I had a chance to get some time for myself so my sister, Mary, and I attended the Small Farm Conference in Tony, WI at the Flambeau School. What a lovely area! The school looks like a big red barn and you can tell from the school's condition and its various grounds that the community supports education. If I wanted to move to a rural area, I would check this town out.
The keynote speaker at the conference was the great John Ikerd. I have been a fan of Professor Ikerd's writings for years. I even took my May/June 2002 copy of Small Farm Today magazine that published the professor's essay on The Three Economies of Agriculture and asked him to sign it. (He graciously did and that put me in 7th heaven.) He gave a wonderful, uplifting speech about the future of agriculture in this time of world transformation. It sure made me feel good about my choice to be a farmer. I have been very interested in the possibility of a sustainable economy after I read the Mother Jones magazine special edition from April 1997 that they called natural CAPITALISM.
There were a couple of informational "classes" about different subjects that you could choose to attend, and then there was the choice to visit either two different vegetable market farms or two different livestock farms. As much as I wanted to visit the grass fed beef and sheep farms, I decided that the vegetable market farms were more practical for me to attend so I chose that tour. (Mary did go to the livestock tour.) It's always nice to see what other people are doing and I get good ideas, too. About the only similarity between the small farms I visited and my operation, is that we all use raised beds, greenhouse/high/low tunnels, grow vegetables and small fruits, and sell our produce at farmers markets. I have yet to find someone who raises heirloom vegetables for sale and seed, and who grows medicinal herbs. One of the farms did raise chickens -- and she had some handsome roosters, too -- as I do, but she keeps her chickens in a large pen and treats them more like pets. It's a nice large area for them to run in, but I kind of like letting mine roam the woods, and I mean my chickens to be "working gals" -- give me the eggs or go into the pot. I bought a jar of Fiesta Pepper Jam from Fresh to You Farm that is simply to die for it tastes so good. I should have bought two jars.
The wonderful thing about Rich Tobe, the new Rusk County Agriculture Agent, is that he is creating programs for micro-farming operations -- people who are starting farming from scratch with little or no previous farming experience. This is something that has been sorely needed and it's wonderful that Rich has his finger on the farming transition pulse. These new farmers are more open-minded and likely to share their experiences with other new farmers. This important attitude ties right in with John Ikerd's idea of people's moral and ethical concensus being necessary to develop the ecological economy, the third leg of John's three economies of agriculture. It was a great day and I can't wait to go to the next Small Farm Conference!