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Virginia Biological

Farming Conference

The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, VA

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2018 Conference Session Tracks

Crop-Specific Horticulture

Dr Jeanine Davis: Growing Industrial Hemp in the Southeast

Industrial hemp is a new crop in this region and there is a lot of excitement, hype, and misinformation about growing it as a cash crop. Jeanine will share her experiences growing and harvesting fifteen varieties of industrial hemp and what she has learned working with this new industry. PS: she had one of the best looking hemp fields in NC in 2017!

Dr Jeanine Davis: What’s all the Fuss about Truffles?

Truffles have been getting a lot of attention in the media, but is it really possible to grow them and money doing it? Learn what truffles are, how and where they are grown successfully, about the research that Jeanine is conducting on truffles, and what resources are available to support you if you want to plant your own truffle orchard.

Michael Phillips: Bringing Back Abandoned Fruit Trees

 Those overgrown apple and pear trees can be productive once again! Orchard restoration begins with understanding the ways of healthy trees. This discussion touches on the advantages to be found in an orchard ecology gone wild, tuning up soil mineral balance, and basic fruit tree horticulture. Bringing back productivity begins with competent pruning. Does that branch go? Or maybe that one? Understanding what to do will help you gain the confidence to go home and do right by your own trees.

Nazirahk Amen: Growing and Processing Grains on the Small Farm

The ability to cultivate and produce grain is the foundation of civilization, yet grain production has been turned into a commoditized system that one can argue is at the root of many illnesses that are destabilizing our health. Downsizing grain production to small-scale systems can be part of the solution to making grains apart of healthy living and creating local sustainability. We will discuss the simplest to most advance small-scale grain production growing and processing techniques to make grains a value added product in a holistic farming model.

Ann Codrington: Raising Certified Naturally Grown Ginger and Turmeric in Virginia

Ann has grown ginger has refined the process for growing ginger and turmeric using no chemical sprays or fertilizers using growing media available locally. This session will address growing ginger in Virginia including 1) purchasing seedstock, 2) sprouting rhizomes, 3) transplanting, and 4) growing out.

Gwynn Hamilton: Flower Farming at a Glance

Walk through some nuts and bolts of flower farming from big picture planning to the nitty gritty of a day of picking and arranging.

Gwynn Hamilton: Marketing your Flowers

Whether you are considering growing blossoms or an experienced flower farmer, consider how and where you are selling your stems.

Adam Taylor: Phosphorous Uptake through Agroforestry

In the spring of 2017, The Virginia Tech Catawba Sustainability Center worked with faculty members in the College of Natural Resources and Environment to implement a 13 acre agroforestry research plot designed to uptake phosphorous runoff for exchange as credits. Learn about the design and implementation of the project, as well as how adoption of a similar practice on your farm can work toward farm diversification through phosphorous credits and the production of native fruit and nut trees.

Livestock Husbandry

Meredith Leigh: Understanding Rumen Function as a Key to Management

In the grass-fed community, we constantly say, and hear others say, that grass-based diets are superior for ruminant animals to those including human-consumable grains. But do we really know why? This session breaks down the fascinating world of the rumen, how it works, how animals absorb nutrients, and the implications of this on animal and human nutrition, herd performance, and carcass quality.

Anna & Brent Wills: Picking Your Chicken — Three types of chickens and three methods of management for pastured poultry

In this session, we will explore three very different groups of chickens: the industrial breeds like Cornish Cross, the industrial-ranging hybrids like Freedom Rangers, and true heritage or standard breeds of chickens. Each can have its place on the homestead or small farm and it is important to know the strengths and the limitations of the types of chickens you choose to raise. As important as the chicken itself is the system in which the chicken will be raised. Will you choose pasture pens, day-range or free-ranging or some combination of these methods? What types of feed are best for your chickens? We’ll look at what has worked (as well as what didn’t work) on our pasture and forest-based mountain-top farm over our 13 years of raising pastured poultry.

Brent Wills: Growing Nutrition — Building Health & Wealth by Rejuvenating Pastures

With Brent’s 20+ years of experience in agricultural production and natural resources management, this session provides you with the information necessary to improve soils & forage health with pasture management methods like livestock rotations, incorporation of manures and composts and improving plant diversity.

Jennifer “Tootie” Jones: Finishing All Grass Beef

In the 1990’s, Tootie Jones became intrigued with finishing beef the way it was done prior to the industrial age.  Reading The Jungle had a profound impact on how she imagined things. From her teenage years on, Tootie interviewed hillside farmers, cattlemen, ranchers and older folks on farms and in meat shops across the country and in Europe.  She learned much about the impact of soil, water, forages on any product from cheese to meat.  Tootie’s view on finishing all grass beef has been flavored by many people in many parts of the world.  Their Greenbrier Valley is a karst region with forages growing atop a vast limestone field. Managing her herd use allows Tootie to greatly appreciate the amazing benefits of the native forages on finishing cattle.  The learning curve is still curving — from land use to genetics — for their goal of a beautifully marbled carcass meeting their customers’ demand.

