My friend Mike and I traveled to Indianapolis Indiana this past weekend for the Midwest Sustainable Education conference. The conference was put on by Jason Akers, Rick Beach and Darby Simpson. The conference covered many topics. This was the course line up:
- Introduction to Permaculture (What is Permaculture)
- Introduction to Permaculture (How to apply Permaculture techniques)
- Insects and Their Role in Sustainability
- The Scrounged Homestead
- Beginning Foraging & Composting: What You Need to Know
- Open Panel Discussion Q&A
- Introduction to Raising Pastured Poultry, Pork and Grassfed Beef
- Building A Multi-Use Chicken Tractor
- Farm and Homestead Infrastructure & NRCS Grants
- Small Urban Property Design Workshop
- Marketing Surplus Production, Business Planning & Branding Your Business
- Midsize Rural Property Design Workshop
Some of this information was review for me but I learned a lot of new things and some useful tips. I specifically enjoyed the talk by Darby about raising pastured poultry, pork and grassfed beef. After hearing his talk, I realized I have a land and pasture deficiency. =) I will be taking some of the things I learned about large scale poultry tractors and scaling it down to fit my homestead.
Rick's talks about Permaculture and property design gave me some new ideas I had never thought of before. I had never heard of a "scale swale", not only does it sound cool, but it is a great way to hold water next to a tree with minimal effort. Instead of a swale that usually spans a distance on contour, a scale swale is a much smaller berm in the shape of a scale or "U" that is typically on the uphill side of a tree, slowing down and holding water events, saturating the area around the tree.
The hotel the conference was held in was great. Plenty of good fresh coffee was supplied throughout the morning and the breakfast buffet they offered was way above average for a hotel. The bar even stocked gluten free beer for the conference when requested by Darby. I was pleasantly surprised to scan the beer cooler and find Omission Pale Ale. If you are in the Indy area and are thinking about holding an event, definitely check out The Cambria Suites Hotel.
This pic is of Darby talking about hog feed conversion and supplementing squash to feed your hogs. If you have the room and are raising hogs, planting a large pumpkin patch would be a good idea. Also check with local farmers and markets to see about getting bulk buys of overstocked pumpkins or other produce.
Here I am half cheesing it up with Jason. Looks like we are both trying to smile but failed. Thats okay because thanks to my graphic designer fiance, I learned that I need all the other peoples permission in this pic to use it. So I made them all smile.
Jason and I share a love of storing scrounged material until we find a use for it. In and around my garage you will find stacks and piles of stuff I have collected over the years, mostly for free, that I will use someday, once I figure out for what.
Jason's talk on insects was very informative. People need to start thinking about how they can encourage insects on their property instead of trying to control them with chemicals. As Jason said, you can't have a healthy population of beneficial insects without a population of "pest" insects, what do you think the good insects eat? I almost went to the ER once after being bit on my hand by a wolf spider. My hand swelled up to the point that I couldn't make a fist if you gave me a million dollars. But every time I see a wolf spider in my garden I think, how can I encourage more of these, instead of quick, kill it.
On our property we let strips of yard near the garden go wild so the insects have a habitat to live in and over winter in. On the sides of our main garden area we have perennial flower gardens to attract all kinds of insects and give them a home. Sure we have some "pest" insects, but they never get out of control. I think we have found a happy balance in the few years we have been managing our property this way.
Overall I had a great time, met some awesome people and learned some new skills and techniques. I have to hand it to Jason, Rick, Darby and Jason Bean (AV and internet tech) for putting together a great conference on their first go around. I think future conferences they run will only get better and I hope to attend some in the future.
I always hear it is hard to eat good on the road. While I agree your options are limited, if you do a little prep before you leave you can eat like a king. This is a Paleo bacon, chicken, egg, onion, pecan salad I put together at home before we left. Lunch both days was very good.
The organizers had a box lunch option available. They partnered with a local restaurant to provide lunch. The pork and chicken for the lunches was provided by Darby's farm which the local restaurant made organic meals out of. I wish I had a picture of one of them, they looked very good.
I encourage anyone out there that has an interest in sustainability to take a class or go to a conference. Read as many books as you can get your hands on, and just start doing something. Even if it is a small container garden on your apartment deck or planting a ton of fruit trees, just do something this year. The best teacher is failure. I have made so many mistakes over the years, but I learn something new every time and usually never make the same mistake twice. Knowing where my food comes from is very important to me. Raising my own livestock and produce is the best way for me to be sure the food I and my family eat is fresh, healthy and sustainable.