3/7/2011 - Asheville's organic conference teaches sustainable living
by Clarke Morrison
"Asheville, North Carolina, is a healthy place to live. With organic and sustainable farming becoming ever more popular in the region, the availability of locally produced foods in restaurants and stores is increasing steadily." - Ben Falcon
Organic farming growth healthy
Camden Moore plays with a worm in the insect class during the children's program. The Organic Growers School conference is on the campus of UNC Asheville through Sunday with hands-on activities, classes, lectures, vendors and much more. (Margaret Hester 03-05-2011) / Margaret Hesteremail@example.com
ASHEVILLE -- Melissa Mc-Adams loves tending her vegetable garden along with the chickens and goats in her backyard.
But yearning to learn more, she traveled from her home in Charleston, S.C., to join some 1,500 people attending a conference this weekend put on by the nonprofit Organic Growers School at UNC Asheville.
Saturday morning Mc-Adams took in a class called backyard economics, where the instructor described how to unleash the potential of a small space.
"It talked about how much you can grow in just a small backyard," she said. "We grow all kinds of stuff, but we wanted to explore the subject a little more.
"Being around other people with the same interest and experts that have the knowledge is really helpful."
Now in its 17th year, the event is the largest sustainable living conference in the Southeast, said Meredith McKissick, director of the Organic Growers School. The conference each year attracts hundreds of people from across the U.S. and Canada. It also includes classes and hands-on activities for children.
"We're trying to spread the word about organic and sustainable agriculture, and we believe that speaking to farmers, gardeners and consumers is the best way to do that," she said. "This conference kind of speaks to the people who are following that path and also to folks who want to learn more about it and become more self-sufficient."
Sustainable farming is healthier, better for the environment and helps the local economy, McKissick said.
"Supporting local organic farms is a great way to sort of localize the food system and therefore give a boost to local economies," she said.
Organic farming is one of the fastest growing segments of U.S. agriculture. According to a 2010 survey by the Organic Trade Association, sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to $24.8 billion in 2009.
And Western North Carolina has become something of a hotbed for organic agriculture.
"The movement has really grown," McKissick said. "We have a great support system in this area for farmers. There are a lot of things available to customers in this area that can be produced in this area."
This year's conference, which continues today, offers more than 70 classes and hands-on workshops on topics including starting your first vegetable garden, baking bread, saving on home energy costs and raising a goa t herd.
Linda McLean, of Weaverville, listened in Saturday on a talk called water wise landscaping.
"We've had such a problem with drought here," she said. "I'm learning how to landscape our gardens so we can take what nature gives us and not have to stand there with the watering hose."
McLean the choice of classes was nearly overwhelming. "I love gardening, but I'm also interested in learning about healthy cooking and some alternative medicine stuff," she said.
Lee Barnes, of Waynesville, manned a table where he doled out small packets of seeds from the Seed and Plant Exchange. The seeds are from varieties of plants not commonly grown in commercial agriculture.
"Our seeds are our cultural heritage, and when we lose them we lose them forever," he said. "The whole idea is to get people excited about saving seeds."