Monday, February 16, 2009

Rural Advantage/Healthy Farms Conference Recap

Blizzards, cancellations, horse races, and projectors throwing sparks, were all part of a hugely successful conference in Grand Island. Oh and there was also great food, great breakout sessions, great keynote, and a fabulous auction.
From the beginning we knew it would be a chore to coordinate everything considering the mammoth storm that was due to arrive early on Friday, Friday the 13th. Some coincidence!

However the snow did not start to attack the Grand Island area until 7:15 or so. The conference was a go, and despite several phone calls inquiring otherwise, we were ready to roll.

The conference officially began with Melinda Hemmelgarn's inspiring keynote about helping people to "think beyond their plates." Now while I did not get to hear most of the keynote, or most of the sessions for that matter, I was able to catch up with this Food and Society Fellow at later parts of the conference. For me one of my favorite parts of her talk was the question she posed, “Where would we be without farmers growing good food?” I believe our farmers are absolutely crucial in this connection of food to plate to consumer and even to health.

Following the keynote address were our first round of breakout sessions. I believe we averaged around 40 in each of the three sessions, which I felt was quite good considering the full-blown blizzard occurring outside. By this time, 10:15ish, I could measure 4 inches of snow on my car. So in only 3 hours that much snow had fallen. It was in deed going to make for an interesting day for those coming to the conference later. However my next obstacle was looming large, and was most certainly not my area of expertise.

Now for the conference we, the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society- NSAS, were going to have to utilize our own equipment for the sessions. Meaning our own laptops and projectors. We had plenty of laptops, and the exact right amount of projectors. However some of the projectors would only work with some of the laptops, so at times it felt like putting together a puzzle to get things to work. Luckily all of the speakers were patient and good at "winging it" in dire straights! So the first round went alright. In the meantime we had some board members coordinating our auctions, which were conveniently located on the other side of the hotel, (purely a logistic hassle, not an actual concern!) Well this posed another problem as when I went over to that side, and poked my head in at the youth program I realized no one had arrived to take care of them. We quickly got them set up with some cool board games that I had brought from home in case of such a situation, and coordinated an awesome volunteer to see that there was adequate programming for the rest of the day. We had a great youth program thanks to this individual and I am hoping to collaborate with him in the future on youth programs and camps. If you would like to know his name contact me.

The afternoon sessions went great as well. While I had to occasionally put different pieces of that "puzzle" together and take them apart, the technology held up. We did have one cancellation because of the weather, but luckily we had a board member who specialized in this act topic, beekeeping, that he was more than an adequate fill-in! However things were about to get interesting.

For our auctions we always get this great family of auctioneers who volunteer their time to come down and run our live auction. They are professionals in every sense of the word and you cannot measure their value to our auction! However due to the blizzard, which had now deposited nearly 6 inches of snow, with drifting and hazardous driving conditions, they were unable to make it. So again we improvised. One of our board members, who had coordinated all of the auction items and events, as well as another individual volunteered to be our "auctioneers." And they did a fantastic job. Prior to the auction we had beer and wine reception of only Nebraska products, and I believe it was very successful. I believe there was a great sense of appreciation and respect for the individuals who produced the beer and wine, as well as all of the food, and we were their in this regard to celebrate the "flavor and taste" and Nebraska.

At the conclusion of our auction and reception we had an awesome dinner of Nebraska products, featuring a menu of almost all Nebraska ingredients. My favorite item was the ribs and the pie. Quite an eclectic combination but it was delicious. Nebraska had a very unique taste and it was definitely on display at the dinner. The Midtown Holiday Inn, where the conference was located, did a fantastic job of preparing the food and of overall contributing to a hugely successful opening day of the conference. Part II will come later but for now enjoy the pictures from opening day!

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