SHERIDAN — When it comes to agriculture, Sheridan County is certainly known for cows; it has been said the area has more cattle than people.
But historically Sheridan has been a very diverse agricultural region featuring many fruits and vegetables that have since decreased in production popularity.
Now, with the ever-growing push for local food production throughout the country, chickens, sheep, pigs, fruits, vegetables and even bees are reclaiming some local focus from their bovine friends.
Next week, a conference is coming to town with the goal of helping professional and hobby farmers, small-acreage owners, backyard gardeners and local food enthusiasts learn how to make the most of their property and innovative food production.
“Living and Working on the Land: The Building Blocks of Success” will be held Sept. 3-4 at the Sheridan Holiday Inn, featuring keynote speakers Ken Meter and Fred Kirschenmann.
Meter is the president of the Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and he will speak on Sept. 3 about the potential for local food systems to drive community development.
“Local foods may be the best path for promoting community economic development,” he said in his summer 2014 article “Local Food Systems: Enhancing Opportunity.”
In this article, Meter studied Sheridan County and the effects of food costs on our area as well as Wyoming in general.
He stated that Sheridan County purchases about $85 million of food each year, yet well over $75 million of it is sourced outside the county.
He begs the question, “How long can Sheridan afford this loss?” adding that the state of Wyoming spends $360 million a year paying for the medical costs of overweight conditions like obesity and diabetes.
“If Sheridan County and other counties in the West and Midwest could produce more fresh and healthy food for themselves, and if residents ate healthy and exercised well, some of this money could be kept to work at home,” he said.
Meter will offer another session at the conference for more depth on this topic.
Kirschenmann is a Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture in Ames, Iowa.
He will bring perspective on developing an adaptive food system given the imperatives of today on the second day of the conference.
Backyard poultry, horse health and boarding, beekeeping, growing small fruits, landscaping with native plants, health and safety requirements for direct sales, women on the ranch and alternative energy are among the other topics that will be discussed.
The two-day conference will conclude with a choice of activities including a tour of the wool mill in Buffalo, a food preservation workshop and a beehive and community supported agriculture enterprises tour.
“Who isn’t concerned about landscaping in an area where our environment isn’t very friendly and we don’t have a lot of water?” said Cole Ehmke, event organizer and University of Wyoming Extension specialist. “Our counties are big open counties and even if you live in town you should be concerned with your rural enterprises because they affect everyone.”
Ehmke said the conference will be most beneficial for “agripreneurs.”
“Agripreneurs want to take a risk on the sideline, someone who is using their agriculture resources like open space, good grass land and perhaps some facilities like a barn, to take on an enterprise,” he said. “An element we’ll talk about too is how to get into some of these projects with your eyes wide open. For example if someone were considering a small-scale dairy option, that is a huge commitment. Cows need to be milked every single day of the year and that’s not a commitment everyone is willing to take on. We don’t want people to get out there with a few horses and a few acres and realize they can’t support it and then because of their choices their land is compromised. You’ve probably seen those acres that just have no grass because it has been over grazed.”
The sessions are not exclusive to land owners, though, as he added that the general community has a lot to learn at the conference.
“In Sheridan we have to bring our food in from hundreds if not thousands of miles away and it creates a disconnect from our food system,” he said. “A lot of people want to be more in tuned with their food. Where is my food coming from? How is it produced? Can I do some myself and can I sell it to someone else? Answering these questions make those food systems more concise.”
Registration is $65 for producers and $135 for others and can be completed by calling 307-777-6319 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A full itinerary and more information can be seen at www.blocksofsuccess.org.