Monday, February 10, 2014

2014 Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assn Conference: The Time Is Now

I'm a board member of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.  TOFGA is a statewide organization supporting organic and sustainable agriculture, and the farmer is our focus.

Our major undertaking is an annual conference, and I just returned from our 2014 get together in Houston. It's always a fun time with great food, and it's often the only opportunity we have to see some of our friends throughout the state, so we look forward to it for both the educational and social aspects.

This year we noted some changes, which I feel are indicative of a broader change in sustainable agriculture in Texas.

TOFGA is one of the few places you can find people to talk about things like small animal husbandry, backyard livestock, GMOs and how to run a raw milk dairy.  We cover all the usual subjects - specialty crops, composting, farmers' markets, etc., but we also hit the livestock track, which is where I saw the big difference this year.

Usually, we provide the livestock classes and may get 4-5 people in each class.  They appeal to a targeted niche audience, so that's not unusual, but his year we had 15-20 in each class.  And not just grass fed beef production (there were 35 in that class).

Our livestock track covered pastured poultry, pasture-based goat dairy, grass fed beef, high-density grazing, pastured swine and sheep, and raw milk production.  Not your average everyday gardening conference. And there were a lot of folks there to learn.

We brought in some of our heavy hitters to teach:

Jon Taggart of Burgundy Pasture Beef talked about sustainable practices in grass fed beef - he's seeing some changes in the industry that he's not happy about. Grass fed is grass fed - why is there discussion about that?

Stuart and Connie Veldhuizen spoke about raw milk dairy farming, and if you've had some good Texas cheese, you've probably had theirs.  Veldhuizen Cheese has a Redneck Cheddar that is truly amazing, and Stuart has developed a method for building cheese caves using papercrete that is both simple and cost-effective.  And...they bring cheese samples to their workshops, so of course they are well attended!

Betsy Ross of Sustainable Growth Texas discussed soil health and high density grazing.  Ranchers are in effect grass farmers, so they must keep the health of their soil as the highest priority.  She's been working closely with Kim and Laurie at Barking Cat Farm in West Tawakoni, so we are reaping the benefits of her mentorship here in north Texas.

What does that mean for Texas?  Hopefully, more access to meat, eggs and milk from some new small, sustainable farms.  Homegrown food that is native Texan.  I'm all for it.

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