Learning Theory and Research behind Our Farming Practices
Joan Richmond, principal operator of Meadow Rise Farm and North Central Ohio co-instructor for Women Farm, reports on her first experience attending an Acres U.S.A. Conference, which she did on December 8-10, 2011 in Columbus, OH. (This annual conference relocates, and next will be in Louisville, KY, December 6-8, 2012.)
Acres U.S.A., first published in 1970, is the only national magazine that offers a comprehensive guide to sustainable agriculture. This monthly magazine features practices that embrace the science of nature, with a focus on feeding the soil and bringing it into balance. The Acres U.S.A. Conference promotes itself as the premier event nationwide for commercial-scale sustainable and organic agriculture. More than a thousand eco-minded individuals from around the world gather to learn from some of agriculture's brightest minds. It is where the experts gather. Speakers cover all facets of eco-agriculture - soils, crops, weed and insect control, livestock management - and make the connection between the soil and human and animal health as well. These are the leading authors, the master consultants, successful farmers, people who are on the cutting edge of progress in harmony with nature. About 100 eco-suppliers display the latest agricultural technology that yields results without offending nature.
I have attended a statewide farming conference (Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, OEFFA) for ten years. 2011 marked my first national conference that attracts global participation and was held at a convention center. I ran into only about a dozen people I knew. This small group served as my springboard into meeting quite a few new farmers. Farmers from Norway, France, and Italy shared stories of benefit to me in sessions we attended, and I enjoyed conversing with one Nebraska man about the chemistry behind the Brix scale and humic substances and with a West Virginia couple about cover crops. There were keynote addresses by Francis Thicke, Joel Salatin, and Gray Graham, but every session felt like a keynote address to me. Typically, sessions attracted 200+ people, were given by well-known presenters such as Jill Clapperton, Neal Kinsey, and Gary Zimmer (and included two of our own Ohio experts, Gary Cox and William McGibben). I was pleasantly surprised that we participants were given much opportunity to comment and ask questions. Even better, nearly every session was followed, immediately or the next day, by a smaller Q&A session. Attended by 20+ people and held in smaller rooms, I was able to engage with the presenters and have more exchange with other farmers. All my questions got answered and I learned a lot through responses to questions of others.
Most sessions were less about practice and more about the theory and research behind practices. Many sessions revolved around agronomy - soil science. I loved this! On my farm I am currently working to introduce techniques that make my vegetables and fruits superior in taste, quality, and nutritive value. I want fewer weeds and insect problems. Soil science offers the answers I seek.
The bookstore at the Acres Conference gave me ample opportunity to browse the publications of these well-known presenters. I found it beneficial to hear experts and then consider buying their publications. Vendors, too, were from all over the country and sold the exact goods and services the presenters discussed. I was able to order a refractometer, pH meter, and soil conductivity meter after thoroughly examining and discussing models.
I want to encourage farmers who prefer and highly value hands-on and practical learning to occasionally venture into the science behind what we do. It is rewarding to get off the farm and connect, and most affordable when the national community comes to Ohio!
For audio recordings of sessions at the 2011 Acres U.S.A. conference http://www.acresusa.com/tapes/thumbnail.asp?catid=87&pcid=3
Three films were screened at this conference and are definitely worth viewing: Farmageddon, American Meat, and Queen of the Sun. Ask your local library to secure them for your personal use.