A Report on Georgia Organics

posted March 29, 2009

This reflection comes from Greenhorns friend Anna Rose…

Dear all,

It’s been a week since I drove down I-20 and began my three day stint in Farmer Heaven, so I thought I’d give y’all an update. I’m writing this monster of a synopsis mostly for posterity, but for anyone who’d like to live in complete joy vicariously, read on. The last paragraph is less summary, more insight.

barn-shot

Last Thursday I drove out to Douglasville’s Love is Love farm. Love is Love, formerly the Glover Family Farm, is a model of extra-familial farm succession. Last year Skip and Cookie Glover passed their farm on to a young couple – Joe Reynolds and Judith Winfrey – with the promise to be around for support, but not to offer unwanted oversight. And so, several dozen young wannabe farmers, older farmers considering the fate of their land, and other organic farming enthusiasts gathered at the farm Thursday to listen to Judith and Joe, Skip and Cookie, farm succession planning expert Kathy Ruhf and documentary film maker Severine von Tscharner Fleming speak about challenges and possibilities in the field.

Not all of the information presented was entirely relevant to me – some of the details about lease agreements and Limited Liability Companies went right over my head. But the day was absolutely glorious. It was sunny and cool, and the whole thing was held outside by an old barn. Bill, who I know from the DHS Garden, and Scott, who I know from interning at Gaia, were there, which was nice. For the most part, though, I got to be quiet and observe people. Severine is one of my personal heroes (check out what she is doing here), and it was wonderful to see her in person. Other celebrities included Tom Stearns of High Mowing Seeds, who I listened to in conversation with others over a lunch of lovely sandwiches and sweet potato chips in compostable boxes. After lunch Skip and Joe led us on a tour of the farm, complete with very beautiful stories.

Somehow I managed to leave around 5:00, drawn home only by the prospect of cleaning up my room and loading my car for the tasks of the next day: hosting a farmer (Lisa, an intern at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange) at my house for the weekend, and guiding the sold out Georgia Organics Farm to School tour through the DHS Community Garden. Awoke early Friday morning to get to Agnes Scott in time to check into the conference and attend an in-depth workshop with urban farming pioneer Will Allen. Mr. Allen is a former professional basketball player who found his way into farming mid-career. His Milwaulkee nonprofit, Growing Power, works with urban youth on numerous projects. For one, they compost food waste from wholesalers on a very large scale to use for their projects and also to sell. I am terrifically inspired by this operation in particular, as well as their year-round salad greens-growing in hoophouses heated only by compost (in Milwaukee!). He also talked about their aquaponics systems, in which water cycles through watercress beds on shelves and freshwater fish in in-ground tanks below – a mutually beneficial setup.

Next I picked up yet another delicious lunch (this time hummus and olive sandwiches on lovely grainy bread, some sort of pasta salad, and the most delicious coleslaw I have ever tasted) and headed on to the DHS garden. Here I met Steven, Jessi, Austin, Bruce, Ms. Wade, and Ms. McKain-Fernandez to set up for the tour. We set out all manner of interesting paperwork on a card table behind the brush pile and hung pictures from a string, as well as a big welcome sign, along the fence. A little late, in came two buses with SO MANY people! We walked through the garden, and people seemed very engaged. Lots of pats on the back, as well as some valuable contact information exchanged. Notably, Farmer D (from whom we got our lovely compost), an RMA (USDA’s Risk Management Agency, a major funder of the conference) agent, and a Grady HS environmental science teacher looking to do more with the school garden there. Best of all, we got to show off the new water meter!! Then they headed off to see what’s happening at Emory, the Waldorf School, and Arbor Montessori.

I spent the rest of Friday reveling in the fact that everywhere I turned I found a wonderful person to talk with and get ideas and encouragement from – many of whom I knew from farmers markets, Gaia or Oakhurst or through friends, and many of whom knew me from the tour or from the article in the AJC. Lisa and I went contradancing in Morningside, where I met Tony and Linda Scharko of Fairburn’s Scharko Farms who invited me to come out and visit (they’re on the Marta line!), and spotted a number of other conference-goers.

Saturday morning came quite quickly, and Lisa and I hopped into the car un-breakfasted so as to take advantage of (mostly) locally-sourced grits, eggs, sausages, biscuits, muscadine jelly, honey, granola, milk, and of course fair-trade organic coffee. Whilst we feasted, Gorgia Organics held their annual meeting onstage under the central tent, and when that finished up, we headed on to sessions at 9:00. I chose “Creative Innovations for Managing Weeds in Organic Crop Production” from the “Farming: Advanced” track, taught by professor types from the USDA’a Agricultural Research Service. Main lesson taken: solarization (baking weed seeds under a cover of clear plastic for months at a time) could be a good option if nutsedge and crabgrass become problematic in areas we can wait on. Also, weed seeds die off at a rate of 50% per year! That is encouraging.

