And you remember I said that long before setting foot in Austin. :^)
Despite the cancellation of many flights from O'Hare to Points
Midwest thanks to this week's El Nin~o Surprise, we 4/11ths of the
Wisconsin contingent (Rick Klemme, Margaret Krome, Steve Ventura, and
I) made it back safely from the SARE ten-year conference to Madison
by securing the last one-way rental car Budget had. Gads, what an
impressive mess we returned to! Cars drifted over completely on the
isthmus, noisy wild whitecaps on Lake Mendota--and a huge lovely Snow
Buddha sitting amidst the arctic swirl, in James Madison Park.
But I didn't write to brag about our weather. I wrote to propose
sharing thoughts on the SARE conference from those who attended for
the benefit of those who weren't with us. Anybody game?
I was impressed with the quality of the panels, the breadth of
topics, and the poster sessions, which changed twice a day. Since
there were blocks of time set aside for poster session grazing, it
drew folks into the poster/exhibit area effectively. Otherwise,
posters are like wallpaper, and people can lull themselves into
thinking, eh, they'll be there later...and never go see them at all.
Looking at the posters I thought once again about the riches awaiting
being shared with those hungry for the information/knowledge.
Regarding pure/basic facts, I've got a pile of leads for folks who've
asked for them. Learned a whole lot, and that is always a joy. But
reflected anew on sustainable ag communications...the least resourced
portion, IMNSHO, of a low-resourced field. I think about how much
corporations spend on communications, to sustain their organizations
and sell their products...more another time on that.
The panel I moderated was on niche marketing (David Oien from
Timeless Seeds in MT, Eero Ruttilla from Nesenkeag Co-op in NH, and
Marlyn Jorgensen from IA). I wanted to spend the entire day
listening to these creative, thoughtful entrepreneurs. We've come
so far in encouraging diverse viewpoints and common-ground-seeking in
the sustag movement; very heartening. As usual, there was the sense
of people being open with their ideas and "secrets"---always has been
one of the big Draws of sustainable and organic ag for me.
I've long had my loves for and curmudgeonly blarfs about SARE (as
about anything, being a Wisconsin Progressive With Viewpoints), but
looking at the *people* involved, there isn't room for anything but
appreciation. It was pretty moving to see all the past SARE
directors and staff and Administrative Council and Technical
Committee members on hand. Jill Auburn asked those folks to stand
for recognition during one of the plenary sessions. Based on what I
saw of Rick Klemme's involvement in the North Central Administrative
Council in recent years, I looked at each of those folks with awe
for the energy they'd put in in the past ten years.
When I started this job in '92, SARE was much more of a patchwork
than it is now; SAN was in its infancy. Somehow, in Austin, it all
came together, not only how much SARE/SAN had benefited us at CIAS,
at UW-Madison, and throughout Wisconsin, and how we used that
support to leverage other support...but how much the programs have
benefited from the input of truly spectacular people at the local
level. Good to see us growing and maturing as a community.
The energy: powerfully positive and hopeful, though far from solely
a feel-good session; I heard plenty of wise and powerful critique.
Fred Kirschenmann was not able to give the first day's keynote.
Guess most of you heard about the terrible fire at his and Carolyn's
farm, and are already sending out beams of care and support.
Jim Horne took Fred's place for that plenary, and shared his growth
to sustainable from conventional ag at the Kerr Center. I appreciated
hearing him. Those of us who've always been on the Correct Side of
these issues stand to learn a lot from those who've grown into it.
Particularly about flexibility of thinking. %^)
I thought Jim Hightower's best moment was the Lily Tomlin quote
about cynicism, which I can't for the life of me drag out of my
brain at this hour.
Deputy USDA Secretary Richard Rommiger had some strong words about
the NOP draft organic rule...I wrote them down and will share later,
with some thoughts on NOP that I've been letting mellow like a good
The Seating Gods blessed me with a seat next to Dick and Sharon
Thompson on the Austin/O'Hare flight. Boy, did I learn a lot, from
them and from other farmers in attendance. The usual.
Kudos to the national SARE and SAN staff, as well as the regional
staffs and everyone involved in planning and conducting this
gathering. Thanks, folks, for bringing us together. It was a great
kick-off to the next ten years...and the next ten thousand.
I'll stop there. Would those who attended like to share their
favorite conference moment and their biggest learning experience?
PS--No, I didn't rent the Harley on Saturday; it was way too windy
and rainy to take a heavy ol' Soft Tail with over twice the cc's of
my own bike on unfamiliar roads full of Austin drivers (motto:
"Surprise!"), and me with no rain gear. Dang. Next time. :^D
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
In the end, they will lay their freedom at our feet
and say to us, 'Make us your slaves, but feed us.'
--the Grand Inquisitor
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