Amanda Carter: Pastured Poultry – the Nuts & Bolts of Success

Amanda will provide practical information to improve welfare, production, enterprise development, marketing effectiveness, and economic outcomes for farmers looking to scale-up and/or enter wholesale markets. Note: this session assumes the audience has a basic understanding of the care and management of pasture-based poultry systems.

Professional Farmers

Michael Phillips: The Complexity of Spray Decisions in the Healthy Orchard

Scab, fire blight, rust, and rots. Curculio, sawfly, and codling moth. Many challenges come on the scene starting at bloom and on through the fruit sizing window. Orchardists who understand how to track the “Scab Dance” gain important perspective to time choice of spray applications to weather events. Management decisions get even more complicated once fruitlets are on the scene. Pest options often need to be applied separately from fatty acid based foliar sprays. Boosting tree immune function presents an entirely different paradigm from surface coverage with mineral fungicides. Some years it’s indeed a legitimate call to mix things up. Every orchard site calls for a customized response to the year at hand. Whew! Time to go deep and make the right decisions to produce the best fruit crop possible.

Ellen Polishuk: Developing a Crop Rotation For Healthy Soils and Better Crops

You know you’re supposed to have one. But why? Lets explore the goals of a crop rotation plan. What really matters and how strict you should be.

Ellen Polishuk: Growing Great Transplants

Getting a good start on the season begins with high quality seeds and robust transplants.  What exactly does it take to grow a good transplant? This session tackles germination, soil mixes, temperature, fertilization and ventilation techniques for great transplants.

Tradd Cotter: Mycopesticides for Organic Pest Control 

more info coming soon!

Concepts & Principles

Carolyn Reilly: The Agrarian Activist

Through passionate story-telling, real life situations and family struggles, Carolyn Reilly shares the importance of empowerment in rural communities and explores ways to grow stronger, more active communities. Her recent life experiences protecting land from corporate take-overs and becoming a water protector, pipeline fighter and community organizer while simultaneously sustaining their family business, Four Corners Farm, in rural SW Virginia will all be part of a workshop on the role of activism in agriculture.

Alex Tuchman: The Bio-Rythms of Beekeeping

This session offers an exploration of the rhythms of nature in relation to the rhythms of the honeybee colony throughout the four seasons. A thorough description will be given of the honeybee colony as it goes through each season, from expansion to contraction, from swarming to honey storage to the dynamics of the winter cluster.

Alex Tuchman: Working with Natural Queens & Swarms

This workshop will delve into the details of the breeding and reproduction of honeybees—sharing beekeeping practices that are based on enhancing the wisdom inherent in the bees’ natural instincts. There’s so much to learn about the “birds and the bees”, as well as how to raise natural queens and how to catch & work with swarms!

Nancy Lawson: The Humane Gardener – Nurturing Habitat for Wildlife

Why do we call some insects “beneficial” while others are “pests”? Why are some plants considered “desirable” while others are “weeds”? In this myth-busting talk, learn how common growing methods divide the natural world into false dichotomies and perpetuate misperceptions about the wild species living among us. Discover practical ways to put humane gardening philosophies into action by protecting wild nurseries of animals large and small, eliminating unintended hazards to wildlife, nurturing plants that provide food and shelter, and humanely resolving conflicts with mammals and other commonly misunderstood creatures.

Nazirahk Amen: Applying Naturopathic Principles to Everyday Farm Life

As a naturopathic doctor, Chinese medicine practitioner, and farmer, Dr. Amen shares with us some of his views on how organic farmers are helping create healthier people and communities and how they can benefit more from the fruits of their labor. From soil biology to the gut microbiome, from meeting the bottom line to enjoying a life of abundance, Dr Amen discusses how living with awareness in greater harmony with nature is the key to optimal health and longevity.

Adam Taylor: The Sustainable Model at the Virginia Tech Catawba Sustainability Center

This session offers an overview of all the research, demonstration, and community projects underway at the Virginia Tech Catawba Sustainability Center. The session will highlight projects related to cover crop production, agroforestry, drone use in agriculture, American Chestnut breeding orchard, non-timber forest products, outdoor recreation and more!

Jason Myers-Brenner: The Bioregional Soul of Agriculture – Tending the Vital Center of Regenerative Farming

Jason will present some thoughts on identifying, cultivating, protecting, preserving, and celebrating the essence of sustainable agriculture in our place and time. Why do we do this work? How does it set us apart from the dominant U.S. culture? What do we have to grieve? What does it look like to take responsibility for our lives? Let’s dig into these things together and look for some steps forward.

Business Management

Rachel Armistead: Branding & Marketing for Farmers

When you’ve got animals to feed and rows to cultivate, it’s easy to forget about the importance of branding and marketing your farm. And yet, these elements are the key to a successful farm business. Thorough her own brand story and others, Rachel covers the basics of branding and marketing for farmers, whether you operate a market stand, an on-farm store, a wholesale operation, or all three.

