While sitting here in my pile of seed catalogs in the January chill, it is warming to think of all the possibilities for the coming garden, taking into account this past year's success and failures.
As gardeners, we know that nothing will be the same that the season will have its own wind, rain and sun and we need to be flexible in our expectations. One of the biggest thrills of gardening is trying something new or finding a different aspect to add to the operation. These ideas can be found in magazines or online. However, one of the best places I've found is at conferences such as the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association conference, where it's possible to share ideas face-to-face.
This year will be OEFFA's 31st conference. It will be held Feb. 13 and 14 in Granville. This year's theme is, "Growing with Integrity, Eating with Intention," which features keynote speakers; farmer Joel Salatin and Chef Ann Cooper.
Joel raises pasture fed beef, poultry, pork, turkeys and rabbits using a rotational grazing system. Ann's mission is to transform school lunch programs to emphasize organic, fresh and local foods in our children's diets. Along with the speakers come about 50 workshops to choose from, which cover many aspects of farming, gardening, eating, health, national and local food policies and animal husbandry.
I've been attending this conference for the past 30 years. One of the best things about it is the one-on-one time you can have with the individuals who participate in the conference. I've learned and shared so much. One great idea I learned was that it's best to pull thistles around the full moon. It seems the disturbance of the root system during the full moon causes the root to bleed out nutrients, causing the plant to die. After hearing this, I tried it in a garlic patch plagued by thistles, and got good results. Every year I meet someone with a new idea and I get to share some of mine.
The OEFFA conference is family friendly. It has childcare and workshops for kids 6-12. There are lots of hands-on workshops that explore the lively world of agriculture. For those with a low budget, you can get a closer look behind the scenes (and a cheaper ticket) by volunteering.
The food at the conference is also wonderful. They use locally produced and organic foods to create a great array of meals which are both vegetarian or for us carnivores. I've provided garlic for the past 10 years. There are great soups, salads and entrees along with treats from fruits to cookies and locally made ice creams.
During the conference there is an Exhibit Hall with a vast array of products, information, services, books and other resources that all relate to sustainable agriculture. Last year I found a great new hoe and a new source for mushroom spores. There are also two book vendors who carry a wonderful variety of titles in the organic and sustainable agriculture area. There are also vendors of irrigation equipment, soil amendments and consultants for all aspects of gardening.
So, if you want a great weekend to get rid of some of those mid-winter blues, come rub shoulders with some like-minded folks (usually about 400 people attend) and get inspired for the coming season. Come to learn and share.
To get more information, contact OEFFA at www.oeffa.org or call 614-421-2022, ext. 501. There are other such meetings such as the Direct Marketing Conference in West Virginia or the PASA conference in Pennsylvania. Contact Extension agents in West Virginia or Pennsylvania.
Mick Luber is an organic farmer at Bluebird Farm in Cadiz. He has more than 20 years of organic farming experience and is a regular at the Wheeling farmers' markets.