Monday, September 3, 2012

Conference accomplished!

Cathy Lafrenz talks about marketing your farm business
By all accounts, the first Mid-America Homesteading Conference was a great success. We had amazing volunteers who kept everything running smoothly from registration to getting extra copies of hand-outs at the last minute. Evaluations were overwhelmingly positive, and the speakers said that attendees were enthusiastic and motivated. Of course, it wasn't perfect, but everyone was excitedly saying, "Next year, you should do _____!" when talking about how we could improve.

As nice as the facility is, we are not sure it will meet our needs next year. There were 51 people, and that seemed like a comfortable number. Although the capacity for the rooms is 30 each for a total of 90 people, we probably would have felt cramped in the lobby area with that number. Also, there was a suggestion for more vendors, but there wasn't much room left in the lobby for more exhibitor tables.

Some definite changes for next year:
  • We will indicate in the program whether a session is geared towards beginners or advanced attendees, as some people said that various sessions were either more advanced or more basic than what they needed.
  • There will be more time between sessions for networking and shopping.
Some people also asked for live demonstrations next year -- canning, soapmaking, and cheesemaking -- so we are going to check into the possibility of using a culinary classroom for doing a pre-conference workshop, or maybe we'll just bring in a hot plate and a microwave.

If you forgot to turn in an evaluation at the end of the day, it's not too late to offer your suggestions for making next year even better. Or maybe you did turn in an evaluation, but you just thought of something else to add? Click on "Comments" below and add your ideas!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Last minute details

We are putting the finishing touches on the conference, so here are a few more details on what you can expect. Coffee, orange juice, and snacks will be available in the morning, and lunch will be cheddar broccoli soup, chicken caesar wraps, and veggie croissant sandwiches.

To make it easier for you to find the conference, we will have signs on Houbolt Road and on campus. The conference center will be on your immediate left as soon as you walk into T building.

If you have not registered by Thursday evening, we ask that you just pay at the door when you arrive at the conference Saturday morning. We can take cash or credit cards.

If you have any last minute questions, click on "Comment" below and just ask right up until Friday night!

We're looking forward to meeting everyone and sharing lots of great information!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tell a friend and get a $10 discount

If you tell a friend about the conference, you could receive a $10 discount on your registration. How exactly does it work?

Tell your friends about the conference on Facebook, Twitter, emails, and even old-fashioned phone calls! They have to register by Wednesday night, August 15, and be sure to tell them to write in the comment box "referred by _____" when they register. Fill in the blank with your name, of course. You have to be registered first, and when we receive their registration, we will refund $10 to your registration fees! It doesn't matter whether you registered last month or five minutes before your friend, as long as it is before your friend. (After all, we can't give you a refund if you haven't paid anything.) And that's all there is to it!

And you can get up to five discounts for a total of $50 off your registration, so be sure to tell everyone who might be interested in attending!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Meet speaker Cathy Lafrenz

Today we are having a little chat with Cathy Lafrenz, also known as Miss Effie to her blog readers and customers in Donahue, Iowa. She has a you-pick flower farm and an on-farm store called the Summer Kitchen where she sells locally made crafts and foods. She also hosts parties on the farm. At the conference, she will be talking about gardening, canning, homestead businesses, and farmer's markets.

When did you move to your homestead?

I moved out here in 1996 ... Cliff had lived here since 1983 or so.

What was the first thing you did, garden or livestock, and why?

Walter the duck
I started gardening the first year. I had always canned but I always lived in apartments. So I was thrilled to have a veggie garden and of course, flowers!! And herbs ... fresh herbs are such a part of my life.

Livestock came in 2002 in the way of chickens ... I started out with 16 and now have close to 100. And ducks!! God's pest control patrol.

What is your favorite part of homesteading?

I love the sense of self-sufficiency. I love knowing that the power can go out and I still have the ability to cook a meal, have some heat and have food in the pantry. I love the ping that canning lids make. I love having hand knit socks .... made out of yarn I spun myself. And my absolute favorite thing ... is an omelet in the spring made from our asparagus, eggs, chives and chevre that I made from local goat milk!! 

Cliff doing an apple cider making demonstration
And as you know, I love to share my lifestyle with others. So the agri-entertainment business works great for me.

What is the toughest part?

Losing animals .... losing a crop .... winters are sometimes hard. For a while ... there was a sense of loneliness .... but FB, blogs ... have made us all closer. And I am seeing more and more people reach for the lifestyle. Some with success .... some without!

What are your plans for the future?

My business has grown a lot and I have had to change the way we live. We have down-sized our veggie gardens and have joined a CSA. Now -- I still have 20 tomatoes and 12-15 pepper plants but I no longer grow green beans, brocolli and cabbage. I have gone to supporting other local farmers so we all have a chance to make a living off the farm.

I would like to teach more. And I would like to have the time to spin more yarn and knit more. And I knit alot ... but not for us. And that is what I really am looking for.

