Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ongoing Education

This year, I've attended several conferences, seminars, and workshops offered in the area, which have been very helpful and interesting. Recently I attended the annual MOFFA (Maryland Organic Food and Farmers Association) meeting, where I sat in on workshops about sustainable living, raw milk, and pastured poultry/ small ruminants. All were interesting and informative.

In the fall, I attended an all day fecal count workshop where I learned to do my own fecal testing and identify the major internal parasites for our area, and how to breed selectively for both resistance and resilience to parasites. I'm hoping to follow up this spring with a certification workshop in FAMACHA, an evaluation technique designed to assess the anemic affects of the haemonchus parasite, which can kill both sheep and goats. This training will enable me to further develop our strategic worming defense here on the farm, which I hope to combine with herbal preventative maintenance and eliminate chemical worming on the farm (already very infrequent) altogether.

Last weekend I spent Friday and Saturday at the Future Harvest-CASA conference in Hagerstown, Maryland, and I was pleased and proud to be numbered amongst such a great group of knowledgeable, caring stewards of the land. The conference was really well run, and the workshops and speaker line up were interesting and informative, and the food—all locally grown—was fabulous.

In addition to the conference, I attended an Organics 101 workshop Friday morning, which was really interesting and informative. I met the owners of One Straw Farm, Joan and Drew Norman, who were both really nice, down-to-earth people, willing to share, help, and reach out to other farmers. Having been in the organics business since 1985, they were a wealth of information, and I really enjoyed being able to talk to them and pick their brains about dealing with the certification process.

I also attended a really great workshop with Dr. Susan Beal, DVM a homeopathic vet who deals with both large and small animals. Her workshop, "Treating Animals with Natural Medicine," was really interesting, especially in light of my recent medicinal garden planning.

Also high on my list of favorites was a lecture by Jerry Fischer, the Maryland Department of Agriculture bee inspector, who reconfirmed my commitment to getting a honey bee hive set up this year on the farm. I think there's a real urgency out there for folks willing to commit the time and energy to re-establishing the honey bee population, considering that 30% of all food crops are dependent upon honey bee pollination yet colonies are collapsing all over the country due to stress, pesticides, and other factors.

The Future Harvest conference, too, had some interesting talks on recent legislation, most notably the "naturally raised" claim by agribusiness. The keynote speech by Cynthia Barstow, author of The Eco-Foods Guide, was an interesting examination in the rise of consumer interest in organic, local, and artisinal foods.

The best parts about these conferences and workshops have been the networking with other farmers as well as the take-home materials. While I could've compiled much of the stuff on my own or online, the quick reference sources I've received have been really valuable. Not to mention being able to ask a real live person who's been there, done that. Some, but not all, of these programs have been offered through the extension office or in conjunction with the staff, all of whom I've found to be helpful and interested in working with me rather than for the government, a heartening realization.

Forging community is becoming incredibly important as we move into a post-peak oil world. Attending workshops and conferences helps create that community locally rather than relying on online networks—which certainly have their place, but can too easily replace that real human connection in our own community, for me anyway.


Christy said...

I found a bee keeping seminar in Chester County, PA I'm going to go to. They have a whole day focused on the beginning bee keeper.

Ren said...

Yay! You're getting beehives!:) I'm taking the beginner course offered here by the beekeeping assoc. in March. Starting with two hives this year but might go up to four for next year. Love them bees.