Saturday, March 10, 2007

The OEFFA Conference

Last weekend, my family and I attended the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association's annual conference. Below is a report on our experiences.

Overall Impressions

OEFFA (pronounced oh-fah) has been putting on this conference for 28 years, and it shows. The organizers really have their act together: Creative childcare - free if you volunteer some of your time to help out; Member-provided local and organic meals - with fully compostable plates and utensils; A "Kids' Conference" for older kids - they built bird shelters and sold them to members to raise funds to pay for next year's kids' conference; Lunch tables organized by geography the first day (so you can find people near you), and organized by topic the second day (so you can find like-minded people); Audio recordings available for purchase of every single workshop, since there were generally nine different workshops at any given time, so you could never attend everything you might be interested in... I could go on, but in any case, my hat's off to the people who put the conference together.

Keynote Speaker #1: Sally Fallon

Sally Fallon is the author of Nourishing Traditions and the founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation. I will admit that I'm not a big Sally Fallon fan. She goes a bit far with her claims sometimes, and can come off more like an old-time snake oil salesman. My family drinks raw milk when we have it available, so I'm okay with the concept. But when you imply that raw milk makes kids smarter and better looking and more creative and more artistic, and that it cures asthma and cancer and autism and ... well, let's just say I have reasons to be skeptical. I also agree with her that modern nutrition science has a pretty mediocre success rate on telling us what's good for us and what's not, but again, I don't believe that following her advice will virtually eliminate the need for health care, as she implies. (And the anti-soy thing seems pretty far out there, but we'll just leave that aside for now.)

That said, she did have a lot of good ideas and messages. Her key point was that farms can be much more profitable by selling value-added products - i.e. yogurt instead of milk, apple cider instead of apples, prosciutto instead of ham, etc. The idea is that the increased value more than outweighs the work involved, and that high quality, local specialties can increase demand even further. This would help farmers a lot more than what she referred to as the "plantation model," where power and profit are centralized, and regulations begin to favor centralization, at the expense of individual farmers.

Keynote Speaker #2: Mark Shepard

Mark Shepard is a permaculture expert from Midwest Permaculture, whose 100-acre New Forest Farm embodies many permaculture principles. He gave two workshops as well as a keynote speech to close out the conference. I wish I'd been able to attend the first of his workshops, because the second one and the speech were both fantastic. He can rattle off so many ideas and concepts in such a short space of time, I was glad I went into it with some previous knowledge of permaculture.

[There was so much fascinating information, in fact, that I've decided to spin this section off into a separate article.]


Maximizing Pasture: Management Principles

This presentation was made by Extension educator Rory Lewandowski, with assistance from author Gene Logsdon (Contrary Farmer, All Flesh is Grass). Rory led the discussion, with lots of great advice on rotational grazing, and how to get the most out of your pasture. Gene chimed in from time to time, and true to his writing, he was occasionally contrary - but in a good-natured way, with some hint of mischeif in his eyes. The dynamic was that of a bright young talent being checked by decades of old-fashioned farm wisdom. We learned a lot from both of them, and we'll be making adjustments in our pastures accordingly.

Gene Logsdon was very approachable, and just as amiable and intelligent in person as he seems in his writing. I asked him if it felt good that the Extension services are now advocating the things he's been writing about for years, and he agreed that it was a good thing. Then again, he said he learns so much from experience every year even now, that he gets embarrased by some of his older writings. (I did lobby for him to republish, or revise his old "Small Scale Grain Raising" book. He said it had been discussed, but that his publisher figured that an audience of about 500 people probably wasn't enough to justify it...) Gene was surprised to learn that you could download "Small Scale Grain Raising" for free. "Hey, that's illegal, you know!" he said with a grin on his face. (Oops!) But after discussing it, and telling him where we got it ("Oh right, those guys"), he concluded that either his copyright had lapsed or he didn't have a royalty contract on it. He seemed a bit amused by the whole thing. He asked me some questions about our goats, asked me if we'd tasted the meat - not yet - to which he responded, "I haven't met anyone yet who has!"

Forage and Pasture Species and Their Use in Organic and Sustainable Farming

My wife attended this two-part workshop, put on by Earnest Weaver, a dairy and forage specialist. This workshop gave us even more ideas for improving our grazing areas. They covered the different feed properties of orchardgrass, fescues, ryegrasses, clovers, timothy, alfalfa, lespedeza... I'll spare you the details because you'd probably get bored, but for us, it was very valuable indeed.

Building a Solar Oven

Annie and Jay Warmke of Blue Rock Station Sustainable Living Center gave a presentation on making and using solar ovens. While Annie discussed her experiences cooking with various home-made ovens, Jay built one out of a Bud Light box, a pizza box, some duct tape, some aluminum foil, a clear sheet of plastic, some newspaper, and a coat hanger. They said that the cheap cardboard version works just as well as some of the commercial versions.

The advantages of solar cooking are that it doesn't use any fuel, and that it's nearly impossible to burn anything. You put the food in early in the day, and walk away. When you're ready for dinner, the food will be cooked. Annie told us that she's baked bread, cooked caseroles, cooked vegetables, canned tomatoes, and a wide range of other cuisines. She recommended against most meat cooking, other than small pieces, or in reheating.

Solar and Wind Electricity (Hands-On)

This workshop was put on by Tom Rapini and his son Ryan. They gave an overview of solar and wind power systems, with some examples of large and small systems, grid-tied and off-grid systems, solar water heating, AC vs. DC, rated power vs. peak power on appliances, the different types of sine wave inverters, and a variety of other related topics. They showed us how to create a simple circuit with a battery to light a lightbulb. Then replacing the battery with a solar cell. He explained the difference between parallel and serial connections (higher voltage vs. higher current). From there, we built a small solar battery charger to charge the batteries we'd used earlier in the workshop.

Designing Your "Nourishing Traditions" Farm

This actually had very little direct connection to the book "Nourishing Traditions" or author Sally Fallon. Mark Shepard was the presenter, and he certainly discussed the idea of value added products and producing on-farm income, but there were few if any tie-ins to the book. That wasn't a problem to me. This was an excellent workshop. The contents of it have been included in a separate post on Mark Shepard.

Organic Grain Production in Ohio: From Seed to Feed

John Easterly and Doug David of Gerber & Sons presented information on small-scale organic grain farming. Even small scale was way too large for us, but we still learned a bit about what's out there, who's doing it and how.


Of all the sessions we went to, there was only one dud, and I won't bother discussing it here. Both keynote speakers had some great ideas. The lunch arrangements were fantastic. The child care was a huge help, and even the vendors were pretty much all relevent and interesting. There were booksellers, a hatchery (with baby chicks and ducklings - a big hit with the kids), an organic feed vendor, an Organic Valley booth, vermiculture, permaculture, agroforestry, book signings by Sally Fallon and Gene Logsdon (we were unsuccessful in our attempt to pilfer the only copy of Gene's yet-to-be-released novel), walk-behind tractors and their myriad of implements... only one or two vendors seemed out of place, and maybe only in my eyes. The speakers were usually available for questions long after the workshops were done. And recordings of every session were available at the end of the conference, or can be ordered online.

All in all, I was incredibly impressed with just about every aspect of the conference.

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At 3/10/2007 9:35 PM, Anonymous emme said...

This sounds amazing!

At 4/30/2007 6:11 PM, Anonymous Annie Warmke said...

Thanks for reviewing the OEFFA Conference - really great people work on that conference. Also, thanks for reviewing our workshop on solar cooking. We offer similar types of workshops throughout the summer and would love to have you join us some Sat. for lunch or a cup of tea and a tour. Annie


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