Much to learn at Organic Farming Conference

By Josh Yoder
The Budget

Inside the event center at the Mt. Hope Auction, the fourth-annual Organic Farming Conference corralled visitors from six nearby states to give farmers a crash course on sustaining and advancing the organic farming industry, as well as provide a market for local vendors to reveal the faces and names behind their products last Thursday and Friday, November 8-9.

“The Mullets really have done a nice job putting together a tremendous facility,” said Larry Habrun from Habrun’s Insurance. “The events here are always organized well, and it makes for an enjoyable couple of days.”

According to Organic Valley’s Mike Kline, today’s organic farming industry is seeing its growth ebb and flow. Organic dairy is not growing much these days, but the grass-fed dairy and beef market are growing, so the agenda for this year’s conference heavily featured grass-fed wisdom from all directions. Following a welcome from Mike’s father, a local farmer and author David Kline, keynote speaker Gary Zimmer kicked the conference off with a look beneath the soil to give the attendees an understanding of how working with biological systems can grow better, healthier crops while making farming sustainable “for the long haul.”

A variety of lectures, demonstrations, and panels were also held to provide conference goers with every opportunity to soak up knowledge of first-hand experiences from farmers who’ve found a way to make a living on a farm, which is getting harder to do. Thursday, conference goers heard from Cheyenne Christianson from Grazing Acres Farm; David Bontrager presented on the Cleveland Bay Horse; Betty Raber and Ann Miller demonstrated how to make homemade crackers and rag quilts; Myron Martin, Brent Beidler, Cheyenne Christianson, and Aaron Hershberger spoke on a panel in regards to grass-fed dairy; Raymond Yoder, Jr., John Miller, Jr., David Raber, and Aaron Weaver shared on overcoming challenges through experience in organic vegetable growing; Wilma Yoder gave a demonstration on soap making, while Verba Graber and Emily Hershberger gave a table-setting demonstration.

“We want to get the farm to be more diverse,” Kline said. “We’re kind of returning to the agriculture of the 1960s and ‘70s; we want to give people the opportunity to try including something else to help so they can make a living on the farm.”

Thursday also got a deeper dig into soils from Gary Zimmer, a bee panel from Sam Miller, Nelson Zimmerman, Micah Hostetler, Emanuel Troyer, and Frederick Miller. Friday, Brent and Regina Beidler defined the “organic difference” in their keynote speech; Cheyenne Christianson returned for more on grass-fed; David Bontrager, Jr. Wengerd and Nelson Wenger formed a panel on raising organic row crops; Jesse and Leah Smith shed light on child-friendly sales opportunities on the farm; Sam Dobson lectured on organic grass fed beef; Aaron Weaver shared about organic fruit options; Mary Yoder demonstrated cheese making, while Anna Miller and Emma Hostetler demonstrated how to make gentle baby care products.

With all the action going on, bodies were hustling and bustling their way across the event center, which created a perfect opportunity for the conference to showcase local vendors.

“One of our goals is education,” said Ann Brandt from Walnut Creek Seeds in Carroll. “We’re trying to change land management practices. So this gives us exposure, as well as a broader view of potential market areas. We want to see what our customers see and know what they’re working with.”

Taking the practices and information available at the event to the next level is left to the discretion of attendees. However, without action, the oasis of information could be dried up by the end of the weekend.

To close the conference, Gary Zimmer took the microphone one last time to call farmers to action: challenging them to take what they’d learned to the forefront of their practices. The difference they make will not only impact their farms, their families and their communities but also the world around them one change at a time.