By CFSA | Monday, Sept. 9, 2019 –
Three women attending the 2018 Sustainable Agriculture Conference

The Who’s Who of the Sustainable Agriculture Conference

Whether you are an advanced farmer who has attended countless conferences or a beginner who recently became interested in sustainable farming, the Sustainable Agriculture Conference (SAC) is the place to deepen your connection to community, learn new skills, and find the inspiration needed to propel you forward.

We spoke with beginning farmers, advanced farmers, marketing specialists, and more to hear why attending SAC is valuable regardless of skill set. Here’s what they shared.

Beginning Farmers

Two women looking at the conference program

As a beginning farmer, attending last year’s conference was incredibly useful to Anna Tommerdahl, farmer at Jimmy Acres and a 2018 Dow Scholarship recipient.

Anna Tommerdahl

“As a beginning farmer with limited experience, seeing what other people are doing gave me confidence to try new techniques and methods and open my mind to new possibilities of things to add to our farm. It allowed me to see what other farmers in the area are doing and get ideas for how I can do things differently to improve our business. It allowed me to network with other people and talk through problems that I was dealing with.”

With the conference held at the end of the season, Anna was able to reflect on what she had done over the year and get inspired and excited about trying new things going into the next year.

Advanced Farmers

Presenter at 2015 Sustainable Agriculture Conference

Patryk Battle of Living Web Farms has attended the Sustainable Agriculture Conference since 1986. From the classroom to the hallway to the vendor table to the dinner line, Pat says there’s always something to learn at SAC.

Patryck Battle. Photo via Heritage Harvest Festival

“SAC is a place where light bulbs have gone off for me. We’re all there thinking hard and we make these amazing connections. It’s where you learn cutting-edge techniques to stay in business as a grower.”

Pat says CFSA’s conference is where growers come together to share information, support each other, and get strong. It’s a place where the community comes together to maximize resources.

“You go to SAC and people just get it. There’s no debate amongst farmers about climate change. It’s where we come together and figure out solutions. It’s a lifestyle and a movement for the re-integration of food systems back into our lives and for harmony on our planet.”

“You go to SAC and people just get it. There’s no debate amongst farmers about climate change. It’s where we come together and figure out solutions.”

Pat says regardless of your experience as a grower, there’s something for you at the conference.

“As a farmer, it’s hard to keep spirits strong. CFSA keeps us resilient. I always recommend to young farmers, join CFSA. I tell beginner growers that the Sustainable Agriculture Conference is critical. We wouldn’t have a healthy, vibrant local food system in this country without conferences like SAC.

“Should I still go as an advanced farmer? Of course, I gotta go. I don’t wanna miss what the next lightbulb moment could be.”

Tradd Cotter teaching a workshop at 2016 Sustainable Agriculture Conference

“Should I still go as an advanced farmer? Of course I gotta go. I don’t wanna miss what the next lightbulb moment could be.”

Pat says that advanced farmers may miss out on the next innovation that could make their job easier. At SAC, they’ll get to talk to (other) real farmers who can give them real-life advice. They get to talk to people who have actually used the tools. If they saw a tool online, they wouldn’t get the first-hand experience of asking someone who has used it.

“As growers, while it may seem like we’re in a competition, like at a farmers market for example, we are so much more in community. We are all in this together. I leave the conference thinking, ‘We’re on track and I’m supported.’ And after all the workshops and hard thinking, what could be more delightful than sharing a beverage with your community?”

Organic Seed Experts

Interactivity at the seed swap table

Over the years, the conference has been a great place for Jared Zystro, Organic Seed Expert with the Organic Seed Alliance, to connect with farmers, seed growers, plant breeders, and extension specialists.

Jared Zystro

“There is a lot of great work happening to preserve and develop crop varieties that can thrive in the Southeast, and SAC has served as a place for those doing that work to come together, share notes, and get inspired. I always learn new things and definitely come away excited about the progress that is being made.”

To Jared, this year’s conference is special because there’s a Southeast Organic Seed Summit happening in conjunction with the conference. There’s a full day organic seed intensive happening on Friday, a seed workshop track running through Saturday and Sunday, as well as the seed swap and southeast seed strategy session.

If you’re interested in seed, check out the Seed Summit specific scholarships available thanks to Southern SARE. Note: The scholarship deadline is September 14.


Networking opportunities at the Local Food Council Gathering

SAC is important to Karen Bearden, an activist with 350 Triangle, an organization working for climate justice in the NC Triangle.

“As local, sustainable food advocates, it has been a great joy to meet and learn from the passionate people who attend and present programs at the conference. We have had the opportunity to learn about fermentation, foraging for wild foods, creating a pollinator garden and food policy. We’ve had the opportunity to learn how the climate crisis is impacting farmers and consumers of their food. So glad to see climate change adaptation and mitigation as a central theme for this year’s conference! Regenerative agriculture is a critical part of what needs to be done to protect the soil, land, and food.”


Jeanine Davis signing books at SAC

Chris Smith, author of The Whole Okra and The Utopian Seed Project Executive Director, tapped into the wisdom of SAC attendees to write his book. At the conference, he spent a lot of time next to a sign that read, ‘I want to talk to you about okra!’

Chris Smith headshot. Photo via Mother Earth News Fair

“As someone interested in constantly learning and improving, attending SAC has been wonderful. All of that learning feeds into my work as an author and garden writer. It’s the fun side of research. I think in terms of accessing new people and new ideas around sustainable agriculture, the conference is a great opportunity for authors. Writing can be quite an isolating experience, especially in writing a book. The conference is a chance to actually interact with people!”

Marketing Specialists

Panel at the conference

Casey Jean Roe has attended the conference for seven consecutive years in a variety of capacities: First representing the Duke University Sustainability Office, then as a farmer, and currently as a marketing consultant and writer.

Casey Jean Roe harvesting paw paws

This year, Casey Jean will lead a workshop on digital marketing for farmers called: Growing Customers Through Advanced Digital Marketing.

“The greatest value of SAC in my experience is networking with the sustainable agriculture community of the Carolinas. Food and agriculture folks are busy and hardworking, which makes it hard for us to keep in touch! Each year, I reinvigorate relationships at the conference. I always leave the conference connected to new people doing creative work in food and agriculture.”

“I always leave the conference connected to new people doing creative work in food and agriculture.”

Casey Jean says the conference is filled with sustainable farming stories and that the conference is a great place to investigate ways marketing can contribute to a successful farm business.

Casey Jean is also a pawpaw enthusiast looking to connect with fellow pawpaw lovers at the conference this year. Check out her CFSA article about pawpaws and follow her journey: @pawpawforager.

Join Us at CFSAC2019

While everyone attends the Sustainable Agriculture Conference for different reasons, they all share a dedication to the mission of creating a sustainable local food system that works for everyone. By gathering together a diverse community of people who share a similar vision for the future and giving them a space for sharing knowledge and making valuable connections, SAC helps create a more vibrant, sustainable food system in the Carolinas.

Please join us at SAC 2019, Nov. 1-3 in Durham to learn, share knowledge, make valuable connections, and see old friends. Register here.

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