Becoming Comfortable with Conventional...or not?

After the New Year, we attended the Wisconsin Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference in Wisconsin Dells. We started the conference by attending a beginning Grape growing seminar. Our thinking is that we can plant a number of grape vines that are winter hardy and barter with friends - we’ll grow and harvest the grapes, you make them into wine and give us a share! Any takers? We are also interested in growing table grapes for ourselves and possibly as additional u-pick crop. The second day, raspberries and blackberries caught our interest. We are becoming more and more intrigued about growing raspberries or primocane (fall bearing) blackberries in a high tunnel. Farming is like playing pull tabs at the corner bar - the more your drink in the possibilities, the more you want to play.

A disappointing aspect of the conference was all the talk of chemicals. Two thirds of the trade show was chemical dealers and as part of our registration we received a small fruit spray guide. Overall, there was complacency about using herbicides and pesticides to manage crops and it made me upset. Just knowing that people walk through those fields with their families, picking fruit and eating it off the vine makes my heart ache. I also ache for all of those who are applying the chemicals who have to wear gloves and inhalation protection. During the conference debrief on our three hour drive home Aaron said, “I think if keep going to these conferences, we will have to become comfortable with conventional talk.” Both of us found that very unappealing.

Last year, we attended the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) Organic Farm Conference in La Crosse. Instead of feeling frustrated by all the talk of chemicals, we felt invigorated by all the new ideas and creative approaches to farming that we heard about. There were so many people to talk to and many eager to share.

The demographics of the two conferences were vastly different as well. In Wisconsin Dells, we were by far the youngest in the room...by a good twenty to twenty five years. I, being a woman, was also in the minority. The MOSES conference in contrast had many people our age (in their 20s or early 30s), and was split fairly even between men and women.

All in all, besides learning about grapes and growing raspberries or blackberries in a high tunnel, we learned that we are not comfortable with conventional, both its farming practices and its culture. Someday, I hope we are able to attend those conferences and change people’s minds about farming practices. Until then, we will be more thorough before choosing a conference to attend.