By Sera Deva
Organic Growers School (OGS), a 501c3 non-profit organization, grew from the volunteer efforts of farmers and extension specialists who gathered in 1993 to address the need for region-specific cultivation support for farmers in Western North Carolina. From this meeting sprouted the Spring Conference, with a mission to provide down-to-earth, practical advice on sustainable growing and living that is both affordable and accessible to anyone who wants to participate.
Since 1993, the event has grown exponentially. “The OGS Spring Conference is in its 24th year and is the largest grassroots sustainability event in the Southeast,” says Rod Bowling, OGS Conference director. “We value local wisdom, mountain-specific growing information as well as accessible, practical and hands-on education.”
This year, OGS will draw more than 2,000 gardeners, farmers and foodies to Asheville for a weekend of classes and workshops that will inspire participants to “get growing!” The main event will be held Saturday and Sunday, March 11–12, at UNC-Asheville’s campus and will offer more than 70 classes per day in the following themed tracks: Community Food; Cooking; Earth Skills; Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced Farming; Gardening; Herbs; Livestock; Mushrooms; Permaculture; Pollinators; Poultry; Soils; Sustainable Forestry and Sustainable Living. OGS will also offer full-day pre-conference workshops on Friday, March 10, at various locations in the area, as well as a trade show, seed exchange and children’s program on March 11 and 12.
“The 150-plus classes that happen over the course of the weekend are all created by track leaders who are volunteers, members of the community and experts in their respective fields,” says Nicole DelCogliano, Farmer track leader and owner of Green Toe Ground Farm. The content will support novice backyard growers and advanced commercial farmers alike.
The success of the Spring Conference has enabled OGS to expand into an organization that provides year-round support to farmers and hosts programs and events that help the community engage in our local WNC food system. “As an organization, our goal is to create regional, small-scale organic food systems made up of farmers, home growers and conscious eaters resulting in a thriving foodshed that exemplifies diversity, resiliency and community,” says Lee Warren, executive director of OGS. “We do this both in response and resistance to big agriculture and globalization—which results in reduced food and community resilience, increased world hunger and an over-reliance on industrial food systems—but also we do it because it’s a better life for all of us.”
Inspiration to become involved in our regional food system starts, for many, at the annual Spring Conference. “The conference is a gathering place,” says Warren, “a reminder of the richness of our community. The number one thing people come away with is an immersion in the human web—much like the soil web—of like-minded folks. To be connected—as allies for land stewardship, sustainable food systems and local farming—goes a long way toward creating an infusion of delight.”
Registration for the full Spring Conference weekend is only $129. A complete schedule can be viewed on the OGS website at organicgrowersschool.org/annual-spring-conference.