The Care and Feeding of Farmers: Future Harvest CASA’s 19th Annual Conference

They provide our basic foodstuffs.  They grow a dazzling variety of fruits and vegetables.  They use their bounty to create tasty and nourishing products that enrich our lives.  They grow “non-commercial” or “specialty” crops: what we actually put on our tables, untransformed – i.e., not monocultured corn, wheat, or soybeans.  They raise chickens in fields, not by the thousands in huge sheds.  They are, mostly, small farmers, and they can be found all over the Chesapeake region.  Last week, many converged on the University of Maryland’s Conference Center.

Seeking education and fellowship, about 500 plaid-shirted folks attended Future Harvest-CASA’s Cultivate the Chesapeake Foodshed Conference.  They were treated to workshops, speakers, panels, and peer-to-peer sessions – and happy hours, meals and coffee breaks to provide informal mingling while sampling the results of their labors, deliciously provided by many local producers.

The Lunch Crowd

The Lunch Crowd

Environmentally Appropriate Water Bottles

Environmentally Appropriate Water Bottles

Farmers Wanted Job Board

Farmers Wanted Job Board

Thursday Workshop

The Thursday workshop topics ranged from growing mushrooms to tractor repair.  I took the session on making ginger beer, because: ginger beer!  I’ve been making my own yogurt for several years as a result of a similar workshop, and found that making ginger beer is not so different.  It involves a ferment called a ginger bug, which can be reused from batch to batch and nourished with ginger, sugar and wild yeasts (alternatively, one can purchase a scoby online, a cultivated colony of yeasts and bacteria, like those used for kambucha).

We learned that naturally  brewed ginger beer, despite the name, contains very little alcohol.  This disappointed a few of the participants, but nobody left.  The samples passed around served to convince everyone that the endeavor could be deliciously rewarding.  The workshop leaders, Rachael Armistead and Luke Flessner of the Sweet Farm, are adding value to their farm’s products with ginger beer and other ferments. The workshop participants left with their own ginger bugs.  Mine is ensconced on my kitchen radiator, in anticipation of brewing a batch of beer.

Passing the Ginger Bug

Passing the Ginger Bug

Rachael and Luke Fill Bottles

Rachael and Luke Fill Bottles

We All Make Our Bugs

We All Make Our Bugs

The Bugs Rest on Our Chairs

The Bugs Rest on Our Chairs

Sampling Several Flavors of Ginger Beer

Sampling Several Flavors of Ginger Beer

Friday  and Saturday Programs

 Now, I have to admit that the sessions I attended skewed sharply towards end products and away from the process and business of farming, so if you are wondering about topics like vegetable crop production, meat and dairy issues, and business matters, you will have to look elsewhere.  I can report on the following:

In Growing Herbs for Tea, Henriette den Ouden of Habanera Farm described many factors specific to herb growing, such as the state and county regulations which differ from other crops (keep cats out of the garden! Make no medicinal claims!) and cultivation techniques (use no fertilizer; you’re not growing for appearance).  She also covered planning, processing and marketing of herbal teas and blends.

Henriette den Ouden, Herb Farmer

Henriette den Ouden, Herb Farmer

The opening general session speaker, Gabe Brown, gave such a persuasive argument for regenerative farming that I don’t know why his methods aren’t used everywhere by everybody, but then I’m not trying to make a living by farming.

Another session gathered three farmer-entrepreneurs to discuss value-added products. Rachael Armistead of Sweet Farm (from the ginger beer workshop), Molly Kroiz of George’s Mill Cheese, and Gilda Doganiero of Gilda’s Biscotti shared their experiences in developing and marketing products derived from farming.

Value-Added Panel

Value-Added Panel

When I walked into the afternoon’s session on lavender growing by Marie Mayor, of Lavender Fields at Warrington Manor, I knew I was in the right room by simply inhaling.  She produces a diverse array of soap, sachets and value-added merchandise, and supplements her income with special occasion rentals and running a well-stocked retail outlet, making her farm a destination for visitors.

Marie Mayor and Lavender Products

Marie Mayor and Lavender Products

The speaker at dinner was Michael Twitty.  He has been employed as Colonial Williamsburg’s first “Revolutionary in Residence;” also, he added, “a Black Jewish Queen.” I admired his dashiki.  Just back from Africa, where he continues to trace his roots, he claimed that all Southerners are connected “by genes, by soil, by food.”  He has traced his ancestry back to an indentured Irish woman and a black African man.  “Race is an illusion – food is reality.”  Amen.

