Andrea and I attended the third annual Field to Fork Festival this weekend. We have attended the festival every year, and I've written about it each time. I described my experience at the 2011 festival in a blog entry on Earthineer - Field to Fork Festival 2011, and last year wrote about it here - Field to Fork Festival - 2012.
As I mentioned in my post about last year's event, the large number of students visiting as part of the Governor's Scholar Program made it difficult to really gauge the turnout. Without the GSP students attending this year, it seemed like the number of participants was down quite a bit. Most of the workshops I attended were small, with maybe four to six people total, with the largest having maybe ten to twelve participants. I found this to be much better than the larger crowds from last year, especially since the participants this year all seemed to be very interested in the topics being covered. The smaller groups allowed for some good discussion, and for the instructors to target the material based on what those in attendance were interested in.
The number of vendors also seemed to be less this year, although I know that was, in part, due to some last minute cancellations. There was still a nice selection of vendors, but I would loved to have seen even more in attendance. Hopefully the festival will continue to grow, and will attract more and more vendors each year.
The facilities used for the festival were also improved for this year, with additional classrooms added, most of which were completely enclosed. Unfortunately, however, three of the new classroom areas required walking up a fairly steep hill, which I suspect could have been daunting for some festival-goers.
Another significant change from previous years was the addition of all day, or half day, workshops on Friday. I was eager to take advantage of the opportunity, and Andrea decided to sign up for a couple of the half day workshops and tag along. Initially I planned to attend the Chicken Coop Design & Building workshop on Friday, but after having already designed a coop I decided instead to take the Root Cellar Construction workshop. I will be doing a blog entry dedicated to that workshop. Andrea took Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Berries and Basic Fruit Tree Care.
Andrea and I both signed up for five workshops on Saturday. Andrea attended Livestock First-Aid, Grow Your Own Vegetable Starts, Rain Gardens, Pawpaws & Persimmons, and Ricotta Cheese Making. She's shared quite a bit of information with me about those workshops, so I think its safe to say that she enjoyed them and found them to be informative. While I can't really provide any details on the workshops she participated in, I can for those that I attended.
- Blueberry Basics - The instructor for this workshop was Aaron Shapiro of the Kentucky Blueberry Growers Association. She came prepared with a power point presentation, but the lack of projector made it difficult for everyone to see it. After being asked several questions by participants she eventually abandoned the prepared material, and the workshop became a more informal discussion and Q and A session. This seemed to work very well, as it allowed those in attendance to have their specific questions answered. I was the only one there not currently growing blueberries, so I learned a lot about the issues that new growers face and gained info on the pitfalls that we need to look out for. My only complaint with this workshop is that the $15 fee seemed a bit on the high side, especially since the only supplies used was the blueberry plant the instructor brought for illustration purposes.
- Farming on 5 Acres of Less - This workshop was led by Larry Swartz of Windhover Farm. This two hour workshop was very interactive, with the instructor engaging each participant to understand his/her current situation and future plans. Interestingly, the instructor does not currently, nor has he ever, farmed on anything approaching 5 acres; his current farm is 100 acres. However, he was very knowledgeable, and had plenty of useful information to share. The session was much more of an informal discussion, than a structured workshop, which worked very well. I gained some useful knowledge, but more than anything, was inspired by what he had to say. I was actually late getting to my next workshop, because the conversation was so enjoyable. In fact, this workshop was, by far, the most enjoyable one of the day.
- So You Want to Raise Chickens - This workshop was changed at the last minute, as the original instructor was unable to make it. Rick Griebenow, of Eastern Kentucky University, stepped in to fill the void, however, and did a good job. Like the previous workshops, this one was more of a discussion and Q and A session than anything. I learned a great deal from the workshop, especially about long term egg storage. Again, though, I found the fee, this time $20, to be excessive. This may have very well been due to the change in instructors though. I suspect that the original instructor had more planned, especially since the workshop was scheduled for ninety minutes, even though it ended up only lasting an hour with the Mr. Griebenow substituting.
- Seed Saving - The seed saving workshop was led by Jay Hettsmansperger of the Garrard County Cooperative Extension Service. The focus of the workshop was the wet method of seed saving, presumably because the dry method, which he did mention, is so simple. He used tomatoes as the specific example, but described other fruits and vegetables which require the same methods. There wasn't a lot of material to cover, so the last several minutes were discussing the cooperative extension service in general. The workshop was informative, and well worth the time investment, however.
- Urban Composting - My final workshop of the day was led by Markus Cross of Eastern Kentucky University. Obviously I have little need for information on urban composting specifically, but I suspected that much of the information covered would be useful in any setting. I was right, and even though I had more experience with composting than the other participants, I learned some useful tips. More important than the information, however, I left the workshop with the motivation to actively seek out additional materials to add to the compost. After hearing about the instructor's experience with adding meat, dairy, and oils to his compost with no negative effects, I've decided to give that a try, rather than adding an additional composting process for those items. My only complaint with this workshop is that it ran short, lasting only half of the scheduled two hours. By that time, however, I was getting tired and was glad to find that Andrea's last workshop also let our early, allowing us to get on the road, and therefore back home, earlier than anticipated.
While my primary goal when attending these events is to learn as much as possible from the workshops, I also enjoy browsing the offerings by the local vendors. I had a two hour break, between the chicken and seed saving workshops, so I used this time to get a bite to eat and look around. Unfortunately there wasn't really anything available that I was interested in having for lunch, but I had brought along some snacks just to be safe.
After having a snack I took a stroll through the vendor/exhibitor area, and stopped and chatted with several. My first stop was at the Kentucky Blueberry Growers Association booth, where I chatted with Aaron Shapiro for a few moments. Next I stopped by and chatted with the folks at England's Orchard & Nursery, a local nursery offering fruit and nut trees for sale. Perhaps the most interesting thing, however, was the rotatable beehive designed by Carl Jackson of Royalty Hives in Corbin.
I still had an hour to kill after finishing up with the vendors, so I used the opportunity to listen to the performance by Western Kentucky roots rock band Heath & Molly. They put on a great show, and were a lot of fun to watch. We ended up picking up their latest CD, Truth?, before leaving the festival.
Lastly, as if the workshops, vendors, and entertainment weren't enough, I can't accurately describe my festival experience without talking about the people. I really enjoyed meeting many of the instructors, including Darryl Pifer from Friday's root cellar workshop, and Larry Swartz and Markus Cross from Saturday. Darryl invited me to come visit his straw bale home sometime, which I will most likely take him up on. In addition to the instructors I met several interesting participants as well, including Sarah from the KY Earthship Group, whom I was only to talk with briefly. There was also a lady, whose name I failed to get, who is planning to open a holistic retreat on a sustainable farm where guests will be able to spend the night in cob cottages. This is very similar to an idea I had in the past, so I am very interested to see how it works out for her. Last, but certainly not least, it was nice to chat with Deborah and Ron, from Halcomb's Knob, which hosts the festival.
I will definitely be attending next year's festival. In fact, we were asked, by Deborah, to join the planning committee for 2014. I hope that my experiences, both with the Field to Fork Festival as well as the many others I have attended, can help to improve on what is already a very enjoyable and informative event. If you haven't attended before, and you're within driving distance, I suggest that you check it out next year. I will certainly be there.