Farming and gardening are either/or situations; you either have it burning in your belly or you don’t. At this very moment you are starting lettuce seed in small flats in your basement or you’re not.
In 1993, a group of 20 or so farmers and specialists were burning to further their cause and gathered in a meeting room at the Mountain Horticulture Crops Research & Extension Center in Fletcher. Their purpose was to discuss the growing need for a workshop open to all that would address topics relating to the nuts and bolts of farming sustainably and this workshop would be tailored for farmers and gardeners of Western North Carolina. Out of the volunteer efforts of these agriculturists came the Organic Growers School, a grassroots organization with a mission to deliver practical information about organic agriculture at a reasonable price.
The first Organic Growers School was held in 1994, attracting fewer than 100 participants. By 2006, the school grew to over 1000 participants, drawing farmers, gardeners, and educators from 14 states, and becoming the largest event of its type in the South. Incidentally, the rise in attendance coincides with the national organic industry’s annual growth rate of over 20 percent.
Among the 13 tracks being offered at this year’s OGS are Back by Popular Demand, Beginning Gardening, Nurturing Healthy Soils, New and Aspiring Farmers, Alternative Energy Options, Commercial Farmers, Pest Management, Livestock, Sustainable Forestry, Permaculture, Medicinal Herbs, Urban Growing, Sustainable Landscaping, and Cooking. Within each track there are four different sessions — something for everyone. And for lunch there’s always a healthy and delicious buffet offered for your dining pleasure at a mere $10; or you can brown bag it.
The OGS has come a long way in the last 14 years from those few folks who met in the fall to discuss next year’s program. It is now a 501(c) 3 tax-exempt organization, a result of the cooperation between representatives of North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina State University, Warren Wilson College, Blue Ridge Community College, Land of Sky Regional Council, and many WNC farmers and educators.
Because demand is so great, the Organic Growers School is now committed to developing additional curriculum and events for practical grower-to-grower education in the southern Appalachians. Consequently, the board is working to expand its programs beyond the Spring School in order to meet the increasing need for accessible knowledge on sustainable agriculture. The first thing off the list and onto the calendar is the first annual True Nature Country Fair, to be held Sept. 28-30, 2007, at Deerfields in Mills River. See www.organicgrowersschool.com for details.
The vision for OGS in the future includes:
• Classes and workshops in a variety of locations, tailored for specific audiences to be held several times a year.
• More on-farm sessions, including the Farmer-to-Farmer Mentoring Program.
• A Sustainable Agriculture curriculum available at local community colleges.
If you’re free this weekend and looking for something to do, you might sign up for a soil building class, learn all about permaculture, or simply shop at the garden and art exhibit. See you in the garden!