I attended three classes. The first was on effective selling at Farmer's Markets. The second was all about the Organic Certification program of the USDA. The last was all about soil science and the use of cover crops to improve soil and reduce weeds, pests and plant diseases. I absorbed as much as I could and feel it was definitely worth the trip and the cost. It helped me to figure out a few first steps that I need to take.
More than anything, it made me aware of just how little I know about all of this. I learned that organic farming isn't really about finding clever ways to do without certain pesticides. It's about an entire system of stewardship and improvement of the health of the soil and the overall farm. It seems to me that it is probably a method of farming that would be more familiar to old-time farmers who really knew all of the tricks to boosting their yields long before we had the convenience of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
I learned that there is a great deal to understanding how to assess the health of the soil and figuring out a plan of action to build it back up. My sister (who has had a long successful career in agricultural education in Florida) had mentioned crop rotation and the use of cover crops. It just went over my head. Now I'm starting to understand a little.
The main hallway was lined with booths from organizations and agencies that were all basically there to help. They have all sorts of programs and were all talking excitedly about the 2008 farm bill. I mostly was trying to understand what they do. I had an especially nice talk with a professor from Michigan State University who had tons of resources to offer from within the University. I picked up a whole bag of literature to puzzle my way through.
It was a little like having a whole bunch of people lined up saying "we're here to help, you just have to ask". To which I would have to say, "I have no idea what I'm doing! I don't know where to begin! I'm not sure what I need or how I'll ever get to the point of comprehending all of the programs and certifications available."
I did make one connection with a really nice guy who has a farm near us. About ten years ago he quit his job as a machinist (that makes three ex-machinists that I have met in the past week!) and started farming on their 30-something acre property. They now have a successful business raising cattle, sheep and selling hay. Probably the largest part of their income is from their 400 beehives. That's some serious beekeeping! I can't imagine how much time it takes to keep up with that many. They have a really nice line of honey products and sell beekeeping supplies as well.
Now that I'm back home and a teeny bit wiser, I plan to continue my work on the market survey of area farms. I also want to put more information on the website on the property and my fledgling plans for it. Stay tuned and feel free to offer advice. Just don't be surprised if I don't understand what you are talking about!
Posted by John @ 11:00 PM EST