, remember when it got to 70-something? So, we really enjoyed sitting outside with our plates of food, soaking up the sun. What a contrast to the Future Harvest conference that got covered in snow!
We ended the conference with a fan favorite session, “Solve My Problem”. We break everyone up into smaller groups of 3 or 4 people and spread out around the room or outside. Each person gets a few dedicated minutes to talk about a problem or challenge they’re facing in the world of farming. The other members of the group then get to give feedback, suggestions, and tips to try and solve their problem! Now it’s very possible that no one’s problem truly gets solved, because farming problems are rarely simple, but we definitely all walk away with some good ideas and a feeling of relief after sharing our challenges with others in our agriculture sphere who understand.
We are feeling bolstered by new ideas and information and by time with old friends after these two conference experiences. Hopefully this gives you a little glimpse into the farming that's not done in the field!