By Emma Castleberry
The Organic Growers School (OGS) will host the 26th annual OGS Spring Conference the weekend of March 8-10. The three-day conference will offer more than 150 workshops in a variety of different tracks such as homesteading, earth skills, gardening, herbs and community food.
This year’s conference will be held at a new venue: Mars Hill University. In addition to free, easy parking and larger classroom sizes, this venue will allow for a more centralized, indoor location for exhibitors and registration and will also make the conference more affordable to host. “With lower venue fees, we are able to keep our prices for this conference extremely affordable,” says Lee Warren, executive director of OGS. “OGS is a nonprofit organization that grew out of the volunteer efforts of a group of farmers and extension specialists who, in 1993, gathered to discuss the need for region-specific crop growing information applicable for farmers in Western North Carolina. From this meeting, the OGS Spring Conference was born, along with a mission to deliver practical information about organic agriculture at a reasonable price.” The first OGS Spring Conference had just 100 participants and has grown exponentially since then. Since 2015, the conference has hosted more than 2,000 farmers, gardeners, educators, students, consumers and chefs from more than 18 states, as well as Canada.
The conference class schedule is created by a group of volunteer track leaders who are experts in their field. Chris Smith will be leading the Homesteading track. “Homesteading is a two-pronged project,” he says. “Most people are aware of the first prong, which is to build one’s homestead. We want sustainable systems for energy, water, food and shelter. However, the concept of home should expand beyond that piece of land we own or rent. Homesteading should include giving eggs to your neighbor, trading pawpaw seedlings for persimmons with a friend down the road, community gardens for those without land and potlucks for the community around you. Home is a fluid concept and I encourage everyone to expand their homes and invite more people in. That’s what I love about the OGS Spring Conference—it feels like home.”
Richard Freudenberger, energy and resource coordinator at Living Web Farms, will be leading the Sustainable Living track for this year’s conference. Freudenberger helped to develop the Mother Earth News Eco-Village, an early model for sustainability and ecological living that was based in WNC in the 1970s and 1980s. Since that time, he has been broadly involved in renewable energy and green building, publishing, teaching, and practicing on a local and national level. “OGS offers access to some of the most prominent people in their fields along with their input, knowledge and experience, all for the price of admission,” he says. “It’s rare that a local event can host such open accessibility to so many experts at such an affordable level, so it’s an opportunity that should definitely be taken advantage of.”
Meredith Leigh, who will be leading the Livestock track this year, calls the OGS Spring Conference a “positive, community-oriented and empowering event with something for everyone.” The Livestock track, like many tracks, will offer information for both entry-level participants and veterans. There are also several tracks geared towards more advanced participants. “OGS and conferences like it are all about people-powered, grassroots change, and on many levels,” says Leigh. “The conference doesn’t just explore new or better ways to grow food, but also explores social change and inclusiveness and economic considerations.”
New to the conference this year are four full-day, on-farm workshops available prior to the conference. These include Finding, Buying, & Loving the Land—Site Assessment & Land Design for Farmers, Homesteaders, and Land Seekers with Peter Bane; Year-Round Growing on the Farm & Garden with Pam Dawling and Ira Wallace; Integrated Animal Agriculture—Incorporating Livestock into Your Farm & Homestead with Meredith Leigh; and Water and Agriculture—Critical Consciousness for Healing the Planet with John and Jonathan Todd.
For more information about OGS or the Spring Conference, or to register, visit OrganicGrowersSchool.org.