IDEA Donna at the Sustainable Agronomic Education Association

It was back in February that I attended a conference in McAllen, TX dedicated to sustainable agriculture.  It was quite a whirlwind of information and experiences in a small span of two days.  Day One started early and included a tour of organically practicing farms and businesses.  About 40 of us crammed into two vans and trekked off towards our first stop.  As we exited the same off ramp I use to go to work every morning I started to get excited to know there was someone very close to where the farm was.  The first stop was actually a sustainable hay operation where the only chemicals put on the hay was a bi-monthly regimen of compost tea.  (I was to learn a lot about compost tea during the conference.) Sadly, I never got a picture because of the rain but was able to get a contact for good mulching hay.  (Those are few and far between in the valley.)

The next place I took a lot of pictures at.  Mostly because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing in the middle of literal nowhere.  After passing one onion or sugar cane farm after the other we made a turn into Hilltop Gardens.

Apparently, the original farms that produced commercial aloe vera started in the Rio Grande Valley.  Specifically what is now called Hilltop Gardens.  So when they said they had a 200 variety Aloe Vera garden I was impressed.  This stuff had to come from around the world and go through a lot of customs and red tape to even get here.

Notice in the middle background there is something akin to a floppy eared aloe vera.  That is an Aloe Vera tree.

This is a crawling Aloe Vera plant.  Crazy.

More will come about Hilltop Gardens when the elementary school club goes next week.  Back to the conference.

The rest of the day and the next was a lecture series on different agricultural topics ranging from integrated pest management (Let me just say I now believe flies are the most disgusting creatures alive.  Period.) all the way to how one woman started a Rio Grande Valley Winery and overcame a lot of odds to pull it off.

I learned a lot about how compost tea can revolutionize your farm if implemented properly.  (This will be a later post after I get a good regimen down and can see the results myself.  But if what they are saying is true, I can’t wait.)

I also learned a good deal about soil and how having organic matter can determine whether or not you will get a long term sustainable farm.

The Rio Grande Valley Soil tends to lack a lot of organic matter in the soil so a good annual mix-in of compost or green manures will keep that organic matter high enough to sustain a good vegetable crop without having to resort to pumping chemicals into the soil or crop dusting every year.

I even got to learn about “flame-weeding”  which sounds awesome.  I hate weeds and like fire so this sounds like a win-win for me.  Its called the dragon (get it?)  weeder.  I won’t use one this big but have my sights set on a sweet backpack weeder from Johnny’s.

The coolest part about the flame weeding is actually going down a row of already seeded carrots (they take a long time to germinate)  and kill the pre-emergent weeds with the flame weeder.  So when the carrots do decide to come up they have a leg up on the weeds. Awesome.

All in all it was a good conference.  Some things applied to our specific situation more (compost tea, green manures, manual labor, etc.)  than others (integrated pest management advocated some pesticides for citrus greening, etc.)

It has been a few months since the conference and I still keep up with a few of the people I met there and have implemented some of the strategies I learned while attending.

Conferences, if carefully selected can trounce any book you read because it brings the participant into the larger community of producers.    I highly recommend looking for a conference that caters to your specific need and areas of interest.  Check out the speakers list and see if the relevant lectures equal the cost and if so.  Do it.

Well Back to the Farm,

Farmer Tuley

About ideadonnafarm

I am the resident farmer for IDEA Public Schools in Donna, Texas. I, along with the students, tend an acre right on the school grounds. The things I grow go straight to the students plate, fresh and healthy. This blog is about the projects, ideas (pun), and all around happenings on the IDEA Donna farm. If you live in the area and want to help out, feel free to email me at justin.tuley@ideapublicschools.org.
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