Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference 2014 – Day 1

Today was the first day of the VABF Conference. Toni (my boss) and Betsy (my teacher) convinced me that it would be worth my time, since I’m interested in starting my own farm.

The first session was a little disappointing, to be perfectly honest. It was a discussion about what a food hub can offer farmers. I guess I’m just not at the point that I want to consider selling product to a food hub and that was why I had difficulty feeling like it’d be worthwhile. I don’t really know. There were a lot of statistics and talk about what food hubs and huge co-ops/CSAs were doing, but it didn’t really feel applicable to me, I guess.

The second session was a plenary session (everyone attended the same thing). Ray Archuleta from the NRCS was talking about soil health and how, instead of applying all kinds of manufactured things to improve the soil, we should go back to doing things the way they’ve always been done (keep the soil covered; don’t disturb the soil, but let cover crops and decomposition improve the soil; etc). It was an interesting talk, but it had two very different feels to it. At the beginning, it felt overly scientific and there were parts that I feel like a degree in soils would be really helpful in understanding everything. On the other hand, it felt overly simplistic and hand-wavy: “If you do this, magic will happen.” I’m not really sure what my conclusion on that talk is, but it looks like you can get to all kinds of information from him, so I may go back to try to listen or read again.

The third session was really interesting though. Renard Turner from Vanguard Ranch was talking about raising meat goats. He was mostly talking from personal, practical experience about raising goats for meat. While I felt like there could have been more specifics, he had energy (which I needed at 3:30 in the afternoon after not having had much to eat all day) and accessible information. I really enjoyed the presentation and feel like I learned some things I’d be interested to try and some things that, while I won’t try them, are making my brain think.

After the third session, we finally had time for a break. We were fortunate enough to have enough points for me to get a room at the hotel that is hosting the conference. It was amazingly nice to get to the room and just chill. I was completely overwhelmed. The break gave me a chance to recover. I was able to enjoy dinner and go to the final presentation of the night a little less exhausted than I was in the early afternoon.

The last presentation was just weird. There were things that I liked about it – a system that works together to support itself. Overall, though, I felt like went off the deep end and stayed there. But people seemed to like it, so maybe I was just too tired to appreciate it or something. I don’t know.

After dinner, we had drinks (I’m boring and had milk) and I hung out with Toni and one of her friends until they left. I have to say, I’m really appreciating that I didn’t have to go more than five flights up the stairs tonight. I’m wiped out.

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Second Snowy Hike of 2014

On Friday, we went to DC to see Dvořák’s New World Symphony with Tony’s family. On Saturday, we took David for a hike in the northern part of Shenandoah National Park. The road was still closed, but the ranger told us about a place we could park the car and hike.

It started out pretty – sunny, but cold. The snow up in that part of the park is a lot deeper than down at our end (not really surprising, but it did make me envious). It was a 1.8-1.9 mile hike to the top and the snow definitely made it feel longer. According to Summit Post, we went up over 1000 feet, so that might have had something to do with how hungry and tired we were by the time we got back to the car.

At the top, the wind was pretty high and it was quite cold. On the way up, we got really warm and shed lots of layers, but at the top, I was covering my skin (yes, that’s me beside David).

This is where we pulled into the park and were directed to the parking area in the bottom left corner.

For the rest of the pictures from this hike, click here.

Second Snowy Drive of January 2014

It snowed last Tuesday and I complained to Jean that we didn’t get as much as the weatherman “promised.” She pointed out that I should be thankful that we got any snow at all and I realized she was right. So, on Tuesday, I took the camera and went for a walk. Unfortunately, snow doesn’t photograph all that well (it doesn’t exactly have a lot of contrast…).

Wednesday, I talked Dad into going for a drive with me (Tony and I had planned to go back up to the mountains on Wednesday to hike with our friends, but really cold weather came along with the snow, so we decided to wait until it was a little warmer). We drove over to the valley and enjoyed some back roads. We kept crossing this river, but we couldn’t find a good place to stop. Either there were “No Trespassing” signs plastered all over the place or the road was too busy to just pull off. We finally found this little bridge and pulled off. (I have to say, that house seems like it would have some amazing views!)

After the photographing stop, we came to the end of the road and were met with this view. It was an awesome way to end the searching part of our trip.

First Snow Hike of January 2014

The weather up in the mountains sometimes surprises us with how different it is than the weather at home. On the 17th, we went for a hike, not expecting the cold weather, higher winds, and snow we found (we realized we hadn’t been to the mountains since September at the very latest).

When we got up to the entrance, we were surprised to find that only the central portion of Skyline Drive was open (it hadn’t snowed down in Charlottesville…or even rained recently). It turned out to be a really pretty drive. That plus the cold kept us in the car longer than we usually like (we’re usually in a hurry to get out and hike).

We did get to see some really cool stuff, like this cliff covered in ice. It was also nice that we were one of only a few cars on the road and we didn’t meet anyone on our hike (there were no parking lots that we passed that had more than two cars and most were empty).

The wildlife sightings were pretty incredible for this trip also. We actually did get out and hike and on the hike, we got some pretty close views of a couple of deer. There was also a bobcat as we were heading out that climbed up the cliff (there’s a picture of him in the album, but he’s kind of hard to see, so I didn’t include him here). On the way into the park, I got a quick view of an owl. I thought at first that it was a hawk, but quickly realized it was the wrong shape. If I’d recognized it sooner, I might have been able to stop in time for Tony to get to see it.

Moral of the story? Go to Shenandoah National Park after it snows. Especially since the roads have all been closed since then (though you are allowed to access the trails).

For more pictures (including the bobcat), click here.