Michael Twitty Signs Books

Michael Twitty Signs Books

On Saturday, at a session on raising native fruits and nuts, Dr. Gordon Johnson of the University of Delaware described efforts to domesticate, not only our familiar produce such as blueberries, cranberries, pecans, walnuts, and grapes, but relative exotics such as pawpaws, beach plums, and aronia berries.

Ira Wallace’s special session provided a real treat: a tutorial on garlic growing in all its wonderful variety.  Famous for her YouTube videos for Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Southern Foodways Alliance, Ms. Wallace proved just as knowledgeable in person, and the slides with arty pictures of garlic were true lagniappe.

Ira Wallace at the Garlic Session

Ira Wallace at the Garlic Session

Garlic Glamour Shot

Garlic Glamour Shot

And she proved just as fascinating in the next hour as the lunch speaker, on heirloom seeds and the history of seed saving.  Could we live without the Mortgage Lifter tomato, or the Cherokee Purple?  And the story of the lost Native American corn variety recovered from Europe, where it had been exported to make superior polenta, was priceless.

Extra Added Attractions

But there were many attractions in addition to the formal sessions.  Awards were given for the Farmers of the Year,

Farmers of the Year Awards

Farmers of the Year Awards

and a meeting of the participants in the Beginning Farmer Training Program (one of the more excellent ideas of the FH-CASA folks) was held.  There were 80 beginning farmers – the biggest cohort yet!

80 Beginning Farmers 80

80 Beginning Farmers 80

The hallway was filled with exhibitors, providers of products and services for farmers.  At first glance, I thought the Full Circle Mushroom Compost company was a mushroom retailer, but no, as I talked to Lisa van Houten, Marketing Strategist, she revealed that she sells mushroom compost, a soil amendment excellent for crops of all kinds.  (It was the box of growing mushrooms on her table that led me astray.)

Lisa van Houten Sells Mushroom Compost

Lisa van Houten Sells Mushroom Compost

But there was a mushroom supplier at the exhibition, and they had many varieties and growing methods on display.

Many Mushrooms at Sharondale Mushroom Farm

Many Mushrooms at Sharondale Mushroom Farm

Other visually interesting exhibits included a whole fillet of salmon encased in ice.  Josh Jensen, Kitchen Manager and Sales Representative for Wild for Salmon, supplies fish direct from Alaska to local kitchens.

Wild for Icy Salmon

Wild for Icy Salmon

The Purple Mountain folks, local (Takoma Park) purveyors of organic garden supplies, were interested in participating in Olney Farmers Market’s Garlic Festival, planned for September.  Which brings me to the other added attraction: the eating and schmoozing opportunities.

At dinner, I sat with Damian and Claudia Baccarella of Baccarella Farms, who specialize in guess what? (Yes, garlic, again!)  We may see them at OFAM in September, as well.

And at another meal, I met Brian Knox, who runs When Pigs Fly Farm (!), and is a specialist in invasive species remediation.  His “eco-goats” were hired to clear Congressional Cemetery of invasives a few years ago.  He has problems of his own on his farm, not least, eagles preying on his chickens.  This does not stop folks from coming for miles around to eat the eggs he supplies to Easton restaurants.

And About Those Meals

Many of the ingredients for the meals were supplied by the farmers present at the conference.  Signs at each station gave credit to the producers.

Lunch Menu

Lunch Salad Menu

Dinner Menu

Dinner Menu

Ice Cream Dessert Menu

Ice Cream Dessert Menu

And the buffet tables yielded up many treats.

Lunch Plate

Lunch Plate

Dinner Plate

Dinner Plate

Ice Cream Sundae Bar

Ice Cream Sundae Bar

Lunch Dessert Goodies

Lunch Dessert Goodies

There couldn’t be a better proof of our region’s many blessings, or the accomplishments of our farmers.  May they continue to produce everything delicious!

 

 

About Judy

I have been cooking and eating all my life. I help run the Olney Farmers and Artists Market in Olney, Maryland, arrange their weekly chef demos and blog from that website (olneyfarmersmarket.org) on Market matters. This personal blog is for all things foodie: cookbooks, products, restaurants, eating.
This entry was posted in Eating, Events, Reporting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *