A big part of settling in a new place is gathering a community for support, encouragement, and inspiration. For agriculturalists, or agrarians, that community is especially important. It means the difference between floundering on one's own and flourishing with others. While we knew a number of farmers in our area before and soon after alighting here, we soon learned that Ohio has an extended and ready-made network of organic (and beyond-organic) growers, marketers, and activists. It is OEFFA, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association.
To learn all about what OEFFA does you can look at their "About OEFFA" page. In a nutshell, though, they are an organic certification agency, an education and support network for farmers throughout Ohio and the US (there are many members outside Ohio), and a well-organized advocate for farmers and consumers in the realm of state and national legislation. They publish a newsletter, hold farm tours and workshops across the state, and have a bumpin' annual conference featuring far too many workshops to choose from, inspiring top-notch keynote presenters, a trade show, meals from local and organic sources, and an opportunity to meet peers face-to-face.
Last year Margo went with Alten, had a great time, and made useful connections. This year it was my turn. I rode with a friend, Ben, who farms nearby at Mile Creek Farm, and that ride gave us an opportunity seldom afforded to folks in our situation (farmers with young children) to sit and have a focused conversation for hours. Soon after arriving at the site he introduced me to friends of his from our area, among them Doug and Kat of Smaller Footprint Farm and Isaac, the Food Service Coordinator at Antioch College.
I attended workshops on food preservation, defining one's vision, NRCS funding opportunities, using mushrooms in your woods and garden, companion planting, creating and maintaining native gardens to capture rainfall runoff, and what to do when you've got lead in your soil. I would have loved to attend the workshops on moving old barns, the risks of "fracking", cultivating edible mushrooms on logs, raising and selling fiber, and a number of others. I attended Woody Tasch's keynote on the Slow Money investment movement and Andrew Kimbrell's on the progress being made to keep Monsanto's (and others') aggression towards small farmers at bay.
Then, of course, there was the Saturday evening contra dance, which needs no explanation to those who know contra dancing, and of which no explanation of mine can do justice for those of you who aren't familiar with the past-time. Suffice it to say, I think you should try it if you never have before.
I did come out of the OEFFA conference with one more potential internet habit. The one booth in the trade show that I could not resist was that with the two computers, a large flat panel tv, and a flashy red GrainMaker mill. It was the display for a new social networking site, Earthineer. The two founders, Dan and Leah, were there making their pitch, which was this: Facebook is all well and good, but for those of us who are pursuing a sustainable lifstyle a world-wide community could be an incredible asset. For any question that one might have, many are steps away from the same problem and many have already found various wonderful, creative solutions they want to share. That's the gist of it, anyway.
Leah and Dan's background is similar to many of the rest of us: they had a formative experience that sat with them for a while, and when a transition came in their lives they made some big changes based on the vision that experience left them with, and Earthineer.com is the product of those changes. I can identify with those motivations, and knowing that two of my favorite companies (GrainMaker and Countryside & Small Stock Journal) support the project makes it even more appealing. How useful I find it remains to be seen. I don't really understand how Facebook works, and for all my blogging the internet still leaves me, ironically, feeling dazed and disconnected. But I expect, as the Earthineer community grows, that I am going to find conversation and answers through a single website which would previously have taken me days of searching and many wild-goose-chases to find otherwise.
So if you have the inclination, join Earthineer and be my friend. 'Cause I only have two right now, and one was the default.