Resource Spotlight: Organic Growers School

In this month's Resource Spotlight, Lee Warren, the Executive Director of Organic Growers School in Asheville, NC, shares the ways in which they support growers locally and nationally, and how you can access the plethora of resources available online. Let's jump right in!

Organic Growers School is the premiere provider of practical and affordable organic education in the Southern Appalachians, building a vibrant food & farming community by boosting the success of organic home growers and farmers in our region. A 501c3 non-profit, we are based in Asheville, NC, and have been serving our region since 1993. Our hands-on trainings, workshops, conferences and partnerships inspire, educate, and support people to farm, garden, and live organically.
Okay now for the fun stuff…
1. How would you describe OGS? But there’s a catch… describe OGS in a haiku! 
Sorry, not up for haiku’s.
But I will tell you about our five awesome goals:

  • We want more farmers on the land using organic practices and a system in which family farms can
  • flourish.
  • We want a garden, an orchard, and chickens in every yard.
  • We want the average person to populate their daily lives with home-grown food.
  • We want healthy, informed, and engaged consumers choosing local and organic food.
  • We want a democratic, equitable, and just food system.
In short, we want to reclaim agriculture.
We believe this reclamation will transform the health crisis, create strengthened communities, establish regional food sovereignty, and prepare for climate resilience.
2. What does OGS bring to the (national food systems) table? 
OGS has served thousands of growers in the Southern Appalachian region, around the Southeast, and across the country. Here are some of our ongoing programs:
Farmer Programs:
  • Farm Beginnings Farmer Training: A year-long, 200 hour, comprehensive, whole-farm, business training for beginning farmers. Fall of 2019 will begin our 4th full year program.
  • Farm Dreams Workshop: An entry-level, one-day exploratory workshop for farm dreamers offered at least twice per year around our region (the Southern Appalachians).
  • Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT): A farmer-led, peer-to-peer, network offering year-long, practical learning for farmers of all stages through on-farm workshops.
  • Apprentice Link: A free, online, searchable resource for aspiring farmers to find opportunities for on-farm production experience and training on local farms.
  • OGS Farm Network: A free-online resource dedicated to providing information on conscientiously grown food in the WNC region.
  • Women in Ag: Regular gatherings to support women growers.
  • Advanced Farmer Education: Workshops, such as “Managing Farm Labor” and “Holistic Financial Planning” geared towards advanced farmers. Held multiple times throughout the year.
  • Coaching & Mentoring: One-on-one, site-specific, education, coaching, mentoring, and support.
  • Cuba: 10-day Agroecology and Food Justice Trip hosted by OGS and Food First.
Home-Grower Programs:
  • Organic Gardening Series: six-class series for beginning gardeners.
  • Earth Day Film & Panel Discussion: 5 years of providing meaningful environmental and sustainable agriculture related film topics for the community to celebrate Earth Day.
  • Homestead Dreams Workshop: An entry level, exploratory workshop designed to help folks incorporate small-scale, self-sufficiency and sustainability.
  • Living on the Land Learning Circles: Equal parts workshop, site-visit, mentoring experience, gathering of growers, and design session to support growers.
  • Homestead Tours: Showcases home-growers transforming their land into thriving, productive, and resilient ecosystems.
  • Coaching & Mentoring: One-on-one, site-specific, education, coaching, mentoring, and support.
  • Spring Conference: 26 years of our annual event.
  • Harvest Conference: 2019 will be 6 years of our annual event in September.
Movement Building:
  • Outreach & Resources: Providing ongoing phone, email, and social media support for growers and endless web and in-person resources.
  • Strategic Collaborations: Lecturing, partnering, and collaborating around the Southeast regarding farmer training best practices, program replication, rural support initiatives, and food system reform.
  • Social Justice Activism: Working towards a culture that prioritizes racial equity and justice and supports a diverse growing community in WNC. Staff and farmer instructor training and outreach to marginalized farmers has already begun.
3. Who does OGS serve? 
OGS serves adult growers of all races, ethnicities, and income levels in the Southern Appalachian mountains which spans: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. 42% of the region’s population is rural, compared with 20% of national population.
The region boasts a strong history of agriculture, forestry, and mining. Yet big agriculture and big industry have long capitalized on the rich resources while failing to bring long-term relief to poverty. We serve many “transitional” or “at-risk” counties, defined as economically worse than the national average on at least three indicators (3-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income, and poverty rate).
OGS stands for sustainable agriculture, in the form of small-scale and regional food production, as an alternative to industrial and global food practices. We are actively advocating for an organic food system that values diversity, resiliency, and community.
4. What do people/orgs look to you for?
Organic Grower School inspires, educates and supports people to live, garden and farm organically. We are building a mutually supportive network of prosperous farmers, productive gardeners and informed consumers engaged in creating healthy communities.
5. What one (or two!) problem(s) can someone find solutions for on your site?
  • Beginning Farmer Education & Support
  • Organic Growing Information for Any Scale
6. Are there certain tools or resources that you’ve found especially popular? 
  • Our Annual Spring Conference (March 6-8, 2020 - learn more here!)
  • Farm Beginnings Farmer Training
Wow! You have a TON going on - thank you for making the time to share all of this. For more information, visit their website and be sure to stay up to date by signing up for their newsletter.

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