Virginia Association for Biological Farming Conference 2014 – Day 2

I wasn’t quite ready to wake up this morning when my alarm went off, but I decided I’d better get a move on so I didn’t miss out on the conference events. It turns out that was a good plan. I packed up my stuff and checked out of my room, then went to get breakfast. I don’t think I was the only one who slept as long as possible before getting food; it was really busy. The crazy thing about the conference, though, was that everyone that was working for the hotel that I interacted with was really friendly. Not just the “oh, I’m working here, so I have to paste on a smile” kind of thing. I think I’ll write more about some of the cool little things that happened another day, though.

The first session was pretty interesting. Ben Coleman from Mountain Run Farm talked about how managing a herd of cattle on a piece of land can be good for it, rather than harmful. He suggested that it was more about the way the land was managed than the fact that there were cattle (or other animals) that made the land improve or deteriorate. He also had some interesting comments about the parts of the body that might be a good reflection of animal health or good genes. They were things that I would want to do a little research on before I trusted them, but he seemed to think the indicators he was talking about were working for him. He also provided a list of resources he’s used, which seems like it will be really nice for anyone interested in the topics he’s been learning about.

The second session was more frustrating. The first talk I sat in on was interesting in that he started with a song full of food puns. In a room full of people who are interested in learning and talking about food, it was obviously a hit. But the rest of the presentation didn’t really work for me…it was too applied for the (lack of) experience I have, I think. So I moved on. The second presentation I went to was a little too close to mainstream/conventional production that I listened with one ear and took care of some other things (like talking to Tony) with the rest of my brain. I know that’s a very mixed metaphor, but you get the point, I hope.

After the second session, we took a break for lunch. Lunch was full of interesting food, some of which I couldn’t identify. But overall, the food that was provided was much better than I was expecting and much better than most hotel convention food. As it turns out, the people in charge of the conference make the food that is served a condition of the conference being held in a place. While the lady who was talking about the selection process didn’t go into detail, I presume that the criteria include fairly local (within Virginia is my guess) and organic (or something relatively close).

The final session was after lunch. I made another bad choice and went to a panel on women in agriculture. I thought it was going to be like, “These are the kinds of things that people assume women in farming can’t or won’t do. Here’s how I did them.” Instead, the first presenter said, “I have a kid and it’s been great to raise a kid on a farm and take them to the market.” That’s great, I guess, if that’s what you’re looking for, but that wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I moved on to a presentation called Simple Farm Structures. I was expecting some stuff about cold frames and/or low tunnels, but these simple structures were much larger. Since I missed the first part of the talk, I don’t know what the official definition of simple was in this case, but he was talking about moving a high tunnel (a greenhouse without heat in this case…I don’t remember the status of the end walls originally) and ways to make these kinds of buildings successful. It was pretty interesting, although changing my expectations made it a little more difficult to settle into a learning mindset.

I had mixed feelings about the conference overall. I thought some of the sessions were really interesting. The food was good and the people I met were pretty cool (there were so many people though). It was really nice to be “forced” at meals to meet people who aren’t that far away from me who are interested in some of the same things I am. On the other hand, that place was such an echo chamber (“ideas […] amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an ‘enclosed’ system”) it was crazy. One thing that I thought was missing that would make the conference really stand out for me was some scientific information, rather than simply anecdotal evidence. I mean, anecdotal evidence is great and has a place (one of my favorite presentations was a guy just talking about how he does his food truck). But I also feel like a conference of that sort that wants to be taken seriously really needs to have some science that is accessible by laypeople (there was some funky stuff that I had a really hard time accepting because it was so far from my experience of reality and any kind of scientific support).

Will I go back next year? We’ll have to see what this year brings in terms of experiences and other learning opportunities, I think.

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