Every winter farmers, homesteaders, and gardeners leave the farm for conference halls.
While conferences offer the chance to learn new skills and practices, they can also be overwhelming.
How do you decide which workshop to go to when there are 3 you’re interested in scheduled at the same time? Will you really be able to retain everything once the day is done?
Here are 4 tips for getting the most out of a farming conference.
1. Identify what areas you want to focus on.
Many conferences offer different tracks: commercial crop growing, livestock, marketing, homestead, policy. Before you go, check out the conference program and highlight which workshops will most benefit you.
Do you want to incorporate more cover crops into your rotation? Do you need a better understanding of soil building and no-till techniques? Are you looking for new ways to engage your customers?
Do you want to learn more about beekeeping or soapmaking? How to use dowsing to plan your garden, or how to become a citizen lobbyist and more effective activist?
There are workshops for all of that.
When we started Good Heart Farmstead, I knew way more about growing vegetables than I did about growing a business. Knowing that I wanted to learn how to reach more customers, I spent two winters attending all the marketing workshops I could, spending weekends learning about websites, branding, and more, while my partner focused on other tracks.
Which brings us to the next tip…
2. Make a team plan
One of the hardest things is deciding between two workshops that are happening at the same time.
If you’re going to a conference with your partner, friends, or co-workers, make a team plan for each person to attend different workshops. Afterward, get together and share the takeaways from each workshop, and how you might be able to incorporate the lessons into your farm or homestead.
3. Take notes
Bring a notebook and pen and write by hand. Taking notes by hand improves your retention and understanding of a presentation. Plus, you’ll be better able to share what you’ve learned with others if you have notes to look back at.
4. Introduce yourself to presenters and fellow conference goers.
You may be lured by specific workshops, but relationship building is one of the greatest benefits of conferences. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and make connections with people in the workshops you attend.
If you’re an introvert like me and aren’t sure how to do this, here’s a simple script:
Walk up to someone you want to meet and say, “Hi, I’m Kate. I don’t think we’ve met before,” and shake hands.
The best way to start a conversation is to ask questions. People love to talk about themselves and what they do, so ask where they’re from, what they grow, what workshops they’ve attended, and so on.
If you’re introducing yourself to a presenter, you can comment on and thank them for their presentation. It doesn’t have to be a long conversation, but these connections can lead you to new ideas, teachers, and friendships, all of which can help you grow.
After all, sustainability and self-sufficiency are dependent on community.
Here in Vermont, we’re getting ready for the NOFA-VT Winter Conference, happening February 15 & 16th.
I’ll be presenting a workshop on Saturday, and I’d love you to join me!
You can check out the NOFA-VT conference schedule here.
I’ll be presenting during Session 2: Effective Email Marketing & Copywriting for Farmers. Let me know if you’ll be there, and please do introduce yourself!
What are your favorite farming and homesteading conferences? If you have more tips for getting the most out of them, please share them in the comments below.