By Robert Karp, Executive Director
September 6, 2012
A lot of enthusiasm and momentum is building toward our upcoming conference. As word of the event has spread far and wide, lots of natural questions have come forward from people who want to better understand the ideas, goals, and decisions that stand behind an event like this. We thought it would be helpful to share more of the inner workings of the conference. Stay tuned to this blog for other updates and postings about the conference as we draw near. And if you have questions you would like to see answered here, please let us know.
Why did you select the theme of Sacred Agriculture?
We wanted to hold a conference that would serve as a kind of coming out party for the spiritual in agriculture and in biodynamics. Many, many people are seeking to align their lives and their farming and gardening practices—and their food buying, cooking, and eating practices, for that matter—with a deep spiritual understanding of the earth. This aspect of the food movement, however, doesn’t get talked about that much, at least at traditional organic and food-related conferences. Over the last few years, many people have also expressed the desire to bring the spiritual dimension of biodynamics more to the foreground in one our conferences. 2012 felt to us like a good year to take this step. We love the term Sacred Agriculture because it speaks both to the inner dimension of biodynamics and to the inner dimension of agriculture as it has lived in many cultures and time periods. It feels like a term that can bring many people and streams together. I also think it is an awakening term, as these are two words most people are not used to seeing together! It forces one to think: what does that mean?
Where did this term come from?
I think we need lots of ways of talking about biodynamics rather than a fixed definition or term. It is a living thing and our language needs to be alive and flexible to describe it. The term Sacred Agriculture has probably been around a while, but I first heard it through talks that Dennis Klocek, one of our keynote speakers, has been giving in the past few years. I personally don’t think of it as a new term for biodynamics, but I do think it provides new a way of talking about biodynamics, at least in certain contexts and with certain people.
Is this conference just for folks deep into biodynamics?
We have three main goals for our conferences. One of these goals is indeed, as our mission states, to nourish, strengthen, and support the current biodynamic community in North America. This is our core community, and the conference needs to serve them and help them go deeper, wherever their starting point. Our second goal, however, is to use the conference to reach out to new individuals and groups who may be interested and offer them an opportunity to explore biodynamics in a friendly, open setting. This is one of the reasons we have a whole track of introductory workshops. Our third goal is to support the growth and development of the wider food and social change movements. This is the reason why our workshop presenters and keynotes are not just biodynamic folks. We recognize that the good spirit of biodynamics lives in many people and places, not all of whom even know what biodynamics is. We see this conference as an important bridge-building event in this regard. We learned at our 2010 conference that this combination of goals and audiences works very well together. It creates a dynamic mix of people and perspectives that wakes everyone up and builds a powerful sense of community.
Why is the conference being held in a city rather than out on a farm somewhere?
The biodynamic movement is growing! This is a good thing, but it also creates logistical challenges for our conference. At our last event in 2010, we essentially maxed out the space available at the Pfeiffer Center with 350 people, and this year we are anticipating 500 people. It is very hard to find any farms or farm-based conference centers that can handle this large of an event. If you know of one, please let us know. Mind you, we think the biodynamic movement needs many different kinds of educational events. We need small, intimate, regional gatherings; we need gatherings on farms; we need small and medium-sized conferences in anthroposophical educational centers; and so on. What has become clear, however, is that we also need a large, highly visible North American conference and that this kind of event will – most of the time – require us to use a modern conference facility, almost all of which are situated in cities. We are committed, however, to incorporating farm tours into these events, as we have done this year with the wealth of pre-conference events we are holding at Angelic Organics Farm and Learning Center.
Why are you only holding the conference every other year?
As stated above, we recognize that the biodynamic movement needs different types of educational events during the course of a year. By only holding our North American conference every other year, we are creating space for our many partner organizations and affiliated regional groups to hold their own events. We are also giving ourselves space to put more focus on our other program areas during the off years. As the BDA grows and has more staff, however, I am sure the question of whether to hold our conference every year will be revisited by the board and staff.
Why did you choose to hold the conference in Madison?
With the cycle of conferences that began in 2010, we committed to move our conference to a new region of the continent each year. Since our national headquarters moved to Wisconsin this past year, we liked the idea of holding the next conference here in order to help us anchor the impulse of biodynamics here in the Midwest. We do not yet know where the conference will move to in 2014.
Why are you holding the conference in November rather than during a time of the year when we can do outdoor workshops?
In 2010 we held the conference earlier in the fall, precisely so we could take advantage of the warmer weather. Many, many people, however, told us that they could not leave their farms for a conference at that time of year. So we decided this year to honor the farmers, who are our core audience after all, and select a date when the growing season is over. At this point in time, we do not have a fixed date for the next conference. It will be set anew each time.
How did you come up with the conference prices?
The price setting process is challenging. One the one hand, we need to set a price that is in harmony with our actual costs – that is, a price that can allow us to continue to hold the conference without going out of business, which wouldn’t help anyone. On the other hand, we need a price that is in harmony with similar events and that is affordable to the majority of our audience. Looking around, for example, we found that the prices for our conference are comparable to those of similar medium to large agricultural conferences, like Eco-Farm, the MOSES Organic Conference, or the PASA conference in Pennsylvania. We recognize, however, that this still puts our conference out of range for lots of people, and this is why we developed the Biodynamic Scholarship Fund. In 2010 we awarded $11,000 in scholarships, and this year we are on track to award around $25,000. Right now, this is the best way we know to deal with the fact that people of different income levels want to attend our conference. Some people have suggested that we adopt a sliding scale or some other more creative approach. We will certainly continue to explore new ways to handle this reality.
Who actually plans the conference?
The board of the Association sets the overall goals for the conference. A volunteer advisory group of BDA members is then formed for each conference that advises the BDA staff in the selection of the theme, the keynoters, and the dates, and the formation of the schedule and other core features of the conference. With this input, the BDA staff then goes about organizing all the details of the conference with a fair amount of creative freedom. Some staff, such as myself and Thea Maria Carlson, our educational program coordinator, are more responsible for the “content” of the conference, while a host of other staff, as well as our conference coordinator, are responsible for all the outer logistics, from PR to registration to sponsorships, etc. It is a huge undertaking that requires an incredible team.