Ask Farm Aid | December 2, 2007

What do farmers do in the winter?

December 2007

Hi Laura,
What do farmers do in the winter?
Betty Dillard
Madison, WI

Hi Betty,

This is an excellent (and well-timed) question. Aside from making repairs, doing paperwork and business planning, winter is meeting time for farmers. This is when organizations, like those that we fund, hold their annual meetings. Public farm meetings serve many purposes. For farmers, meetings are the place to learn about new and innovative farming techniques. For activists, meetings are a place where we can inform our work and message by talking with farmers. For consumers, meetings are an ideal place to learn about how to get more family farmed food into their community. For everyone, farm meetings are a gathering place of diverse people who have one thing in common: they are passionate about food and the people who grow and raise it! And the refreshments at the meeting are usually pretty good, too!

Over five years of farm meetings, I have learned about the policies that affect farmers, how farmers can recover best from natural disaster, how to get Good Food into schools and, right up my alley, how to make cheese! The variety of material ensures that you will be able to find something that applies directly to you and your life or something that you have never heard of before like a workshop on wild mushroom foraging, followed by one on composting techniques. If you want to learn more about what farmers do with their time, go to a conference! Take a notebook and jot down the names of the folks that you meet. This movement is all about the people and you are there to get to know them. You never know who might have some good advice for you and your community down the road.

Just a note here, not all farm meetings are open to the public. Those that are tend to have a consumer friendly message and are often run by organic or sustainable farming organizations. I had hoped to include some meeting suggestions that have more of a policy focus but it seems those are more working meetings for farmer-members of those organizations.

In your area, there is a fantastic meeting coming up in LaCrosse, WI, on February 21st-23rd 2008, held by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). Their 19th Annual Organic Farming Conference is the largest organic farmers conference in the country and features 60 workshops, 130 exhibitors AND delicious local and organic food. There is also an intensive pre-conference workshop called Organic University that is held on the 21st. You can register now at or by calling 715-772-3153.

For folks who can’t quite make it to Wisconsin in the winter, here are a few other excellent meetings that are open to the public:

Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture(PASA)
“Ready to Grow: Sharing the Sustainable Story”

February 7-9, 2008: Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, State College, PA
Keynotes include Diane Wilson and Mark McAfee.
Register online at
This conference is a favorite of ours, with wonderful food, fantastic silent auction items and excellent workshops.

Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (Southern SAWG)
“Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustainable Family Farms Conference”

February 16-19, 2008: the Galt House Hotel and Suites, Louisville, KY
The keynote speaker is Joel Salatin and there is a pre-conference conversation with Wendell Berry.
Register online at
Over 1,200 people attended this conference last year. The conference schedule includes intensive short courses, mini courses, and field trips .Don’t forget to register for the Taste of Kentucky Dinner!

Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (TOFGA)
“8th Annual Texas Conference on Organic Production Systems: Nourishing Agriculture”

February 1-3, 2008: College Station, TX
Register Online at
Speakers include Jeffery Smith, Sally Fallon, Howard Garret and Jim Hightower.

This is the largest sustainable agriculture conference in Texas. There are seminars, workshops, movies, farm tours and a trade show. Don’t be intimidated by some of the technical names of workshops; folks at these meetings tend to be very enthusiastic that people want to learn more about these issues. So there it is, a New Years resolution that should be fun to keep: Get involved in the Good Food Movement by taking a mini vacation to a food and farm conference!

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