Organic Growers School: Spring Conference

Organic Growers School: Spring Conference

March 6-8, 2020 ❂ Mars Hill University

Organic Growers School (OGS) will host the 27th annual Spring Conference Friday, March 6, through Sunday, March 8, at Mars Hill University. The conference offers more than 150 regionally specific workshops divided into 17 tracks with topics including community food, gardening, livestock, earth skills, farming, permaculture and sustainable forestry.

“I’m really excited to see new faces at the Spring Conference,” says OGS conference & farmer programs coordinator Sera Deva. “My focus over the last few years as the curriculum coordinator was really to highlight new emerging movers and shakers in our community, and I feel that the schedule this year exemplifies that.”

New instructors include Mary Crowe, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee from the Qualla Boundary and the Southeast regional representative for the Indigenous Environmental Network. Crowe will teach Traditional Sustainable Foods of the Cherokee, leading participants in a discovery of foods historically gathered in the Great Smokies by the tribe. Tyson Sampson, also a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, will teach the cooking class Cherokee Staple Foods for the first time.

Long-time permaculturist Bradley Jones is new to the OGS Spring Conference this year as well. His workshop Perennial Vegetables, Free Food: Food Plants for a Disrupted Climate provides extensive knowledge of vegetables that live for years or decades with minimal care or attention; are largely drought, flood, and insect resistant; and propagate easily with no skill or materials.

Practical Skills for Food Storage will be taught for the first time by Ashleigh Hillen. Participants will learn a variety of storage methods including dehydrating and drying, canning, fermenting, freezing, root cellaring, storage of root crops in the ground and ongoing rotation for freshness. Other new instructors include Reiki master and shamanic practitioner Kelbi Morris, teaching Grief & Trauma Support with Plant Medicine, and Dr. Greg Stewart, leading All About Livestock Minerals.

“The schedule assembly is a team effort because we use track leaders to select topics and speakers,” says Deva. “They truly have their ear to the ground and are instrumental in bringing in new energy and exciting, cutting-edge ideas.”

OGS will also host special guests Leah Penniman, K. Rashid Nuri and Troy Hinke for the first time. Penniman is a Black Kreyol educator, farmer/peyizan, author, food justice activist and co-founder of Soul Fire Farm in Grafton, NY. On Friday, March 6, at 5:30 p.m., she will present the pre-conference lecture Farming While Black: African Diasporic Wisdom for Farming and Food Justice. Attendees will learn how to be part of the movement for food sovereignty and help build a food system based on justice, dignity and abundance for all members of the community.

“We are truly thrilled to bring Penniman to Asheville as she is marrying many of the things we love: justice, farming, women, land-rights, empowerment, liberation and community,” says OGS executive director Lee Warren. “This is a unique opportunity for us to come together to learn, engage and conspire for a better future.”

Nuri will teach the 90-minute workshop Growing Out Loud: The New American City. He draws on his extensive experience managing agricultural operations in the US and 35 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa to explore why the current paradigm of commercial agriculture is not sustainable. Participants will learn how small farms and urban agriculture can improve the future of the world’s food production, improve health outcomes and build strong communities.

In the all-day pre-conference workshop Healing Our Soils through Compost and Compost Tea: Safe & Natural Fertilizers, Hinke teaches students how to steward and regenerate the soil-food web through the use of amendments, compost and compost tea. He will also teach the 90-minute workshop Soil-Food Web, a condensed guide to promoting vigorous plants and sustainable profits through healthy soil.

Other Spring Conference activities include a Saturday Social, seed exchange and exhibits from more than 50 businesses, non-profit organizations and experts sharing knowledge and selling their wares.

“OGS is so grateful to be such an integral part of this incredible WNC community, now and for the last 27 years,” says Warren. “We hear all the time from participants that the Spring Conference is like being with extended family every year and that networking is one of the most important aspects of the annual event.”

For more information about OGS or the Spring Conference, or to register, visit

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