Thirty years ago, a group of passionate volunteer WNC growers came together to present the first Organic Growers School Spring Conference to learn from each other about growing in the Southern Appalachians. Since then, OGS has grown into a 501(c)3 non-profit organization providing year-round education and support to growers in our region and beyond. We are grateful to have had the community’s help to allow us to play this role in our region.
The annual Spring Conference is our most well-known event and the largest fundraiser for OGS. Spring Conference was the primary way we funded the organization for many years. While the event is still a significant fundraiser for the organization, we now have more diverse programs and grants contributing to OGS’s overall financial stability. OGS continues to be a small nonprofit with ten staff—the majority of whom are part-time. The Leadership Team would like to share more about how we utilize the funds from the Spring Conference to support the mission of OGS and create a thriving food community of home-growers and farmers.
The funding for our Spring Conference comes from ticket sales, individual donations, and sponsorships and directly funds the following:
Keeping ticket prices low
Accessibility for all income levels is a core guiding principle for OGS. Our sponsorships and generous donations from our supporters provide us with the padding necessary to keep our ticket prices low and accessible. As a result, this is the region’s most affordable event of its kind. We have historically offered scholarships in addition to early-bird and single-day discounts to provide our audience with more options. For the 2023 conference, for the first time, we are excited to experiment with sliding scale pricing, offering a more affordable option at half the price of the full-cost ticket, as well as a higher priced option at 1.5 times the actual cost of a ticket for those able to pay more. We hope this will provide a low barrier to entry for participants to access at the price point they need. While we depend on our registration income, we know that there is enough in our community to go around, and we hope that the option of the higher price point will invite those with the means to pay more to support those in our community who need it. Our next blog post will share more details about our sliding scale offerings.
We currently offer speakers a base pay of $80 per 90-minute class and $160 per half-day workshop. We ask that instructors repeat their classes over the weekend, and their stipend is doubled if they can do so. We also offer travel reimbursement and lodging to speakers as needed. We strive to create an open environment for speakers to give us feedback on their pay and share what compensation they would need to participate in the event comfortably. Many speakers donate their stipend to OGS to give back to the grower community. In 2022, speaker stipends and support made up 32% of the expenses for the Spring Conference.
We offer over 100 work-trade opportunities for those who otherwise might not be able to attend the event. These folks provide four hours of their time to help with different conference needs such as setup, breakdown, registration, etc. In exchange, they receive access to a full day of the conference, which has a value of $80 or a rate of $20/hr. We also offer our full-day work traders a boxed lunch.
Starting in 2017, we set aside $3,000+ of our conference budget to provide scholarships for attendees. We also dedicate time to developing partnerships with other organizations that can offer scholarships. This year, we awarded scholarships to 20 people and spent an additional $6,950 on discounts, work-trade, and scholarships.
OGS currently has ten employees, four of whom are full-time. In the past couple of years, we have worked to implement more robust and equitable employee benefits and compensation packages. We are also Living Wage Certified. The revenue we make from the Spring Conference, our biggest event, ensures that we can continue to pay our employees fairly throughout the year. One staff member coordinates the Spring Conference, and four other team members provide ongoing support. The cost of staff salaries and benefits is 31% of expenses for the Spring Conference.
In addition to this direct funding, we offer services at the conference that inject money and resources back into the local economy. For example, in 2022, 37% of the Spring Conference’s expenses connected us with local businesses, institutions, and industries in the region to get the needed supplies and resources to execute the Spring Conference.
- Exhibit Booths: We provide local organizations and companies the opportunity to exhibit and sell their wares at our event. We also offer low-cost or complimentary booths to speakers.
- Children’s Program: For several years, we have contracted with a local outdoor-based children’s organization to offer childcare at the conference to make the event more accessible to parents. Proceeds from this program go to the provider and are not a source of income for OGS.
- Lunch: We partner with WNC-area food providers to bring you delicious and healthy food each year and provide lunch for our staff, speakers, and classroom assistant work traders.
- Sponsorship: Each year, we work with various national sponsors with a local presence whose missions align with ours. We leverage this support to provide growers with a well-rounded learning experience and foster beneficial connections between local actors.
- Local Teachers: We hope the Spring Conference bolsters our region’s learning and sharing spirit. It is where newer and more experienced growers can exchange knowledge and where folks can get their start with or hone their teaching skills. With the opportunities for exchange and community-building that the conference provides, we hope to strengthen local connections, grow small businesses, and contribute to a thriving and resilient food system in WNC.
As our yearly fundraising event, Spring Conference averages a net operating income of roughly $20,000/year (what is left of revenue after all expenses).
As we enter our 30th year in 2023, the annual Spring Conference continues to be a favorite community event and learning place. We now have more diverse programs and training to support our home grower and farming community year-round. Our main goal is to build connections and community; we are honored to see that happen when we come together in early Spring. We are thankful for our teachers, vendors, participants, and community members who bring the magic!
Author: Julie Douglas
Julie is the Marketing & Communications Associate. She is the owner and Clinical herbalist at Wildkrafted Kitchen, a holistic healthcare company in Asheville, NC. Julie is a medicinal herb grower, ethical wildcrafter, educator, and formulator of internal and external medicines. After graduating with an AA focusing on Photography and Ceramic art, Julie went on to pursue their passion for sustainable small-scale agriculture in Washington state where she apprenticed on various organic farms. After discovering their affinity for medicinal herbs, they moved to Asheville to study Holistic Herbalism at the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine. Julie’s main goals are to make alternative healthcare accessible to marginalized communities, decolonizing herbal medicine, and be part of mutual aid networks which strengthen and empower the community.