March 3, 2024

Farm School for All

A winter weekend intensive for farmers, gardeners, kids & foodies
By Ross Boissoneau | Jan. 19, 2019

Despite the name, organizers emphasize that the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference is not just for farmers. Gardeners, homesteaders, and those who want to learn more about growing their own food are wholeheartedly invited. In fact, “It’s also people who just want to learn about the local food system,” says Jeannie Voller, the outreach and program coordinator at Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology, which runs the conference.
The largest gathering of its kind in the state brings them all together for two days of education, sharing, networking, and more. Voller says she expects around 1,000 attendees from across the state at the weekend conference Jan. 25 and 26 at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. As people look to “the nutritional benefits and taste of a carrot grown just down the road,” she says, “there are more small farmers, more farm markets.”
Farm & Garden School
The overall goal is to make the state’s small farms more economically and environmentally sustainable.Farm School kicks off the conference on Friday, with a full day of advanced education, with three sessions led by international experts.
· Permaculture School, with Richard Perkins, will focus onhow Sweden’s Ridgedale Farm has become sustainable and financially viable.Perkins is an acknowledged expert in permaculture and the authorof “Making Small Farms Work.” He is making his first teaching appearance in the United States, sharingdetails on the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.
· Flower School, with Gretel and Steve Adams of Sunny Meadows Flower Farm in Columbus, Ohio, will focus on cover crop planning, season extension, and the business of flower farming. Techniques such as using tunnels and heated structures to increase time with blooms help with growing, while timing flower crops to coincide with holidays like Mother's Day and Thanksgiving will benefit the business.
· Hoophouse Growing School, with Andrew Mefferd, author of the “Greenhouse and Hoophouse Growers Handbook,” will featuretechniques used by commercial greenhouses which can be applied on a smaller scale.With many small growers using the same techniques they use in the field, this session will bring to light benefits of what can be the most precious real estate on the farm.
Saturday will see a full slate of shorter sessions, from seed gathering, saving and planting to raising animals, soil health, pricing for farm markets, harnessing solar energy, pollinator habitats, choosing the right tools, and a host of other topics. Mefferd and Perkins will also provide shorter sessions on their topics. In all, over 30 educational sessions and panels will welcome eager attendees.
Stock Up for Spring Growing
What’s a conference without a trade show? Nearly 70 exhibitors will showcase their goods and services. Conservancies, composting companies, organic food companies, financial institutions, various farms, natural food markets, greenhouse suppliers, energy suppliers and educational groups from Michigan State University and North Central Michigan College will be among them.Trade Show attendance is also open to the public for $5 at the door after 1:30 pm on both Friday and Saturday.
Fun for Kids
Voller points to a slate of youth programs as something that sets this conference apart. For younger kids, ages 6­–12, Human Nature School will offer outdoor, hands-on programming during the conference, with games, shelter building, storytelling, and exploring natural mysteries. For kids ages 9–12, the Michigan Barn Preservation Network Teamwork and Timbers Program (ages 9 to 14) is coming to let them learn from and join a traditional community barn raising — albeit a quarter-scale one —such as was common in Michigan communities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when neighbors depended upon each other to accomplish what they could not do alone.The Resort also offers daycare for the littlest ones.
Drinks and Eats
Friday night also features a cocktail reception, dinner and entertainment, while lunch will be available Saturday; up to 85 percent of the foods will be supplied by local farms and vendors. Voller says that demonstrates how, even in the offseason, farms can still offer locally grown goods, which have been canned, frozen, or fermented. In deference to those following specific diets, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options will be available.
Go and Grow
For more information or to register, visit, email, or call 231-994-3944. Registration will be accepted at the door.


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