NPSAS Winter Conference
Feeding our neighbors by Nourishing our soils
By Julia Petrovic
Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society (NPSAS) that promotes sustainable food systems through education, research and advocacy, celebrated its 36th anniversary with the annual winter conference that took place in Aberdeen, SD, on January 22-24, 2015. The society has been growing and expanding over the years and this winter conference drew together 625 members and some invited guests to celebrate the achievements of farmers whose priority and farming philosophy are sustainability, organic practices, long term improvements of the grazing lands, and overall financial independence and economical growth of the local farm enterprises.
The geographical area of the farmers and the exhibitors present and the conference was comprised not only by farmers from the Great Plains region and states like Minnesota, South Dakota, upper Midwest, but also a noticeable number of local organic farmers from the Harvey area, Rugby and Esmond.
The NPSAS conferences have always been full of great learning opportunities for the beginning farmers but in all the whole atmosphere at the event had a remarkable vibe of a big family reunion. The halls, concourse and courtyard areas were full of over 50 exhibitions, vendors, tables full of silent auction items donated for the fundraiser, beautifully arranged baskets with locally produces items, organic snacks, youth workshops and a plethora of educational workshops made a conference as vibrant as ever.
The keynote presentations during both days of the NPSAS conference were Alan Gubert and Dr. Don Huber.
Alan Gubert is an award-winning ag journalist and originator of the largest circulation farm newspaper column in the US, the Farm and Food File, staff writer and editor at Pro Farmer and Successful Farming and a freelance contributor to many other farming publications. He talked about good food policies changes. He said: “Our farmers didn’t farm like their fathers and our children won’t farm like us. Sure, agriculture-farming-changes. Times change. Good food, however, changes little. Why then is there such a large disconnect between what today’s farm policy makers think is good food policy and what actually is “good food” policy.”
And the hall was full to the maximum capacity when Dr. Don Huber, Professor Emeritus of Plant Pathology at Purdue University, another keynote speaker, gave his presentation on Impact of Glyphosate (Roundup) and GMO Crops on Soil, Crop, Animal and Human Health. Dr. Huber’s agricultural research for the past 55 years has focused on the epidemiology and control of soilborne plant pathogens with emphasis on microbial ecology, cultural and biological controls, the physiology of host-parasite relationships and herbicide-nutrient-disease interactions. Dr. Huber is past Chairman of the USDA-APS National Plant Disease Recovery System, member of APS Threat Pathogens Committee, and former member of the Advisory Board for the Office of Technology Assessment, U.S. Congress, author and co-author of over 300 scientific journal articles, experiment station bulletins, 3 books and 84 special invited publications that are internationally recognized.
Dr. Huber spoke about agriculture being a management of the ecology to optimize conditions for the production of an abundance of safe, nutrient dense food or fiber at an affordable price. Dr. Huber discussed the flawed science behind the GMO approach to farming and its role in the deteriorating health of our soils, crops, animals, and families that now threaten our sustainability and ultimate survival. He said,” The ready access to chemical tools after World War II simplified some of the management decisions for weed, insect and disease control; but created a dependence on “silver bullet” approach of industrial agriculture at the expense of ecological management necessary for sustainability. This “modern” approach to food and fiber production has culminated n a chemical treadmill epitomized by the failed promises of GMO crops for herbicide and insect resistance that are based on fossil science.”
Morning and afternoon sessions were split into the workshops for the attendees to choose from based on their areas of interests. If you wanted to learn about animal husbandry there were workshops on Small Farm Dairy Production by Jim Stordahl and Benjamin Arlt, A Systemic Approach to Livestock and Intro to Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine by Dr. Jennifer Burton, and How Not To Build Meat Business by Cody Holmes, a creator of Real Farm Foods company.
If your goal was to learn more about alternative organic crops and value added products you had the choice of attending the workshops covering topics like Specialty Crop Evaluation in ND by Farm Breeding Club, Organic Field Pea Variety Trial Results by Blaine Schmaltz and Byron Lannoye, Growing Fruit in Cold Climates and Canning Fish and Meats by Jackie Clay, and many other lectures on ancient grains, gardening, pollinators, fermenting, soil health and weed control, cover crops and local foods.
One of the workshops the drew a big crowd of eager learners was the one conducted by Linda Black Elk, an ethnobotanist and restoration ecologist from the Catawba Nation who currently serves as a faculty member at Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, ND. Her lecture concentrated on teaching about the Native science of medicinal plants and Western science and how they can work together to create a more holistic way of understanding the natural world. At the end of her workshop she demonstrated how to create your own healing herbal salve and everybody went home with a tin can of all purpose healing ointment. So needed during the long winter months!
The meals at the conference were cooked from local and organically grown produce and grass fed beef donated from the members and some purchased from the local farms. Organic local Supper Banquet and Homegrown Entertainers concert that followed the supper were a great way to conclude the conference on an upbeat note. The conference gave the participants a boost of energy needed to continue to spread the word about sustainable farming practices for a year till they get together again next winter.