• Jessica Kesler

Homesteaders of America Conference 2019

Updated: Oct 13, 2019

As someone who has only attended tech conferences for the last 15 years, signing up to go to the Homesteaders of America Conference was a new experience for me. I wasn't sure what to expect or if it was appropriate for us since it is really the first year of trying to make the leap from a part time, mostly a livestock driven hobby farm to making Drunken Cabbage a full time farm dream come true.

The speaker line up looked amazing and the tipping point for me was getting to see Joel Salatin speak again. I've been a huge fan of the "Lunatic Farmer from Polyface Farm" since I saw him featured all those years ago in the movie Food Inc. and then again in 2011 at a small venue in Ybor City, Florida. As a side note, I can honestly say it was his lectures that helped to me to research and commit to the regenerative farming movement and begin my quest towards this major mid-life career change.

He did not disappoint. He may have aged a bit (no offense Joel, I am right there with you) but his passion, poise and use of the English vocabulary continues to amaze me and it was also the first time my husband was able to see him speak in person. He can command a room better than any politician (and really could be one if he wanted to) and is a master of his craft.

I was lucky to attend all of his sessions and walked away with two notebooks full of information and a list of Joel "one liners" that I'll be using for years to come. Did I mention he could also work part-time as a stand up comedian? Seriously, he is one funny and witty person and can make a uncomfortable situation involving death have a few moments of levity.

One of the key areas I wanted to highlight is how he has not lost his compassion for the animals that give their life for us. One of his sessions involved live butchering of broiler chickens, and prior to the beginning of the slaughter, he spoke for over a minute about the ensuring we are honoring the life of the poultry and their sacrifice.

I captured this direct quote because I thought it was so perfect and appropriate and personally think all of us should be living our lives by this credo with all living creatures, even if we are not called to cull animals for food. Even plants give their lives to us when we harvest them, and they also should be grown in a way that honors the way nature intended.

"I don't want to go into la-la land or mysticism but it is important to realize the sacredness of life and the responsibility that comes with taking a life and I think that in general we earn the right to participate in the life, death, decomposition, regeneration, life, death, regeneration cycle as we honor the life and sacredness as it's lived......we are trying to create a respectful honoring life for the bird which then makes the death a thing of sacrifice versus a thing of sacrilege" - Joel Salatin

As a side note, last year, when I had to butcher my two young roosters known as the "Kazoos", I was overwhelmed with emotion when I had to take those lives and it still chokes me up today in certain circumstances. The gift they gave me will never be forgotten and the fact that Joel still after all these years of slaughter makes time to call this out and recognize their sacrifice continues to reinforce why this man is one of my idols and a role model for the next generation of farmers.

Another area that was great was his presentation around the topic of Farming for Profit. As a homestead conference, it is common sense most of the audience ranks independence and self-sufficiency as core values. He did a great job however to call out that to make a farm business work, there has to be "mutual interdependence". This concept is not new to me. In tech there is a framework for bringing products to market called Pragmatic Marketing. A key exercise is determining your Distinctive Competencies and then creating your buy, build, partner strategy from these competences. In short, you build to your strengths and outsource everything else using buy or partner models. Joel reiterated that agriculture is no different in this area and should follow the same best practices as other industries. Other cross over principles included knowing your market, strategic financial planning, and many of the project management principles I have used extensively as an operational leader since 2005. He even mentioned the Gallup StrengthFinders which I took in 2018; another feel good moment of the day!

For us, Joel was the highlight of the conference, but he was not the only individual that made an impact on us and made the conference memorable. We also were excited about learning about dairy goats. The conference had a lot of content around this profession and we were able to see two live milking demonstration with two different goat breeds and was able to get some invaluable information about the Nigerian Dwarf breed from Dawson Gap. We also thoroughly enjoyed Rose Duncan's detailed and passionate presentation from Wholesome Roots. She knows her stuff!

Another livestock animal we were excited to learn about were Rabbits. This featured topic also didn't disappoint. We were able to get a wealth of knowledge on raising these fast breeding, fairly low maintenance animal for meat and saw a highly enlightening butcher demonstration on the first day from Jeremy Chambers, from Independent Acres Homestead. On the second day, he took the time at his booth to talk to us about some of the additional questions we had and even some great information about Potbelly Pigs and their uses on a small farm like ours.

Other considerable mentions from the conference included learning about Coturnix Quails from AJ Farms, LLC who was hosting a vendor booth and herbalism and foraging from herbalist and wilderness survival expert, Darryl Patton and canning and preserving and "finding your tribe" with Ann Accetta-Scott, author of A Farm Girl's Guide to Preserving the Harvest. My only wish was that I could have been able to attend all the presentations offered, but there is always next year to expand our learning.

The wealth of knowledge and experience from all educators and people we encountered was priceless and for the cost, it was worth every penny. To end, I felt like a college kid again, finding mentors and teachers who I admire, a little bit of healthy fear knowing that my knowledge base and experience isn't even close to most of the people we met, the desire to continue my learning and earn my place in the world of this tribe, and in words of Joel Salatin (again) knowing whatever happens, "perseverance is key".

Jessica Kesler, MBA, PMP, CSM, PMC-II is one of the owners of Drunken Cabbage Farm and is passionate about growing organic, non-GMO produce and chicken farming and supporting the regenerative agriculture movement.

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