Rachel Armistead: Considerations for Creating a Value-Added Business

Value-adding — processing a raw ingredient into another, more valuable product — can be an effective way to extend your season, expand your markets, and increase revenue. It can also be costly, labor-intensive and stressful. Many factors go into which way it goes for you. Rachel Armistead of The Sweet Farm sheds light on what it takes to launch a successful value-added product, and helps you determine whether or not value-adding is right for you, your farm and your business.

Tom McDougall: True Cost Accounting in Food & Agriculture

We pay for food in many ways, not just at the checkout; but the true cost varies according to how the food is produced and how well or poorly it contributes to a healthy diet. True Cost Accounting in food and agriculture is a currently evolving method for assessing the true costs and benefits of different food production systems with implications for everyone.

Amanda Carter: The New American Farmer – Leadership, Regulation, and Opportunity

Amanda will offer perspectives on the political and regulatory environment of Alternative Agriculture, the need for advocacy and civic engagement at all levels of government, and the opportunities for mission-driven stakeholders beyond the field or the farmers market.

Michael Drewry: Conservation Easements and Legal Matters relating to Local Food Production

This session offers a presentation and discussion of conservation easements, tax credits and legal matters relating to rural living and local production of food.

Fodder for Foodies

Meredith Leigh: The Art of Cooking Meat

No cut of meat is superior to another, provided you know how to cook it. This session is designed to break down muscle science, to help farmers market their cuts, and consumers make the best use of the meat they buy. We will also discuss flavor science, seasoning, storage, and specific recipes.

Jereme Zimmerman: Wild Fermentation 101

Fermenting foods and beverages through the use of wild yeast and bacteria is an age-old practice. Before modern food-preservation tools such as refrigerators and canners, and before the modern homebrewing movement, people preserved their food and produced their alcohol at home through natural techniques such as lacto-fermentation (for vegetables) and wild-yeast-fermentation (for alcoholic beverages). Fermenting through wild fermentation is a healthy, enlivening practice that will help restore the balance of beneficial microbes in your gut and introduce you to a world of new flavors. Learn how to ferment cabbage, beans, carrots, peppers, and myriad other vegetables as a method for preserving the harvest without the use of any modern conveniences. Zimmerman will discuss his method for making basic sauerkraut and kimchi, as well as pickling vegetables such as cucumbers and beans, and will delve into the vast opportunities in experimentation available to the modern fermenter. Zimmerman will also present on his Make Mead Like a Viking wild-crafted mead fermentation technique, and will discuss brewing mead, wine, beer, natural sodas and SCOBY-based ferments via natural, wild-fermentation techniques. Room will be provided for a Q&A. Be prepared to stump the presenter with your questions on technique or recipe ideas for fermenting pretty much anything!

Ira Wallace

Ira Wallace: Collards — Exploring a Rich Southern Culinary and Garden Tradition

Collards are part of a rich culinary tradition based in the southeastern United States thanks to a long history of growing, saving, and eating collards. See and taste the wide variations in color, shape,texture, and flavor that arose over time. Learn how you can help to revive the cultural tradition of growing and saving heirloom collard varieties — to reconnect the cycle of growing and seed saving with the enjoyment of eating collards.

Tradd Cotter — Four Easy Ways to Grow Mushrooms at Home

more info coming soon!

Tom McDougall: Equitable Food Access

Healthy food from sustainable farmers who are good stewards of the soil, air, water, animals, and humans that they depend on is nutrient dense, delicious, and part of a growing good food movement. Too often, however, this type of food is a privilege, not a right. It is the exception, not the norm. In this session, Tom will talk about their work with 4P Foods and how they hope to be part of a growing coalition of farmers, businesses, nonprofits, and government stakeholders to build a more equitable food system.

Bonus Session, Monday evening in the theater

Join us for a screening of SECRET INGREDIENTS followed by a Q & A with Jeffrey Smith (joining via Skype)! About the film: Secret Ingredients shares moving, personal stories of families and individuals that have regained their health after experimenting with their diet and eliminating certain ‘secret ingredients’ until they discovered the key to protecting their health.

Register Today!


Virginia Biological Farming Conference

JANUARY 22 -24, 2018

The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia

Mark your calendars and join us this winter at The Homestead in beautiful Hot Springs for Virginia’s premier gathering of organic farmers, gardeners and supporters. Whether you’re an experienced grower or just starting out, you’ll find plenty to interest you. With practical learning and insights from over 30 speakers, an exhibit hall packed with useful tools and services, delicious locally-sourced meals, and the very best in networking: the 19th annual Virginia Biological Farming Conference is a not-to-be-missed event!

The Virginia Biological Farming Conference is a collaboration by Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University and the Virginia Association for Biological Farming.