by Jenna Bailey
In less than two weeks now, I’ll attend my first Organic Growers School Spring Conference in Asheville, NC (and visit Asheville for the first time!). After a budding (pun intended) interest in gardening arose, I moved from my home in Louisville, KY to begin work on a non-profit, urban farm in Knoxville, TN. I was hired despite my lack of gardening or farming experience, and have since learned a massive amount about farming. It has been the beginning of what I know will be a lifelong love of growing, cultivating, and nourishing not only my body, but others’ as well.
One big thing I’ve learned about growing is that there are a thousand ways to grow successfully. Farmers and gardeners are constantly being presented with new, unexpected problems or roadblocks to growing. I’ve learned that farmers and gardeners are some of the toughest people out there because they face professional obstacles almost constantly. Maybe there’s a new critter ravaging your cabbage, or perhaps it was an unusually warm and long autumn, or maybe your chickens aren’t getting enough nutrients. Whatever the obstacles may be, they will be solved just in time for another to arise.
This makes farmers and gardeners two things: flexible and always-learning. The former is a personality trait a grower must acquire. But the latter is a constant search for new knowledge to be the most productive and efficient grower… and that is where the Organic Grower’s School enters. For 24 years, the Organic Grower’s School (OGS) has been a constant and irreplaceable resource for gardeners, farmers, and growers. With workshops on everything from raising poultry, to pollinators, to survival skills, the OGS Spring Conference gives growers an opportunity to meet, problem solve, and connect with each other to become the best growers they can be.
This year will be my first time attending the conference and I am incredibly excited both as a grower and a student. Below is a list of the classes or workshops I am most excited for!
Healthy soil is so vital to growing organic food. When my farm began in 1998, we had to grow in baby pools because the quality of the dirt was so poor. Because of sustainable practices, we now have incredibly healthy soil but not without effort. Building healthy soil is the first step, in my opinion, to growing good produce and livestock. This workshop is a must for any beginning growers, along with any growers expanding their land and encountering soil that needs a little extra TLC. Also worth noting, the speaker Gabe Brown is a keynote for the conference, speaking on Saturday about Holistic Regeneration of Land. He’s a wealth of knowledge!
While the OGS conference has several classes on sustainable practices, this is the one I am most excited for. Solar energy is fascinating to me, and the long-term benefits of it are starting to become impossible to ignore. As growers, we already have a unique appreciation for the sun and what it enables us to do. Why not take that appreciation of the sun’s energy even further and use it to to power your homestead? It is a free resource (after some initial investment) and incredibly sustainable. Attend this workshop and find out how you, too, can rely on Solar!
- Unusual Edibles for Your Permaculture Garden Ira Wallace (Sunday Session 2)
Ira Wallace, a person after my own heart! I love everything about this workshop! I recently spoke to a foraging expert and was overwhelmed with the number of plants I had no idea I could eat. This workshop sounds like it just might teach me the same thing– plants I had no idea were edible! At the farm where I work at, we donate all of our produce and therefore often feel an obligation to grow fruits and vegetables people are familiar with. Therefore, we don’t get to experiment as much. This workshop sounds like it will satisfy my craving to learn about those oddball plants that are (bonus points–) edible!
- Fire Building Rachel Shopper (Saturday Session 1, Sunday Session 1)
I have a confession to make: I am often tempted to live off the grid in the forest (despite my total lack of preparedness to do so). There’s something freeing about having no obligations but to fulfill your basic human needs for food, water, and shelter. While this workshop may not be promoting such extreme behavior, it will be teaching an invaluable skill that everyone should know. I once learned to build a basic fire when I was a Girl Scout, but since my 8-year-old brain was more excited about the marshmallow I was going to roast over it, I think I could use a refresher. The Girl Scouts’ had their heart in the right place though: building a fire is an important skill that empowers us to be able to take care of ourselves for both emergency and non-emergency cases.
- Gardening for Your Healthcare Deanna Riggan (Saturday Session 1)
This workshop entices me because this is a subject I know very little to nothing about. I have friends who are incredibly interested in this topic (even some who do it as a profession), and while I’ve tried to gather as much information as possible from them, I’m still pretty clueless. I will be the person sitting in the back of this workshop writing down every word and asking too many questions at the end. Forgive me in advance.
- Animal Integration Gabe Brown (Saturday Session 1, Sunday Session 1)
When I got hired at the non-profit farm where I work, I was most excited about the fact that we have chickens (5 hens all named after famous first ladies if you wanted to know). Something about having these animals made it that much more of a farm to me, and our chickens have provided an equal amount of joy and obstacles since I first met them. Integrating animals into your growing space has an endless amount of benefits, but not without considerably more work. Work that is well worth it, if you ask me. (I will also be using notes from this conference to attempt to convince my boss we need a cow… wish me luck.)
- Crafting Flavor Profiles Matthew Raiford (Saturday Session 3, Sunday Session 3)
Upon moving to Knoxville and accepting a job at a farm, I fell into a beautiful community of urban agriculture enthusiasts. I was prepared for their passion for sustainable practices, their love of growing, and their willingness to share knowledge and education. However, I was not expecting their love of growing food to often extend to a deep love for cooking. I now know some of the best chefs I have ever known… and even better, chefs dedicated to high quality, organic products. While I learn from them often, I find myself facing a huge learning curve, especially when it comes to spices and herbs. I am hoping this class will help give me a basic knowledge of crafting flavor profiles, and maybe just maybe, allow me to contribute something a little more involved than compost-ready plates and cups to the next potluck.
Despite working at a farm now, I had a couple of pretty different jobs before, one of which was at a daycare. Like farming, working at a daycare presented a constant string of challenges but despite that, I loved working with the children. I think the easiest way to ensure people have an appreciation for where their food comes from is to educate young people, especially young people in urban areas. Getting young ones excited and invested in growing their own food benefits them both in the present and in the future. Presently, they are getting outside, getting their hands in the dirt, and interacting with nature. For the future, it empowers them to rely on themselves for food production and to make conscious choices about where they’re getting their food. A win-win if there ever was one.
- Reinhabiting the Land: A Sense of Place Alex Meander (Saturday Session 3, Sunday Session 3)
I find this workshop topic to be very intriguing. While the workshop could go a few different directions (I can’t wait to find out which), I think any workshop that is potentially encouraging mindfulness about the land we use is invaluable and exciting. This workshop is under the “Permaculture” group of workshops, and I certainly believe to choose to be sustainable in your growing practices requires a sense of place and inhabiting your land not just physically, but mentally as well.
This workshop is undoubtedly the workshop I am most excited for. The non-profit farm I currently work on was started in Knoxville to combat food deserts (the lack of access to fresh produce) and food insecurity in an urban setting. Food access is absolutely vital to cultivating a community of well-nourished, healthy individuals. How can we expect people to be civically engaged or care about the Earth if they are more concerned with what they will be eating next? I am incredibly passionate about food access, and am always excited to learn new ways to address this social issue. This panel should be great!
I hope to attend most of the classes listed above (some unfortunately overlap), and I hope to see each of you there!
For more information about the 24th Annual OGS Spring Conference, click here.
Organic Growers School is a non-profit organization providing organic education since 1993. Our mission is to inspire, educate, and support people in our region to farm, garden, and live organically.