Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sustainable Farming and Life Plans.

What should one expect when attending a conference for organic and sustainable farmers? As one friend pointed out, a lot of sensible footwear.

Last weekend, I ventured to LaCrosse, Wisconsin for the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services (MOSES)'s Organic Farming Conference. A short drive away and with the biggest draw of organic farmers in the Midwest, this yearly event is a favorite of all the farmers and agricultural related people I know. Promising inspirational keynote speakers and two days full of delicious food and educational workshops - who could pass up such an event?

And so I found myself surrounded by hundreds of organic farmers - ranging from dairy to CSA, mixed operations to evangelical permaculture folk. It was fantastic.

To the get most out of MOSES, I talked to anyone and everyone I sat next to, stood in line with, or enjoyed a meal with. Doing such, I met a man from Illinois who told me that pigs are best for clearing pasture of any vegetation, I learned about a woman's draft horse operation and the difficulties that brought with hiring interns, and I met a couple with a fantastic orchard operation in Minnesota that I plan to visit this summer. I talked to various groups and organizations in the Exhibition hall, making connections and learning about the resources available in the Midwest. I took workshops on using animals with vegetable production, staring a CSA operation, ideas for integrating native plants onto farms, and evangelical permaculture. And then I partied with a bunch of farmers the best way we know how - drinking beer and dancing.

Learning what to do next from the Land Stewardship Project folks of Minnesota

All in all, a very successful conference.

Now you may be wondering why I would go to an organic farming conference. I'm not a farmer, though I know how to be one. And there weren't a lot of workshops or educational materials on combining education and agriculture, which is what I liked to do. But - I have hopes to one day become a farmer, and I was looking for inspiration and ideas on how to move my hopes forward.

Towards the end of last year, I realized that simply finding a job was not the settled end to adulthood I had imagined it would be. I still felt restless and unfulfilled, having discovered that my life had no forward direction besides employment. After discovering some truths about myself and my person, I  realized that not only was I a reasonable and respectable adult, but also perfectly capable of following ideas and dreams that work outside of a normal paycheck. I came to see that I could make a difference within communities in my own way, playing off of my strengths and passions. And so I developed the idea of owning B&B on a mixed operation farmstead. I plan to have a small orchard and vineyard, a flock of chickens, a kitchen garden, and a herd of Icelandic sheep for rotational grazing. These sheep have been bred to do well on pasture, are good mothers, smarter than average sheep, produce high quality wool and meat, and can be milked for cheese production. The plans are big and lofty and a long way off from being reachable, but one must start somewhere, and start small. And so I started with a conference, to get a good idea of where to take my next step.

And why a B&B? Why sheep, and all of these other things? Well, first - I'm a fantastic hostess, I love to bake, and I enjoy working with people - all perfect for running a B&B. I have a love for grapes and fruit trees, and having a small operation would allow me to indulge this passion. And sheep can be used to graze within my orchard, with the added bonus of producing products to sell - meat, wool, and cheese. It helps that I'm a knitter, and as most knitters go, I like fiber. And with a B&B, I can host educational workshops and various retreats - as well as educate anybody that comes to my farm about organic and sustainable farming, and why sustainability and local, small operations matter so much.

It's a big idea, and I don't know if that ultimate end goal will be achieved. But having an idea, having something to work for, and having a plan to help people connect with plants and agriculture in such an intimate way - it helps me move forward, pushes me to continue learning, and encourages me to work for things I believe in. And so this summer I plan to learn everything I can about sheep and sheep production. If all goes well, I may buy a few next year, rent some pasture, and begin my adventure forward.

Icelandic sheep with badass horns.
Crazy, right?