This year I am really trying to actively learn about and get involved in farming as much as I can, and as part of this goal I attended the Oregon Small Farm Conference on the 22nd of last month. I have been meaning to go the last couple years, but something always seems to come up to prevent me from going. This year, however, I made the extra effort and was able to go, and I am so glad that I did.
The day started by listening to keynote speaker Michael Ableman, who is a well known farmer, author, and sustainable agriculture advocate. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him talk about his experiences running an organic orchard on a commune as a young man, as well as his work on his current farm, Foxglove Farm, his urban farming project in Vancouver B.C., Sole Food, and his beliefs about how the food and farming systems should be organized. I was enthralled with his speech, hanging onto his every word, and I probably could have listened to him all day. I think it was hard for me to comprehend though that there were actually people out there who thought so similarly to me and had so many of the same basic beliefs.
The rest of the day consisted of three different sessions (and a very tasty locally grown and catered lunch), during which you could learn about different farming-related topics of your choosing and ask questions. My first session was on the topic of community food systems, and centered around the importance small farms play in changing the way the food system is set up, supporting local economic growth, and in making healthy, fresh food more accessible to everyone. This topic coincided with the topic of my second session, selling directly to SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) recipients, and I found their suggestions and ideas very useful, and many times rather creative. For instance, doubling the amount of produce that can be purchased with SNAP benefits (ex: $10 worth of produce with $5 worth of SNAP funds), and covering the difference with money collected from fundraisers, such as a "pie walk" at the farmers' market.
The third session I attended was on using draft animals in farming, mostly horses, which I very much enjoyed listening to, and through this I was able to finally get contacts of people who are experienced in using draft horses and offer training. I plan on focusing on draft power, as opposed to tractor power, when I finally get my farm going, and I have been trying to find someone who will train me in working with them, so this was definitely a highlight of my day.
The day ended with a capnote session made up of a panel of four farmers, including Michael Ableman, who answered questions and talked about profitability on the farm. I definitely was able to get some great information throughout the day, that I will actually be able to use on my journey to starting my own farm, and I also was able to get some good contacts for internships and training. Most importantly though, I was able to spend the day among people who were equally as passionate about this way of life as I am, and it greatly motivated me to work more actively towards my goals.