Sunday, March 11, 2007

Georgia Organics Conference 2007

Where to begin? My trip to the GO conference was like visiting the superheroes at the Hall of Justice. I saw good friends (Tucker Taylor and Celia Barss from Woodland Gardens, who I profiled for the issue of Edible Atlanta that's coming out next week; Suzanne Welander and Alice Rolls from the Georgia Organics office; and Jason Mann from Full Moon Farm). I had the privilege of meeting in person people I've gotten to know via phone and e-mail (Mary Dyal, who supplies us with our annual half-pig; Edible Atlanta editor Amanda Dew Manning and her husband Robert; and Will Harris, the extraordinary and witty cattleman behind White Oak Pastures). And I met many, many like-minded people who will be friends for years to come.

Friday we had classes. I chose the following:

• Making the Change to Organic Production
• Blueprint for Building a Community Farmers' Market (pertinent!)
• Pay-Ahead Systems: CSA and Subscription Sales
• Small Fruit Culture: Strawberries, Blackberries, Muscadines, and Figs

All of them were extremely worthwhile and fun, although I'll admit I was beginning to fade by the last one and couldn't give it the attention it was due.

At lunch, we winced and coughed our way through a lunchtime speech by agriculture commissioner Tommy Irvin, a disingenuous bureaucrat who gladhands the organic movement freely but just doesn't get it at all. I have a history with the guy; last year at a Democratic party meeting, he shouted and bullied me into silence when he realized my question was going to turn out to be about NAIS (which he's been promoting to the best of his ability). He's not only a friend of big ag; he is big ag. At any rate, it wasn't terribly important what we thought of him. What was important was that he was there and could see that there were fully 500 of us--many more, I think, than he had expected.

At dinner, keynote speaker Joel Salatin spoke to us about the state of the organic and sustainable foods movement. As I noted in a comment to the previous post, I don't agree with Salatin 100 percent about the details of running a farm. But I think he's enormously important, not only because of his innovations and accomplishments (which are many) but because he is a galvanizing force in natural food production. He's hilarious and engaging and brash and inspiring. If anyone would like a CD of his keynote address, GO is selling them for $7 a pop; let me know and I'll score one for you.

Saturday was the field day--one of the best experiences I've had in ages. It was hosted by C&M Earthworks, a beautiful pastured poultry, cattle, and pig farm in Broxton, Ga. Here's Jim Hudson of C&M Earthworks (left) with Joel Salatin (right) in the broiler pasture:

I got my first sunburn of the year, thanks to Yahoo! Weather. It had predicted clouds and possible rain. Instead, the weather was...well, you can see. It was idyllic. Eventually I mitigated the damage by buying a C&M baseball cap.

Joel Salatin gave a morning presentation about management-intensive grazing and symbiotic relationships between livestock species. Then we took a tour of the farm, including this pasture full of "chicken tractors":

After lunch, Lori Sergeant of the Weston Price Foundation gave a talk about the nutritional benefits of traditional foods, especially grass-fed meat, eggs, and milk. Then Salatin returned to talk about relationship marketing. This final talk, to me, was the best and most useful of the bunch.

I think I want some Tamworth Pigs. Aren't they beauts? And I can testify that they're tasty, too.

I think the conference helped me solidify my ideas about where to concentrate my energies. Because our property is small and has close neighbors, we can obviously never pasture enough animals to make an economically sound business out of it. We need to focus on market gardening, including both fruit and vegetables. But the eggs from our layers will complement the market gardening extremely well. And as for the other animals, there's nothing wrong with homesteading a few of them for our own table, as long as we don't spread ourselves too thin by doing so.

This was the best conference I've ever gone to! Even the drive down was edifying. I had never been to Douglas and was pleasantly surprised by it. And on the way, I saw parts of the state I had never seen before. I was particularly surprised by all the beehives I saw along US 1.