Lessons from the 2012 PASA Conference 4

A week or so back, Landon and I made the annual trip out to State College, PA for the 2012 Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture Conference.  The best part of the event is always the camaraderie–2,200 farmers and friends-of-farmers from across the region, swapping stories, celebrating, and commiserating.  We got to catch up with some of our fellow vendors at Headhouse Market, and we even made a Berks County friend!*

But given the cost of the conference, it’s important that we leave with more than warm feelings and friendship bracelets.  Here’s a run-down of our Top 5 Take-Aways from the PASA workshops:

  1. Sharpen your tools on the regular.  Landon attended a workshop on human-powered farming–something we practice frequently at Root Mass.  When working in the fields, the workshop presenter carries a file around with him to keep those blades useful as he goes.  We don’t plan on being that meticulous, but we liked the idea of regular tune-ups for our arsenal of shuffle hoes, shovels, and hand weeders.
  2. Using chickens in the fields is a no-brainer.  When you let your chickens loose in your fields, they eat all your nasty weeds, work the soil with their feet, and do lots of fertilizing.  Landon and I have been meaning to build a chicken tractor, and the chicken workshop just strengthened our resolve.
  3. Checkerboard planting is best at keeping diseases in check, but may be unrealistic.  To stymie the progression of plant diseases, researchers recommend alternating the planting of disease-resistant and disease-susceptible varieties in a checkerboard fashion.  Implementing this strategy sounds like a total headache, but we appreciate the guiding principle:  mix it up.
  4. Sunflowers are more attractive to cucumber beetles than cucumber or squash blossoms.  This is the sort of colloquial knowledge you pick up at the PASA conference.  It may or may not be true, but it’s always fun to experiment.  Worst case scenario:  we end up with some pretty sunflowers.
  5. Dave Jacke looks like Steve Buscemi’s hippie cousin.  I didn’t attend the workshop led by permaculture wizard Dave Jacke, but Landon swears his aura was reminiscent of Steve Buscemi.  Landon liked a lot of the things discussed in the soil health session, but nothing seemed to stay with him quite so vividly as the presenter’s resemblance to Mr. Buscemi.

Will these ideas and developments have an impact on our season to come?  We’ll definitely keep you posted!

*It may be too soon to actually label our relationship a friendship, but I’m hopeful.