Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference

Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference

I was fortunate and able to attend the Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference this past Saturday January 26 in Grayling, Michigan. It was an educational day and a chance to see old friends and meet new people. I attended 3 sessions

  • Dairying without antibiotics
  • Regenerative Soil Care
  • Basic Meat curing at Home

In the Dairy session I learned all kinds of interesting things that can be done to raise a herd of dairy cow without frequent doses of antibiotics as is the mainstream method. I give these farmers a lot of credit, it is not an easy path they have chosen but they are committed to it. I attended this session because someday I hope to keep a dairy cow and I was just gathering some info as I begin to think how I might ever achieve the dream of a milk cow. Some of their discussions were a bit over my head at times but I took away that there is a lot that can be done with feed and supplements to promote health. For different situations they use doses of Vitamin C, diatomaceous earth, minerals missed with kelp and probiotics. Sorry I don’t have much more detail than that but it did open my eyes to the possibilities of medication free dairy. Something to think about for the future.

Craig Schaaf’s Soil session was amazing. I really am not a great gardener and he gave me a lot of good ideas, or rekindled them in me. He very passionately explained why double digging at first and then followed up broad folk when needed is best, it does not break up the soil profile and especially the webs and fibers of mushroom colonies under the surface. I came away with the idea in my head that mineral depleted soils produce bland and flat tasting veggies. He thinks his veggies taste so good because of his mineral dense soils. And we need to focus on carbon, growing carbon producing plants like wheat, barley and oats. He thinks that should be 60% of your profile and 30% root crops and 10% in veggies. Growing your own carbon to return to the soil is better than bringing in ‘carbon’ from some other land, i.e. purchased comost, manure, straw. The biggest idea I came away with is to strive to be a net producer instead of a net consumer. I have a lot of improvement to make.

Chef Steven Grostick was very informative and filled with experience based knowledge. I know Steven, so perhaps I am biased! He covered basic meat curing focusing on bacon. He likes diamond krystal kosher salt best! I might switch. We had a long discussion on the pink salt… which is nitrites and why he has to use in it retail/restaurant settings. But Salt will naturally produce nitrites and nitrates during the salt curing process. There was a discussion that this is not a bad thing and that the quantity is not over the top as it is in cheaply made, mass produced bacon and other cured products. White mold is good and green and black are bad. Good lessons to live by. He helped me with some questions I had as I am actually salt curing some meat down in my cellar right now!

The Keynote speaker, Jason Rowntree, did a great job of explaining his ‘middle of the road’ understanding and appreciation of ‘triple bottom line’ agriculture. That means that the bottom line is not just profit, but it also includes sustainability, especially in regard to resources and community building. Lots of fodder to think about! He invited everyone to his research station in Lake City where they are doing some interesting cattle grazing research.

It was a great day and I recommend going if you are able. Next year it is Feb 1, 2014 and it is being held in a new location, the Grand Traverse Resort in Traverse City.

Info on the conference can be found at

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