“This room is no longer well-quaffed,” said Matthew Raiford, to a room filled with 1,000 farmers and growers, mostly from Georgia.
“Ten years ago, this room would be filled with skinny jeans and everybody was wearing locks,” he said. “Farming was sexy.”
Indeed, 10 years can make a face look like a roadmap.* They can make a back curl up into a letter C. They can make shoulders, hips, knees and elbows less gracious. And they can chase a lot of hipsters into the welcome regimen of working life in a cubicle.
That’s why a conference like this is good for the soul. You see old friends you haven’t caught up with, or you meet new ones around a round table at breakfast. You come back with a notebook full of ideas you want to implement, and names and phone numbers of people who will be happy to give you a half an hour of advice from how they made it happen.
So that’s really all I’ll say about the conference, which celebrated its 20th year this go-round. Hopefully your state has something similar. And in our experience, the event had been every bit as welcoming to small-scale, backyard homesteaders like us as it is to the multi-acre businesses.
Here are some of the best quotes and thoughts of experts who led sessions I attended:
“We’re replacing tire rows with footpaths.” — Lee McBride, an arborist and landscape consultant, on the concept of small-plot intensive (or SPIN) farming, which can be used to turn backyard lots and urban spaces into successful commercial farms.
“I don’t mind being tired, and I don’t mind being poor, but I do not like being tired and poor.” — McBride again.
“I don’t mind being tired, and I don’t mind being poor, but I do not like being tired and poor.”
— Lee McBride
“‘Sustainable,’ in SPIN terms, is not burning out and still producing 3-4 years from now.” — McBride.
“Share your eggs with your neighbors.” — livestock grower Debbie Fraker on how to appease neighbors wary of urban chickens.
“Move food and water daily to get them to move. They are lazy. I have to move their food and water daily to get them to move around. Otherwise, they’ll lay in feces and filth, they contract fungus, and you can’t sell the feet.” — livestock grower Lovey Gilliam, also regarding chickens.
“The most important thing you can do to another farmer is steal.” — Cory Mosser, of farm consultancy Natural Born Tillers. He was speaking about ideas, not product.
“When you wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning and think, ‘I should go check on that,’ you should go check on that.” — Mosser, relating an incident where he found his hoop house collapsed under a heavy blanket of overnight snowfall.
“GAP is not rocket science. Keep poop out of your food, then write it down.” — Mosser, on the USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices audits.
“You can fill your belly with plums at his farm and he won’t charge you a dime, but if you leave with something, you’ve got to pay for it.” — Mosser describing a middle Georgia farmer’s unique orchard policy.
“We don’t have a production problem. We have a marketing problem. Half of produce is thrown away, and we could grow so much more fruits and vegetables.” — Mosser on farmers’ failings to properly market and sell their crops.
“My tombstone will read, ‘He was an OK farmer, but he sure could tie things up.'” — Grower Alex Hitt in a session on trellising for better crops.
* To borrow a phrase from the Drive-by Truckers’ Mike Cooley. (The song is “One of These Days,” from their phenomenal second record, “Pizza Deliverance,” if you’re keeping score.)