Next off to “Youth Leaders Speak out on Food” in the Farm to School track. Here, I met Bailey, an elementary school student who wrote to the USDA to encourage support for school gardens; Mitchell, 15, who grows heirloom pumpkins on his family’s north Georgia vineyard and is investigating biodiesel made from algae oil; Sally Mengel, who started a fair trade coffee cart at Emory; Paige Witherington, the farmer at Serenbe; Severine (mentioned earlier); and our moderator, Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA. We got situated, and then people started filling up the room. Estimating crowds is not my forte … but I’d say upwards of 30 people were there to listen. Everyone spoke well, I think, and so many good questions at the end! The whole thing will be on the Georgia Organics website (as will all of the sessions) soon, so I won’t go into detail.

Afterward, I got bombarded by all kinds of wonderful people – offering help, money, support … hurra! It rocks to be a celebrity! This would continue for the rest of the day – I got to talk with Severine (we’re going to be pen pals), Judith (from Thursday), Josh (who’s going to introduce me to a high schooler up in Massachusetts who’s doing really cool stuff), Cecilia (who rides by the garden every day on her way to the native plants nursery she manages down the road), a soil scientist, someone from the botanical garden, a woman from Sevananda … they just kept coming and coming! Also in the audience for the session were Kyla and Sally from Oakhurst, and Erin, Georgia Organics’ Farm to School Coordinator. Talk about love and support! It was glorious.

The rest of the day saw two more sessions: “Wildlife-Friendly Agriculture” (all about hedge rows and barn owls) and “Seedy Business” (practice and politics of seed saving), plus a bit of “Using Community Gardens to Grow Food Security,” where I got called out and got to tell people about the Google Group, then a bit of downtime in preparation for the evening’s festivities, all the while meeting wonderful people and having interesting conversations. As I awoke from my nap, I found myself sitting next to a woman who works for the Mendez Foundation (GO’s partner in F2S pilots in Atlanta) and Slow Food International, which needless to say was most excellent.

And before I get to dinner, I should mention the trade show. Ah. This is the reason my bedroom is now stocked with kelp and fish emulsion, my backpack with seed catalogues, and my folders with flyers about cover crops, pastured poultry, and a farm in Covington where they make beautiful soaps. Enough said.

Now dinner – oh my! My long time (over ten years) vegetarian self ate pickled shrimp, chicken liver, prosciutto, pulled pork, and beef brisket (in small doses, I admit), along with salad (various greens, pickled beets, fresh feta, buttermilk dressing, and sweet cucumber pickles) pureed butternut squash, turnips and greens, rolls with fresh honey, spoon bread, and pecan pie with hard sauce for desert. (See full menu with farmers and chefs here.) Aaaah … And all the while, wonderful people were speaking: Barbara Petit (president of the GO board of directors), Alice Rolls (GO executive director), Will Harris (I think – of White Oak Pastures Grass Fed Heritage Beef), and (most excitingly) Daniel Parson, formerly of Gaia Gardens, who received this year’s Land Stewardship Award. This felt very special, as Daniel is responsible for much of what I know (skill-wise) about growing things – I interned at Gaia a couple of years ago.

And finally, of course, was Michael Pollan, who naturally said many good things. His speech will be on the internet momentarily, I’m sure, so I won’t share details. I especially enjoyed the fact that a bunch of chefs and catering staffmembers sat down at the table behind me for the speech, as rapt as the official conferencegoers. They also got officially thanked by all of the eaters!

It was terribly hard to leave. Luckily I stretched the experience a little farther by driving to Harvest Farms in East Atlanta for the “After glow” hosted by the all new young people’s advisory to Georgia Organics: “Cultivate.” No underage drinking took place, I promise – too many interesting people to talk to! I talked to a farmer from Alabama about cover crops, some Agnes Scott students about why farming is relevant to everybody, Jonathan Tescher of the Morningside Market about farm field trip funding through Heiffer International, Farmer D about compost, Rachel Kaplan about bringing a group out to Gaia, Lady Rogue of the Rogue Apron about everything … It was superb. Then it was 2:00 in the morning, so I went home.

So ends the synopsis.

I come away from these three days with new ideas, new thoughts, some new skills, and a renewed spirit. I am humbled by the spectacular things others have accomplished and are still accomplishing. I am honored that people think so highly of the things I am accomplishing. I am encouraged to discover what good company is to be had in this world I inhabit. Mostly, I am ready for action! I will try not to be spoiled by 100% compostable meals and recyclable everything else, local foods at every meal and farmers everywhere (though I admit I keep doing double takes in public now … ). Instead, I will find more people to introduce to these beautiful phenomena: especially high school students, of all shapes and styles and colors. So that is my mission for this year – take people by the hands and bring them in. Share everything. Why horde it? The more I share, the more each day gets to feel as ecstatic as did the three over which I have just waxed poetic.

Thank you to all of you who helped make this all possible.

Be well,
-Anna Rose