There was a chicken. There were lots of folks in blue jeans and flannel. There was a genuine Amish farmer with a beard. There were butchering, fermentation and worm-bin-building workshops; and food, much of it locally-produced by the very farmers attending the sessions and exhibits of the 14th Annual Farming for Profit and Stewardship Conference in Lansdowne, Virginia.
Sponsored by Future Harvest-CASA, an organization devoted to promoting sustainable agriculture and local food systems, the conference provided a two-day immersion in raising and distributing food in the Chesapeake watershed. Although I could only attend one day, it was a valuable opportunity to meet local producers and learn from fellow food distributors who are successfully working to provide alternatives to the agribusiness-industrial complex.
At the Farmers Market Managers Workshop, Carmen Humphrey of the USDA spoke about the Farmers Market Promotion Program. This is a source of grants for farmers markets to promote activities such as food hubs, agritourism, on-line marketing, etc. A fine use of our taxpayer’s dollars – assuming it will be funded in 2013, which is not certain.
Ben Bartley of the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture spoke about his Mobile Market, a farmers market operating out of a converted school bus. It serves food deserts in Washington, DC, bringing fresh produce to low income areas at affordable prices. In addition, they educate folks about how to prepare and serve the produce they supply.
I found myself eating lunch with Polly Festa, livestock manager for the Accokeek Foundation. “I love Jersey cows,” she said. “I was once the Jersey Cow Queen of New York!” and I believe her. I hope to schedule her for a chef demo at OFAM.
After lunch, I went to the Backyard Chicken session of the Local Food Communities track. Pat Foreman is passionate about raising chickens, and brought along a “co-presenter” named Oprah Hen-free (a Canadian breed called Chanticleer) to help make her case. Oprah was remarkably calm while strangers petted and fussed over her, although one drawback to having house hens became clear. “They’re spontaneous emitters,” said Pat. Cute, but not house-trained. Pat has a book called City Chicks she sold in the hallway, where Oprah helped attract a crowd.
Pat makes a case for backyard chickens with four major arguments: enhancing backyard agriculture, providing eggs, meat and fertilizer; diverting waste from landfills, by eating table scraps; deceasing oil consumption and lowering your carbon footprint, by bringing a food source to your backyard; and enhancing national defense, by ensuring a local food supply independent of remote food chains.
My last session on Local Food Communities featured the Farm Alliance of Baltimore, a non-profit, cooperative arrangement of nine small-plot urban farmers. I had made their acquaintance at the Urban Farm Fair in Baltimore last September. They pool their output to sell at the Waverly Market as well as at individual stands in their neighborhoods. They are idealistic, urban pioneers, and I wish them the best of luck!
After the formal sessions, I wandered into the exhibit hall. Tables of farm products, agricultural agencies, and services for farmers and distributors filled the hall. Washington’s Greengrocer, a produce distributor, had a nice retro-themed display (remember when the milkman came every day? I do!)
There was a silent auction, where we could bid on items donated by the vendors and contributors to the dinner. The one I lusted after (and was hopelessly outbid on), featured dinner at Volt in Frederick.
Another item was the worm-bin composter, which had been built at the workshop that morning.
After a delicious buffet dinner (true to Michael Pollan’s third principle, mostly vegetables, but it did have some yummy beef), the music started. Alas, I had to leave at that point.
For farmers and those engaged in farm-related activities, January and February are full of meetings of this kind. Future Harvest-CASA’s is one of the best. What a great opportunity for networking, learning, and enjoying the fruits of the harvest!