Friday and Saturday I attended the 7th Annual Winter Greenup Conference in Latham, NY. I’ve made a point of attending each year ever since I first heard of it five years ago. In fact, it is the only farm related conference I regularly attend. The main focus of the conference is grassfed beef, but other pastured livestock are featured regularly. So far there has been little direct discussion of pastured pigs. Pigs are mentioned each year, but usually as a small side enterprise for farmers. We are a bit off the beaten path by having pigs represent such a big portion of our farm.
In terms of information gathering, these sorts of conferences are not directly very informative. Many speakers cover the same ground: plant and soil biology, ecology of ruminants, pasture management, and some sort of plea to make room for the next generation. The speakers are typically targeting an audience of intransigent, conventionally-minded farmers. The reality (at least for this conference audience) is that most people in the room are already the oddballs in their community. They already are probably very aware of what the speaker is saying. If I had a dime for every time the phrase “preaching to the choir” is used at these conferences…
The first day of the conference was kind of a miss for me this year, as none of the speakers were covering topics that were particularly applicable to us. The Saturday topics were all hitting a lot closer to home.
The real draw for me to return every year comes from the interstitial details that trickle out, the little ideas that get mentioned here and there. These items come up as readily over lunch as they do in the formal presentations. These are things like time-saving steps in rigging temporary fences or smarter ways for handling farm recordkeeping. Someone pulls out their phone and shares a picture showing a clever detail they built into their portable chicken coop. Someone has a question about managing pink eye in the cattle herd. This kind of open sharing is tremendously valuable. I don’t mean to suggest that we are quite as isolated as pioneers heading across the prairie in a covered wagon, but every non-conventional farmer is pioneering to some degree, and pioneering is isolated work. This opportunity to collaborate is valuable practically and psychologically.