25 Reasons To Celebrate Southern SAWG's 25th Anniversary This Week

Every once in a while, I'm glad to see Kentucky sneak into the "southern" category. (The rest of the time, I'm busy making the case that we are our own sweet place.) The grassroots activists who created the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group in 1991 included Kentucky, along with 12 other states, in a new regional entity that aimed to "transform isolated ideas and innovations into practical tools and approaches for widespread use."

One face of sustainable production: Elmwood Stock Farm, fall 2015.

One face of sustainable production: Elmwood Stock Farm, fall 2015.

Mac Stone farms at all-organic Elmwood Stock Farm in Scott County, Kentucky, and has chaired the National Organic Standards Board. Mac described the original mission of Southern SAWG this way: "When Louisiana had projects that worked and proved beneficial, then that information got shared across state lines quickly. It shortened the adoption time for things that work."

Southern SAWG intends to "foster a movement towards a more sustainable farming and food system – one that is ecologically sound, economically viable, socially just and humane." As I have gotten to know growers who farm sustainably, I have heard them speak of Southern SAWG and its annual conferences with respect and appreciation. For one thing, as best I can tell, each conference, including this year's, has this title and focus: "Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms." People who have worked through production challenges and opportunities share what they have learned with those who can make good use of that information. People who track the national legislative and regulatory climate clarify changes and trends that matter to sustainable growers.

Across its 25 years, Mac Stone says, Southern SAWG has accomplished remarkable cultural changes in addition to the practical tools and solutions that are its major focus. Mac says, "Southern SAWG legitimized what was then called 'alternative ag.' It made it okay to talk about 'organic' in public. It legitimized female farmers. It helped bring a university research and extension focus on sustainable farming."

This week, Lexington hosts Southern SAWG's 25th conference downtown at the Lexington Convention Center. This year's general conference offers more than 50 education sessions, 100 expert presenters, mini-courses, field trips, "voices from the field" and a Kentucky-sourced banquet. The general conference begins Thursday evening, January 28, and continues through Saturday, January 30. Walk-up registration is available for the general conference. The mini-courses and field trips require pre-registration, though you can always check.

Still here? I promised 25 reasons to go, and here they roll:

  1. Wendell Berry will be there.
  2. Learn to grow fruit trees organically, even in the south.
  3. Meet veteran producers and brand new growers, and learn from all.
  4. Share what you have learned.
  5. Collect intelligence from other states. Lots of other states, and not just southern ones.
  6. Learn how to start and grow an urban farm.
  7. Eat Kentucky bounty at lunches, and eat 25 foods (at least) from Kentucky—in midwinter—at Saturday's Taste of Kentucky banquet.
  8. Joel Salatin will be there, along with more than a thousand other intriguing people.
  9. Ponder new ideas about food and farming. Organic strawberries in Texas?
  10. Break bread and sip coffee and brews with old and new friends and allies.
  11. Flex your mind with thoughts of other states, other plant hardiness zones, other frost dates, other challenges and opportunities.
  12. Learn what's happening on Capitol Hill between farm bills.
  13. Hear new stories.
  14. Find new listeners for your stories.
  15. Talk with people who are doing what you are considering; reduce trial and error. Especially error.
  16. Be warm, and avoid a couple of days of damp, chilly January weather.
  17. Build or add to your network of experts: people you can text, email, call or instagram later.
  18. Discover new foods and crops you can grow—fall brassicas for market, perhaps?
  19. Learn from people engaged in advocacy for good food at school, animal wellbeing, plant-soil-microbe relationships and marketing local food. Just for example.
  20. Commune with people who think and work like you do.
  21. Learn about tools that matter and equipment that you'll be happier without.
  22. Find your tribe: food hub developers? Military veterans entering farming? Flower growers?
  23. Learn Integrated Ecological Weed Management.
  24. Mac Stone met Ann Bell for the first time at a Southern SAWG conference in Memphis in the late 1990s. In 2015, this generous, kind couple, long married, continue innovating from Elmwood Stock Farm and leading the way in sustainable farming at the state and national levels. You, too, might meet a very special person, a future life or business partner, at Southern SAWG.
  25. Learn how to make a better living doing what you love.

Sponsors included in this post: Elmwood Stock Farm. Thank you! Readers, if you like Savoring Kentucky, do business with our sponsors, all of whom support the earth, community and an equitable local food economy in extraordinary ways.


Rona RobertsComment