Until I began working for The Land Connection, “conference season” was not a season with which I was familiar. “Winter”, “summer”, or even “monsoon” had crossed my path before, but conference season was novel.
So what is conference season? It straddles a bit of fall, all of winter, and a bit of spring. It’s the time when many farmers get to step back from their most urgent work and do the other important work that has been simmering on the back burner all season: the planning, the organizing, the ordering, scheming, and deliberating. It’s also the time to learn from and reconnect with their colleagues, and get away from the farm. So, they go to conferences and meetings and let someone else do the work for once.
As you might imagine, conference season is a hectic time for The Land Connection. If we want to train farmers, these precious few months of ebb are our big chance to get farmers in the door. In addition to the nine regular meetings of our Farm Beginnings class, we held seven programs (soon to be eight, when we hold our Small Engines and Tractors Workshop in a couple weeks) for nearly 200 people, all told. We also attended a number of conferences. In addition to the Illinois Specialty Crops Conference, Illinois Farmers Market Association conference, and Homegrown Fest attended by TLC staff, I was fortunate to go to both the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin and the Indiana Small Farm Conference in Danville, Indiana.
Those are two substantially different conferences. At MOSES, the “celebrities” of the organic farming community (if we have those) come out to wow the 3,600+ farmers who are ready to get re-inspired for the coming season. I finally got to meet Chris Blanchard, of Purple Pitchfork and the Farmer-to-Farmer Podcast, and Jeff Moyer, executive director of the Rodale Institute, after hearing him speak passionately all day about organic grain production (thanks again to Harriet Behar of MOSES for letting me attend). I connected with the Xerces Society and Field and Forest, and got to see our partners at Blue River Hybrids and Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
The Indiana Small Farm Conference was a new stop for The Land Connection, and was a big unknown. We did not know what the “flavor” of this conference was, or who we might meet. I will say that I was very pleasantly surprised. First of all, we got to hear from Mary Berry and Ben Hartman, an immense treat in itself. But also, this is a substantially smaller conference, and I felt like we got to meet half of everyone there. What’s more, almost no one knew who we were and yet they were all interested in us and the work we do. We went under the impression that no organization like TLC exists in Indiana and that there is a need for one, and this conference confirmed that. With the reception we received, it appears as though our neighbors to the east could soon be hearing a lot more from us, or at least by July for Farm Dreams!
Ken Myszka, farmer and chef at Epiphany Farms, and Melanie Haerle, Farm Beginnings graduate and now on the Epiphany crew, working in the greenhouse in early March.
Now as I wind down conference season with some farm visits (I got a tour of the incredible Epiphany Farms in Bloomington last week, where we will hold another Farm Dreams in June) and last meetings (Cara and I will be heading up to Chicago on Friday to speak at the Good Food Festival!), I get the deep joy of seeing farmers rush back out into the fields with the reinvigoration of conference season. I also am able to step back for a moment to look at all we have accomplished, and what more we can do as an organization. This will be a big year for TLC, with a lot of big projects coming down the pike. I can’t wait to show you what more we have in store.