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I recently attended the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Sustainable Agriculture Conference in North Carolina. It was an outstanding three-day conference, which included workshops, delicious local food, farm and food policy discussions, a seed exchange, and tons of exhibitors. While the conference was focused primarily on sustainable agriculture in North and South Carolina, I think that much of the information would be useful to food producers and sustainable agriculture enthusiasts across the country.
There was also a nice mix of topics discussed, which I thought would be helpful not only for farmers of all scales but also for homesteaders, food and farm policy advocates, chefs, educators, and others.
Clara Coleman (organic farmer, writer, and the daughter of Eliot Coleman) delivered the keynote address ‘Building Sustainable Farming Legacies’ as well as a presentation about ‘Maximizing Productivity with Four-Season Farming’. Unfortunately, the slides aren’t available for her second presentation but her website as well as Eliot Coleman’s books such as The New Organic Grower, Four-Season Harvest, and The Winter Harvest Handbook provide guidance on their growing methods.
You can access many of the presentation slides and handouts here. Just a few of the presentations, which I thought would be particularly interesting for homesteaders and small-scale farmers, included:
- Sustainable Farming Practices for New Growers
- New Farmers: Tools and Resources for Getting Started
- Sweet Potatoes from Start to Finish
- Preserving the Harvest through Fermentation
- Growing Organic Field and Forest Medicinal Herbs as a Business
- Carpentry Tools and Techniques for Non-Carpenters
- Raising Ducks…Pasture, Eggs, and Dinner
- Increasing Your Farm’s Diversity with Cut Flowers – Monetarily and Biologically (including a Cut Flower Resource List and information about Stages of Development for Harvest of Cut Flowers)
- Vermicomposting to Boost Your Income and Production
Of course I wished that I could attend every presentation, but I had to pick and choose. Among those I attended, one of the topics I really enjoyed learning about was:
Food Innovation Districts: Developing a Regional Food System
In this presentation, I learned that a ‘regional food system’ refers to place-specific clusters of agricultural producers of all kinds. While ‘local’ typically refers to food traveling less than 100 miles, ‘regional’ refers to food traveling less than 250 miles. A ‘food innovation district’ brings together economic, physical, and networking assets to create a regional food innovation ecosystem. This often includes markets, food business incubators, and storage, packaging, and distribution facilities. There are also opportunities for growers and producers to aggregate their products (such as through a food hub), share information, and partner on events and marketing/promotion.
The speaker, Lynn Caldwell, described her work to develop a Food Innovation District in Charlotte, North Carolina. She also gave two other examples of Food Innovation Districts: West Louisville FoodPort (unfortunately this project was discontinued in August 2016) and Detroit Kitchen Connect. A leader in this area, Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems offers resources about developing Food Innovation Districts, which you can use in your own community. One of these resources is their ‘Food Innovation District: An Economic Gardening Tool’ guide. While the focus seems to be on developing Food Innovation Districts in urban environments, I think there’s certainly opportunity and benefits that would result from engaging farmers and food producers from rural areas in these exciting projects.
I’ll talk about another one of my favorite presentations ‘Unusual Vegetables from Mountains to Sea’ in another post coming up soon!
Janie Hynson is an aspiring homesteader in North Carolina. She recently moved back to her hometown after living in Boston for six years and then traveling across the U.S. working on organic farms. Janie works in public health and sustainable agriculture and is interested in how health can be improved through homesteading.