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PASA Conference 2011

February 28, 2011

Harvey and I spent 4 days at PASA’s annual conference. It was a whirlwind of workshops and speakers, and now our minds are mulling over all that we have learned.

Grazing Pasture

I spent two days in a series of workshops called Multi-Species Grazing. It was about grazing various animals on pasture. (Cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, etc.) Greg Judy taught a bunch of sessions on mob grazing, which is intensively grazing animals in small pastures and rotating them frequently. The added pressure of more cows on the pasture, means they drop more manure and also tramp down plant litter. This encourages the microbes and dung beetles and the like to become more active. At the same time, Greg also grazes more mature grasses, because plants store more energy in the seed heads and the tips of leaves than in the stems of immature plants. We also heard from John Hopkins, of Forks Farm. He’s using Salatin’s methods to raise a variety of animals. We’re planning on visiting his farm soon.


Harv took a class on raising pigs. He learned a lot, however the class was definitely geared towards larger, industrial farms. They talked about vaccinations and clean suits. No talk of raising pigs on small farms on pasture. Not our kind of farming.


Twenty years ago, PASA was made up of radical farmers- hippies declaring that they would grow their own food, and share it with the community. Over time, the organic movement was co-opted by industrial agriculture, which is how we get giants like Organic Valley selling food to Whole Foods and other grocery stores. It seems like PASA is now struggling in its identity, because they are trying to include the more radical folks like us, and the people doing industrial Organic and even conventional farmers who are considering going Organic. Some of the speakers reflected the contradiction. Overall, I noticed that when I attended workshops led by farmers, I got a lot more out of it that workshops from PhDs and extension agents, with a few exceptions.

Meeting an Apple Soul

One of my favorite workshops was led by Michael Phillips, an apple farmer out of New Hampshire. He spoke lovingly and honestly about the importance of fungus in orchard soil, and the intricate cycles of apple tree growth. I knew he was a kindred spirit when he mentioned building the foundation for his barn out of stone, following the method that Scott and Helen Nearing describe in their book, Living the Good Life. That is one of my favorite books that I reviewed in an earlier post.

I’m glad we went to the PASA conference. We learned so much and met a lot of great farmers, many of whom we’re planning on visiting soon. It reminded us that we are small farmers, that we don’t have to do anything the conventional way and that it is possible to farm with draft horses and human power. Our hands, some dirt and our community is all we need to start building a better world.

(Also, Hoots and Hellmouth was awesome, and I got to dance with my very favorite farmer.)

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