For me, Natchitoches (pronounced nak-a-dish for those not familiar with how to spit that word out), has always been a magical little place across the Louisiana border since I can remember. Mainly, because of their Festival of Lights along the beautiful Cane River complete with fireworks & carriage rides every year around the holidays; and also, because I don't know a southern woman alive who doesn't love the movie Steel Magnolias, which also happened to be filmed in that beautiful historic town. So, when I discovered that Campti Field of Dreams along with the USDA and the NRCS were offering a conference in Natchitoches featuring Joel Salatin, Jean-Martin Fortier, and Dr. Charles Fluharty - I could NOT register fast enough. And the sweetest part of all? It was free! The whole conference, minus a farm-to-table dinner fundraiser on Friday evening catered by chef Desi Bourgeois, cost absolutely nothing to attend. And from what everyone seemed to be buzzing about, that's pretty much unheard of.
Registration kicked off with a tour of Cane River Creole National Historical Park's Oakland Plantation, just a few miles south in Natchez, Louisiana, which was incredibly amazing to see. I'm a huge fan of history, so this kind of stuff just fascinates me probably more than some, but I would be willing to bet anybody subscribing to self-sustainability would really enjoy experiencing this 27+ building plantation as much as I did. If you enjoy the idea of homesteading or farming, and would like to get an up close and personal look at how a successful self-sustaining plantation was laid out and what all they were capable of doing themselves, then I highly recommend a visit for you and your family.
A little later on that evening, Dr. Charles Fluharty, the founder and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, eloquently spoke about thinking bigger about smaller places in regards to rural America, its crossroads, and rural cultural wealth during our welcome reception. I left that evening completely excited by his speech, because our vision at Fuller House Farm seems to be lining up quite nicely with the future needs of agriculture in regards to the generations to come. Having your dreams and ideas validated by facts and data figures is more than a little reassuring, and really boosts my desire to see those visions come to fruition even more!
Friday, JM Fortier took to the podium, and offered up lots of good info for those whose passion include small scale, bio-intensive crop farming, and market gardening. Unfortunately, the conference did a great job of offering several breakout sessions that were all beneficial in my eyes, so I didn't listen to every one of his presentations, but from what I heard, he knocked it out of the park for those who make their money by growing food from the dirt. I noticed that he also stuck around, making himself available during every break - and even the next day - talking with the attendees about their personal stories or answering their specific questions. He seemed like a really humble guy, and I was impressed by how personable and approachable he was.
After about 8.5 hours of conferencing, I quickly realized how much of an old bird I really am, and headed back to my bed and breakfast for a quick nap and to freshen up for the farm-to-table dinner we had scheduled a little later on that evening. So, unfortunately I missed the Campti Historic Museum & Tallowah Farm open house, but I'd like to get back across the reservoir this summer, and hopefully make that visit up with Brandon and the kids another time.
It was a good thing I recharged for dinner, because it was a lot of fun, and a LOT of food! Chef Desi Bourgeois of Grown and Grazed in Ruston, La offered up a spectacular meal, including curried lamb with roasted root veggies, Caribbean style cabbage and sweet potatoes, homemade biscuits and honey butter, and one heck of a divine peach cobbler-esque dessert. Aside from a few seasonings and staple ingredients, everything on the menu was truly farm to table, and I loved how the three main dining tables were configured to induce great and memorable conversations.
Saturday was just purely a farmsteader's dream come true! If your passion revolves around any kind of small scale sustainable agriculture, and you get the chance to listen to Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms - don't walk there, run! Most average folks you meet on the street will probably ask "Joel who?" whenever the name is mentioned, but us homesteading, livestock-loving loonies know and refer to him repeatedly as a big timer in the sustainable food movement. Like, seriously. Joel is one heck of well seasoned lecturer, and from what I could tell - everyone present in his class could have easily listened to him all day long, and then some. In my opinion, the equal amounts of knowledge (sixteen pages of notes!) and entertainment that you get from his lectures are just so great, and I'm super thankful that I had the opportunity to listen to each and every one of his sessions. You Can Farm and Pastured Poultry Profit$ are definitely in my queue of books to read as soon as I can get my hands on them.
At the end of it all, this unbelievably free conference was such a priceless opportunity for me, and so many others I'm sure. I can't thank Donna Isaacs of Campti Field of Dreams, Inc. enough for making Back to Your Roots 2018 a reality for us all. There's just something really special about getting to learn directly from the source, and interact with them one-on-one so personally. The amount of useful information, inspiration, networking, and encouragement I gained from attending my first sustainable agriculture conference is immeasurable, and if given the chance to go back in the future - I will again, and again.