Early bird registration for the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance's (FARFA) Leadership Conferenceopened this week. If you care about local food issues, then mark calendar your for September 22-23 because you might want to head down to Bastrop for this one. (If you can't go, they would still be happy to take your money in exchange for a membership.)
FARFA is an organization that advocates for small, independent farmers and ranchers as well as consumers wanting a strong local food economy. You could think of FARFA members as "agtivists" if you want (I did not make that word up). I was there last year, and plan on going again. Based on my experiences last year, here are some reasons for you to make the trip.
You like politics. Or you hate politics. Maybe you enjoy the political process: lobbying, reading about upcoming legislation, calling your state representative and senator. Or maybe you have guns buried in your front yard (because you never know) and want the government to quit with the regulating already. FARFA is into both of those things (minus the gun part). FARFA lobbies and works to promote legislation that reduces small farm regulation on many fronts, from cottage food laws to raw milk access. Last year conference sessions covered national topics like the Farm Bill (which we are still talking about because nobody can seem to get anything done in Congress these days) to regional issues like food distribution, farmers markets, and the good, bad, and ugly of state laws and regulations.
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You hate GMOs. Hey, FARFA hates them too, big time. If you marched on Monsanto and want to do more, then you've found your people. There were multiple sessions on the subject last year covering GMO basics, their affects on livestock, and possible upcoming legislation.
Lunch. Usually conference lunches suck. There is some sort of tough, stringy meat, mashed potatoes, soggy green beans and rolls. Top it off with a sad cookie and you probably gained two pounds and need a nap. At FARFA, you might gain two pounds but it will totally be worth it. Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due will be providing the lunch again this year and I am already excited. I vaguely remember everything being fresh, local and so good I only controlled myself because there were others present. Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, or some other dietary restriction that I don't even know exists? They'll have you covered too, because the lunch is made of real food.
You get the whole Texas ideological spectrum. You will get the entire political spectrum at FARFA. And I mean the whole thing. Last year's conference was the most diverse group of white people I have ever met. It's not actually just white people, but they were definitely disproportionately represented. This is not FARFA's fault, but it was so striking that it has stuck with me since last year. However we can save discussing the complexities of race and the local food movement until another day.
So anyway, at the conference you will find conservative Christians with seven kids who are into canning and raw milk. There will be libertarian types who want to raise their goats in peace without the government getting all up in their business. They are also into canning and raw milk, but mostly because they are afraid that the thin veneer holding society together is going to disintegrate at any moment and therefore hold self-reliance in high regard. You'll also have more liberal leaning, environmentally minded people, again into canning and raw milk. Not to mention rural and city folk, young and old people, politicians, city administrators, producers, consumers, etc. Like I said, a broad spectrum of people. And even though half the room might not agree with the other half on a single other issue, people at a FARFA conference are united by the idea of creating a strong local and regional food system.