Organic farming
Derek Pruitt - dpruitt@poststar.com Nancy Brown heads out to check feed levels while being trailed by her pigs at the Lewis Waite Farm in Jackson on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2010. Nancy and Alan Brown have been raising pigs and grass-fed beef on their organic farm for many years bringing a personal and local touch to supplying quality meat. The Browns and many other area organic farmers will be gathering this weekend to discuss issues and share ideas about organic farming at the 28th Annual Organic Farming and Gardening Conference in Saratoga Springs. The conference is sponsored by the Northeast Organic Farming Association and they expect 1,000 people to attend 80 workshops over three days.

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Invigorating, enormous, diverse.

Area farmers who have attended the annual Organic Farming and Gardening Conference in the past know what to expect.

About 1,000 people are expected to converge here this weekend to attend a three-day conference at the Saratoga Hilton. Most of the participants will be gathering to learn new techniques and share their ideas while representing an industry that has experienced a dramatic growth rate in the past decade.

Once found mostly at natural foods stores, organic foods have made their way onto the shelves of mainstream supermarkets. The industry has seen its food sales rise from $3.6 billion in 1997 to $21.1 billion in 2008, according to a November 2009 study funded by the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service.

This weekend, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York will be sponsoring its 28th annual gathering with a three-day conference that begins Friday.

The conference will include a trade show and more than 80 workshops. The conference is open to the public, with registration and admission required for some of the events.

"The conference is a time when the organic food community comes together," said Christopher Lincoln, co-owner of the New Minglewood Farm in Greenwich.

"The best part is it re-invigorates you over the winter - young farmers just getting into it, older farmers still excited about doing it. It gives you new things to try," Lincoln said.

Lincoln runs a small organic vegetable farm, concentrating on salad greens, cooking greens and niche products during the spring-to-fall growing and selling season.

"It is primarily for farmers but it's also for consumers. If there is a particular way of growing a crop they'll put on a presentation of how they do it. A lot is also geared toward urban and community gardening. It's a diverse audience and a direct transfer of knowledge," Lincoln said.

"It's enormous. You couldn't go and observe it all," said Alan Brown, who, with his wife Nancy, co-owns the 450-acre Lewis Waite Farm in Jackson, where work goes on all year long.

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"Typically. Nancy and I will attend the classes. We get a chance to talk to other farmers and also to people who are just starting out," said Brown, who started in the beef business in 1967.

On the farm, the Browns' cattle eat grass only. Although not a certified organic operation, the farm practices chemical-free techniques.

Organic farming refers to the specific agricultural production system used to produce food and fiber.

All products sold as "organic" must have organic certification in the U.S. and, since 2002, are under the authority of the USDA National Organic Program, according to the Organic Farming Research Foundation.

Certified organic growers in the U.S. have multiplied from the 2,500 to 3,000 counted in 1994 to about 13,000 in 2007.

A special focus during this year's conference in Saratoga Springs will be on beginning farmers, with programming throughout the weekend to assist people who are either just starting out in farming, or considering entering the business.

Workshops will cover a multitude of topics, from soil management and business management to cheese-making, organic apples and berries and organic beer.

Meals will be prepared from local organic ingredients and the conference will also feature a large trade show, entertainment, and children's workshops.

For more information on the conference schedule and costs, call 585-479-7998 or visit: www.nofany.org.


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