I can't see the business growing anymore physically ..... but we still have lots of ways to grow financially. So I am working on ways to make the "farm" pay for itself.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Register now for early bird discount

The early bird deadline for registration is rapidly approaching on July 31. Until then, registration is only $75 for the day, which includes six educational sessions, as well as lunch. On August 1, the cost of registration will be $89. If you want a vegetarian lunch, be sure to mention that in the comment section when paying.

Registration is limited to 80 people for the whole conference, so the sessions will be small enough for you to get your questions answered. We have three rooms at the Joliet Junior College Conference Center, and each one comfortably seats 30 people. Once the maximum limit has been reached, you will not be able to select any quantity other than "0" for purchase, so if you are able to register, that means that you are in!

The post-conference goat workshop on Sunday is now full.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bookstore gift certificate winner

The winner of the $25 gift certificate to the conference bookstore is Naomi from Minnesota! When you arrive at the conference, you'll get the certificate in your packet at check-in!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Register now for a chance to win

It is hard to believe the conference is less than seven weeks away! In addition to our seven exciting speakers presenting 18 interesting sessions on various aspects of homesteading, and a free magazine for every attendee, there will also be a conference bookstore selling a variety of the best books on gardening, livestock, bees, fiber, sustainability, and more. Just a few of the books that will be available:
  • Four Season Harvest
  • Small-Scale Poultry Flock
  • Gaia's Garden
  • You Can Farm
  • Natural Beekeeping
  • Yarns to Dye For
  • Felt Frenzy
  • Start Spinning
  • Homegrown and Handmade (autographed)
  • Aquaponic Gardening

And to help you get started in buying the books you want, we are having a give-away. Register for either the conference or post-conference workshop by 11:59 p.m. central time, Wednesday, July 18, for a chance to win a $25 gift certificate for the bookstore. If you've already registered, don't worry! You are automatically entered in the give-away.

The winner will be announced right here on Thursday morning, July 19, and you'll receive your gift certificate when you check in at the conference.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Curious about solar power for your home?

Ron Cowgill will be talking about solar energy for today, including what’s new in the industry. He’ll discuss costs and Return on Investment (ROI), the benefits of solar in a world where the traditional energy costs keep going up while alternative energy costs are coming down, and what it means for individuals and small businesses interested in incorporating more alternative energy options into their lives. He’ll also talk about federal and state incentives to help both individuals and businesses defray some of the costs of installing solar.

Ron has been in the remodeling/construction business for over 20 years. He is the owner of both D/R Services Unlimited (18 years) and WinSol Power Company (2 years), and has always incorporated green and conservation practices into his projects. He has been actively involved with solar and wind since 2009, and has worked with various village boards in updating the codes that govern the use of solar and/or wind in the communities. He says he also enjoys long walks on a short plank.

Ron has a variety of Certifications, including Certified Remodeler (CR), Certified Kitchen and Bath Remodeler (CKBR), Green Certified Professional (GCP) through NARI, Licensed electrical contractor (1998-Current), Licensed general contractor in Highland Park, Evanston, and Chicago (1995/96-Current), Certified Pella Installer, Certified Generac Installer, and has taken several week long PV and wind turbine site selection and installation courses. Ron also hosts Mighty House, a home improvement radio show heard on WCPT in Chicago (820 AM, 92.5, 92.7, & 99.9 FM) Saturday mornings from 7-10 a.m.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Free magazine for every attendee

May/June, 2012The publisher of Countryside, Backyard Poultry, sheep!, and Dairy Goat Journal has generously donated enough magazines for every conference attendee to get a copy of whichever magazine they want. As a current or former subscriber to three of those magazines, I'm really excited that everyone will get to take home a copy of one.

Countryside is an all-around magazine about the homesteading lifestyle and skills. When we first moved to the country, it was one of the two magazines that I subscribed to immediately, and I kept reading it for years. If you are not familiar with Countryside, click here to check it out. Of course, the titles of the other three magazines are self explanatory, but if you'd like to learn more about them, click on these links: Dairy Goat Journal, sheep!, and Backyard Poultry.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Schedule page fixed!

It came to my attention today that the "Conference Schedule" tab was not working. I'm not sure how long it has been broken, but it has now been fixed. If you've been waiting to see the schedule, it is available now!

Check out all the sessions on how to keep bees, backyard chickens, pastured pork, grassfed cattle, goats, sheep, and more. We also have sessions on turning your homestead into a business, learning to make herbal tinctures, and selling your locally grown products at a farmer's market.

Weekend vacation?

Hampton Inn Joliet - I-80

If you are coming from out of town and need a place to stay either before or after the conference, we have arranged for a special rate of $99 per night (including a hot breakfast) at the newly renovated Hampton Inn, which is across the street and one block away from Joliet Junior College. Click here to go to the conference's web page on the Hampton site and get the special rate! If you go to Hampton's main website, be sure to use our group code -- HSC -- to get the discounted rate!

