Saturday, July 18, 2009

Time For a Field Day!

When the latest issue of Farming Magazine came out, I spotted a notice for an upcoming "Family Farm Field Day" that was taking place practically down the road from here.

Granted, Mount Hope is about 20 minutes away, nestled into the rolling hills and fields of Amish country, but it sounded like a worthwhile program of events for the day, including a keynote speech by Joel Salatin (the feisty farmer featured in The Omnivore's Dilemma). How could I pass up such an opportunity to learn more about farming?

I managed to persuade the Farmgirl Wannabe, one of my favorite partners in local foods "crime," that she might enjoy the day, too. Since she has one of Salatin's books and has cited it as an influence on her desire to farm, she readily agreed.

So we met up at the Hungarian pastry shop this morning after I'd had my wander around the farmers' market, and, along with her parents, we headed out to the tranquil scenery of Amish country.

Despite knowing that the event would be held on an Amish farm, we were pleasantly surprised to find that not only had many "English" driven in with their noisy internal combustion engine vehicles, but one of the pastures was packed full of buggies, horses, and bicycles. This would certainly be an educational cross-cultural event!

The back pasture, dotted with several enormous tent canopies, provided the focal point for the day's activity, with tents set up for talks and demonstrations on homemaking topics, farmstead planning and ideas, natural resources, and keynote speeches.

And let's not forget the food! One large tent sheltered the main dishes (hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, salads, drinks, noodles), and elsewhere around the field one could find freshly baked soft pretzels, fresh kettle corn (made over an open fire), and freshly churned homemade ice cream. Aside from the pretzels and kettle corn, all of the food was provided for donations only, with the money earmarked to be divided among the area's Amish schools.

We wandered around, listening to portions of programs on how to make money on a small farm, how to make yogurt, how to garden into the fall (and winter), and thoughts on different approaches to raising sheep (featuring one of our Local Roots steering committee members). We also explored the vendor tents and found resources for plastic sorting bins for the market, orchard stock (ideas for the Farm?), local seed sources, solar and wind systems for homesteads, and much more.

In between all of the listening and learning, we also had opportunities to talk to others about Local Roots, sharing brochures and the producer packets that the Farmgirl Wannabe had put together for the occasion. It never ceases to thrill me when we find other people getting enthusiastic about what we're doing!

Joel Salatin spoke three times during the day, but the only one I managed to hear in its entirety was his noontime keynote. (I had heard part of the tail end of his morning talk on making a small farm profitable and the end of his afternoon musings on what lies ahead in agriculture.)

If you've read Salatin's books or heard much about him, you probably know that he is something of a contrary, libertarian, outspoken rebel. He has a strong conservative streak, a definite amused disdain for bureaucracy, and very decided opinions about farming. But his fire-breathing, finger-wagging, joke-cracking, hell-raising, adjective-laden (just like this) rhetoric has a solid grounding in common sense and decades of experience. So while I might not agree with every position he holds, I do listen to what he has to say.

His keynote speech focused on what dedicated small farmers could bring to American culture (and, presumably, how they could save said culture if they stood up for their ideals). Among the things Salatin believes farmers have in their favor are humility, a renewed emphasis on the domestic economy, the willingness to work in "relationally-oriented" ways, transparency, the nutrient-dense food they raise, and the forgiveness and redemption that brings health (of all kinds) back to society.

With ideas like that, he draws on the tradition of Wendell Berry, emphasizing the good things people learn when they learn how to work with nature in order to provide what is useful to their families and their communities. But Salatin talks about these things with the salty sass of a revivalist preacher, drawing laughs from the largely Amish crowd over descriptions of the USDA as the "U. S. Duh" and the contrary observation that instead of implanting RFID chips in animals (as proposed by NAIS), they should be implanted in politicians.

Beyond the needling, though, he provided several sensible ideas that had me nodding my head:

--He noted that we should teach children how to garden in order to teach them humility and to show them that the world does not revolve around them; "Frost happens!" and many other uncontrollable factors challenge our so-called dominion over nature.

--He challenged small farmers to be widely-read, thinking, and articulate advocates for their way of life, to prove that farmers are not dumb and unable to do anything else.

--He encouraged the spread of cooking and canning classes to restore that knowledge base to more homes. (I thought so highly of that idea that I nearly stood and flashed him with my "Yes. We Can" t-shirt, worn in honor of the event.)

--He exhorted farmers to find ways to tap into new markets because "the market is coming to us" with the increased attention foodies have given to local foods. (The Farmgirl Wannabe had caught him earlier to tell him about Local Roots, and his enthusiastic response to her conversation may well have been in his mind when he mentioned this.)

Overall, the day filled us with renewed enthusiasm for what we're doing and gave us some new ideas to follow. Perhaps next year we can even show up at the event as vendors and spread our message even further.

And while we were exhausted by the time we returned (it was a very full day!), we all knew we wouldn't have missed this Field Day for anything.

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At 7/20/2009 12:19 PM, Anonymous Janet said...

We all need inspiration now and then. Thanks for the report!

At 7/20/2009 1:00 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Sure thing, Janet!

At 7/20/2009 4:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, wow! That sounds great! (And I'm so glad you wore your shirt! I wore mine to the local breakfast and around town last week, and got lots of comments.)

At 7/21/2009 6:55 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I didn't get a whole lot of comments, Emily, as I had another shirt on top all day (it was a little cool out, and threatening to rain), but it seemed a good place to wear it anyway. Most people do enjoy it when I wear it!

At 7/21/2009 1:18 PM, Blogger Green Bean said...

Make an amazing event! How lucky that you were able to go.

At 7/21/2009 1:24 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I'm hoping we'll go again next year, too, Green Bean. Maybe next year we'll have our Local Roots t-shirts, round up more producer members, and really get into the local food systems groove. If anything, we'll just learn more!


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