Two of my first memories of North Carolina when we moved here back in 2005 came from food experiences: 1) trying NC “barbecue”; and 2) visiting the farmer’s market. Realizing that market was going to be OUR market felt like we’d hit the jackpot. We were so excited about the beaches and the mountains that the local foods were like local molasses on top of a flaky biscuit. Since then, I’ve come to realize that having this amount of local vegetables, fruit, meat and seafood doesn’t come without quite a bit of work and behind the scenes support.
One of those big supporters is the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA). Formed in 1979, they started hosting the Sustainable Agriculture Conference in 1985 (that’s 40 and 34 years, respectively).
During a day and a half long in the late fall, CFSA assembles some of the best and brightest small farmers and other experts in Durham right in the middle of North Carolina. They come ready to share their experiences and teach their peers how to not only raise fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, and animals, but also how to market their goods, how to stay sane in the challenging field they’ve chosen, and generally have a good time with like-minded folks.
Most of the folks attending are beginning farmers or those considering farming, but there were also those that have been farming for years and keep coming back for the comradery and to learn new innovations. And then there were a few random folks like me – farm and food enthusiasts!
Sessions and Workshops
During the conference I went to a number of the policy sessions, including:
- “New Farm Bill, New Programs, New Opportunities” led by National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) CSAC and CFSA
- “Heir Property: Past, Progressive Present, & the Promise of the Future” led by Savi Horne,Land Loss Prevention Projectand Benjamin Orzeke, Uniform Law Commission
- “Regenerative Grazing to Mitigate Climate Change” led by Michelle Nowlin and Lee Miller, Duke University Environmental Law and Policy Clinic
- “Making the Bacon: Sustaining Your Pork Enterprise” by “Pork” Rhyne Cureton, a student at NC A&T (amongst many other hats he wears)
There were ten(10!) sessions to choose from for each of five 1.25 hour time slot, and the decisions were tough! Some of the other workshops included how-to’s on wholesaling, organic certification, Asian green production, cover crops and much more.
The day before the conference were half-day and full day intensives, both on and off site. These included industrial hemp, operational efficiency improvements, increasing nutrient-density in plants, and hands-on mushroom log inoculation, among others.
The Food, New Info, and New Toys
Oh, the food! So good. So good, in fact, I didn’t take any photos because I was too busy gawking and eating. The amount of local food, including grains, was truly impressive. And good, did I mention that? Kris Reid and her team put together an impressive spread of local veggies and pastured meats that had everyone talking (when we weren’t chewing, of course).
One of the other features of the conference are the hallways filled with vendors and informational booths. Among them were groups like The Farm Board, Barn 2 Door, the Southern Seed Exchange and dozens more.
Books I picked up
Multiple vendors were selling a wide variety of books, and there was a even a book signing by authors like seed-saver and gardener Ira Wallace and vermicomposting expert Rhonda Sherman.
by Steve Gabriel and Ken Mudge
The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast
by Ira Wallace
Want to go? Keep your eyes on the events page for CFSA. The conference is usually held the first weekend or so of November. Scholarships are available as are work exchanges, member discounts and even a ride and room share page for keeping costs down.