Nothing get you energized in the spring than spending three days with 150 other people who are also looking forward to getting their hands dirty as soon as possible. I was lucky enough to squeeze in another conference (read about the last one here) before the season starts again in earnest. Once again, the three days were packed with new information, though-provoking conversation, and lots of awesome people. There’s really nothing like knowing that you could walk up to any person in a room and almost instantly engage on a thoughtful and passionate level about any number of things.
The summit was hosted by Primrose Valley Farm in Belleville, WI, whose amazing event space provided the perfect setting. A smaller group of farmers arrived a day early for a bus ride to three different farms in the area. We started out with a tour of Primrose Valley’s state of the art greenhouse and wash and pack area. A visit to Grassroots Farm provided the perfect counterpoint, with a smaller scale and a more bootstrap approach. We ended the tour at Inn Serendipity, a wind- and sun-powered bed and breakfast with a small intensive vegetable plot.
We rounded out the day with a BYOB meet and greet in downtown New Glarus, one of the best towns in the world for B-ing your own Beer! There I met up with Dela and Tony Ends, who had generously offered to host a few of us at their farm, Scotch Hill Farm, over in Brodhead. Over the next few nights and mornings, we quickly realized that we had signed up for a supplemental ongoing workshop from two delightful and kind organic pioneers. Their CSA is going on 20 years!
Friday and Saturday were chock-full of great workshops, working lunches, panel discussions, amazing local food, and even a square dance with a live band and caller. Nobody wants me to go into detail on each and every workshop, so instead I offer you another little list of tidbits from the workshops I attended this weekend:
- From Jackie Hoch of Hoch Orchard: a “value-added product” is hardly ever more valuable than direct-marketed fresh fruit, but are a valuable way to reduce loss from imperfect or imperfectly timed fruit.
- Biologically active soil is the pest preventative measure for safer food, as manure gets broken down almost instantly.
- Special events like Christmas markets are especially good for value-added products, which have to be unique enough to stand out from the competition but not too crazy for people to want to buy.
- “Chick-saws” are small-scale mobile coops for egg layers that can be moved by one person (like a rickshaw) instead of a tractor.
- Greenhouse heating is a high expense, so make sure you’re maximizing your use - you only need walkways when you need walkways, so rolling tables can be useful to use every possible square foot.
- The USDA’s NRCS and FSA offices have special incentives for beginning, women, and minority farmers (and a severe acronym addiction), including grants and cost-sharing, and low-interest loans.
- While record keeping may seem like a chore associated with organic certification, if you incorporate data logging into your workflow, you not only spend less time on paperwork, but you’ve created systems that can be helpful for you above all.
- Most farmers’ online marketing headaches can be solved by getting listed for free on a few sites - even more important than having a fancy website or a Facebook page.