Guest post by Michael Lang
Friday, November 15, 2013
This is my third CFSA conference, and my first since my wife and I started our farm, Let It Grow Farm in Selma, NC in 2012. In previous conferences, I attended primarily to gather information and ideas from the wide world of sustainable agriculture to incorporate into our farm plan. While we had dabbled in gardening and a backyard flock of laying hens, we had no experience scaling up to a commercial level. I find that this year, my approach to the CFSA conference is much different. Rather than being strictly an exploration of new ideas and enterprises, it is also professional development. Before, most of the content was new to me, but now, having a year and half of growing experience under my belt, I have much more direct experience to relate to the information presented in the workshops.
Daniel Parson’s Friday pre-conference intensive workshop Advanced Horticultural Practices on an Organic Farm provided an in-depth look into another grower’s practices that allowed me a chance to examine my own practices in an effort for continuous improvement. Daniel provided information on all facets of his farm, from crop planning to growing practices to marketing. His focus on designing crop rotations emphasized the foundational functions of this practice on small organic farms in addressing nutrient, pest, disease, and weed issues. Daniel also discussed the specifics of his approach to fertility management, which focuses not only on plant health but also financial considerations in purchased inputs. Much of the equipment and infrastructure utilized on his farm was also presented in detail, with advantages, disadvantages, and other considerations for various tools and systems discussed. Daniel has built multiple markets for his produce, including a CSA, farmers market, and restaurant customers, and strategies for each outlet were covered in detail.
The detailed record keeping tools shared by Daniel provided an especially useful glimpse of the data needed to coordinate crop planning and calculate the fertility demands for specific crops. He shared a chart of his rotation plan and his crop planning spreadsheet, which included data on everything from days from seeding to harvest to the specific number and ounces of seeds needed per planting. He also shared his methods for calculating the quantity of various amendments needed per bed to meet the demands of various crops.
One of the most valuable aspects of all workshops I’ve attended at CFSA conferences in the past is the free and open discourse between the presenter and the attendees. Daniel readily answered all questions and shared his insight and experiences that related to the questions and topics brought up by the audience about their own enterprises.
This intensive session was a valuable overview of all elements that comprise a successful organic farm and a reminder of the synergies among all systems, agricultural, ecological, human, financial, and otherwise, that must work together in harmony.
Parson Produce can be found online at http://www.parsonproduce.com/
Michael Lang and his wife, Caroline, own Let It Grow Farm in Johnston County, NC. They raise vegetables using organic methods across all four seasons and have a pasture-raised flock of laying hens with plans to add more livestock in the future. Let It Grow Farm can be found online at http://letitgrowfarm.squarespace.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.