Organic Farming conferences
This is the time of year for farming conferences – I go to the organic ones. On Feb 21, I attend the annual Missouri Organic Association’s conference. I have been the vice president for the past two years and in charge of the trade show(so I had to be there – but I always go anyway). The following weekend, several friends and I went to a 2 day Upper Midwest Organic Farming conference in LaCrosse WI.
The two are typical: there are similarities as well as differences. The primary difference is the size: we had about a hundred folks at the local MOA one while there were over 2600 registered at the LaCrosse one. The local one is cozy – most of us know each other and the feeling is like a gathering of the clan. The larger one feels more like being a part of a movement; most of the year, us organic folx feel like a minority – we are constantly talking about why organic is important, how to source and/or produce organic products, etc. Often we producers are alone or one of a handful of organic producers in our county. At the conference, I am one of 2600 (that’s more than half of the population of my entire county!). The feeling is different – we are significant, we are the movers/shakers in agriculture – rah!rah!rah!
The topics of the workshops are similar: basic soil biology & fertility, organic weed and pest control, livestock production and health, fruit and vegetable production, small grains, row crops, organic certification, various marketing strategies – local/niche, web-based, tell your personal story, etc., sustainable practices, biological diversity, funding opportunities in the new farm program, etc.
Again, the difference is scale: at our local conference, we have two concurrent sessions; at the big one, there are 10 workshops happening simultanously. Which ones do I go to? I look at the descriptions, consult my oracle, and in the end, it does not seem to matter that much – I have been attending these type of conferences for more than 25 years – of course, there is new stuff, but not that much – I have heard most of it before. What keeps me coming back to these conferences are the personal connections: some folx I see only once a year, others a few times. I go to the larger conference every 2 or 3 years and so I see folx I haven’t seen in a few years: it feels balanced to be part of the local scene as well as part of a lager movement.
Cost? Registration at the local conference is about 1/10th of the larger one; and then there is lodging. If you are a speaker/ presenter – your expenses are paid. Most of the time, I am just attending and so lodging is my expense. At the local conference, it is easier – I have friends nearby I can stay with (it’s not as convenient and occasionally, I miss out on other stuff that’s happening) but it’s affordable. This time, even at the large conference, we stay with friends of friends in the area – and, of course, there are benefits – they have a fruit orchard and are VERY hospitable – so I make new friends AND do not pay the friggin franchise hotels in town to put me up.
Winter – another paradox for farmers: we tend to draw inward, be introspective, and recharge our energies – and then we got to conferences, resuscitate our social energy and be reminded of our interconnectedness.