Part Two VABF conference has great continuing ed

In the first of this pair of stories, AMR listeners met Ryan Blosser, president of the Virginia Association of Biological Farmers, and heard a little about their annual conference at the Homestead. Even in just one morning of the three-day conference there were so many good continuing education offerings, it was tough to choose which to attend. I know debt-free farm-steading would have been helpful, but I chose Industrial Hemp, Harvesting Rain, and a little bit of Aquaculture.

Michael Judd is the author of the book Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist, and the practices he promotes for harvesting rainwater go well beyond rain barrels. With swales, a grower can collect up to ten times more water than in a barrel, especially if the planting beds are in range of run-off from a roof. Michael Judd began by mentioning a standard approach to controlling water.

“Seems like our modern designs are focused on getting water away as fast as possible, letting it collect all the crap on the way, and then shooting it into the watershed.”

To create a swale, the gardener, or farmer, shapes the earth along a contour so that a basin runs along the upslope side of a berm, and the crop is planted in the high side, the berm, or the raised bed.

Again Michael Judd,

“It hydrates not just the space for that raised bed, but it’ll go thirty, forty plus feet down and rehydrates the whole water table for the whole zone. And when you rehydrate soil passively like this, it flourishes. The soil builds beautifully ad quickly. You cannot imitate this kind of water with a hose. You can’t go out there and water your garden and water your plants, and get the same benefits that you get from passively harvesting on your landscape.”

A few other design elements Judd uses in his business are herb spirals, rain gardens, and earthen ovens.

The discussion of aquaculture focused mostly on farm ponds, cages, varieties of fish and stocking rates. But practical tips were plenty too. As with any animal care, food is the major expense, and one fish farmer shared a creative solution if you have access to soy or corn in bulk.

“Well my buddy developed this system where he took a chest freezer, and he took ice cube trays, and he put corn and soy feed in the ice cube trays with water, and froze ‘em. And then he just broke them, and the ice cube floats, and the fish nibbles on it as it melts.”

Again, the organization bringing the wealth of experience and practical designs along with solid ideology to the Omni Homestead was the Virginia Association of Biological Farmers. Their overall goal is to develop financially sustainable systems for humans as well as ecologically sustainable ones for the planet.

“We support all farmers who want to raise livestock, or grow grains, fruits, and vegetables in ways that are respectful of the cycles of weather, the geography, and our neighborhoods. This includes not only farmers, but the many people who buy the food products grown on sustainable farms, the schools and parents who teach our children about working with nature, and small-farm activists and extension agents who help our communities thrive.” For more information visit

Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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