We have the discounted rate from Friday night through Monday morning, in case you want to make a short vacation out of it. And if you raise goats or are thinking about raising goats, don't forget about the Sunday goat workshop at Antiquity Oaks, which is less than an hour away from Joliet Junior College.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Herbal tincture session added

After seeing Susan Saniie talk about making herbal tinctures at the Illinois Herb Association conference earlier this month, I asked her if she would come to the Homesteading Conference to give her talk for attendees there. I'm happy to say that she said yes!

I grow herbs on my homestead, and I dry them for a variety of uses, but I'd always wanted to know how to make tinctures, and Susan explained the whole process. Making your own tinctures is a great way to save money and become more self reliant.

Susan is a licensed and nationally board certified acupuncturist, practicing in Carbondale, Illinois. She also manages Dayempur Herbals, a cottage industry of Dayempur Farm in Anna, Illinois, which not only produces herbal remedies such as echinacea and mullein tincture, elderberry syrup and “Herbal Salve” but also grows the herbs used in the remedies.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Meet Donna O'Shaughnessy

Livestock guardian dog, Fannie,
with Donna's grandson, Wesley.
Donna will be presenting sessions on pastured pork and grass-fed beef and dairy cattle. We recently asked her a few questions so that you could get to know her better, and here is what she said!

When did you move to your homestead?
We moved here in 1995 with our four young children.

What was the first thing you did, garden or livestock, and why?
Livestock was first. The house had not been lived in for years so grass was shoulder high in yard. We fenced it off and put our first cow in the yard!

What is your favorite part of homesteading?
Keeping our own hours. But I don't know why we like it since we are always working 16 hour days. :)

What is the toughest part?
Toughest part is the 16 hour days. And knowing when to say NO. Like when customers ask us to raise buffalo.

What are your plans for the future?
Plans are to sell this farm (too big) and start a very small farm where we are 100% off the grid and supplying food only for ourselves and immediate family.

For more information on Donna and our other speakers, check out the Speaker page!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Good fences make good neighbors

You don't want your animals running all over the countryside, but how exactly do you keep them on your property? Do you know the difference between an H brace, double H brace, and a floating brace? Have you ever heard of a lightening choke coil? Did you know that Illinois and many other states have fence acts that legally define what constitutes an acceptable fence for holding livestock?

If any of these questions have you scratching your head, you won't want to miss our session on fencing by Richard G. Hungerford, Jr., Certified Professional in Rangeland Management (SRM) and Certified Grassland Specialist (AFGC), who has his own herd of Corriente cattle and a flock of Katahdin sheep. I heard Richard speak after we'd already been homesteading for almost ten years, and I wished I had heard him years ago! If you have cattle, sheep, goats, or pigs, you'll learn what you need to know to keep them on your property.

Richard will talk about types of fencing, basics of a good fence, fencing mistakes, and government program specifications. You'll learn how far apart you should space posts, based upon whether you're using barbed wire, woven wire, or hi-tensile wire, as well as how many strands of wire, and whether or not you're using stays. He'll also talk about insulators, strainers, tighteners, energizers, and connections and everything else you need to know to use electric fences successfully.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Registration now open!

The schedule is finalized, and registration is now open! We have sessions on gardening, composting, canning, grassfed beef, the home dairy, pastured pork, fencing, meat goats, and even how to turn your homesteading passion into a business! You'll get six full hours of instructions plus lunch for only $75 if you register by July 31, although our space is limited to only 90 people, so you don't want to wait too long. If space is still available after August 1, registration will be $89.

FAMACHA training is also being offered for those who raise sheep and goats, so that you can learn more about internal parasites and how to avoid the use of dewormers unless absolutely necessary. The FAMACHA training costs an additional $25.

We also have a post conference workshop on Sunday from 8:30 to 5:00 for those of you who are interested in producing your own dairy products with a small herd of dairy goats. You'll learn the basics of goat care, housing, fencing, breeding, and birthing, as well as how to raise kids. And you'll learn how to make several dairy products, as well as goat milk soap. The workshop is held at Antiquity Oaks Farm, which is a little less than an hour south of the college where the conference is being held. The goat workshop is $75.

Registration fees are refundable if cancellation is received by July 15. No refunds will be issued on cancellations after July 15. 

Click on the tabs above to get more details on the conference schedule and goat workshop and to register.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Beekeeping sessions confirmed

For those of you who are interested in beekeeping, we've confirmed Bronx beekeeper Zan Asha! Here are the sessions she will be presenting:

Organic Beekeeping 101 ~ For those interested in taking a natural approach to beekeeping--this organic beekeeping class focuses on caring for bees "the way grandpa did it." Zan Asha will teach the same pesticide and medicine free principles that her WWII grandfather practiced -- which relies on the laws of the hive and the bees' own structure to work for you. Hive maintenance, bee social structure, organic pest and disease control, and much more will be taught in this intensive class that has been featured from the East coast throughout the Midwest.

Urban Beekeeping ~ So you want to start beekeeping in the city, but don't think it's possible? Think again! Noted organic and urban beekeeper Zan Asha will show you the steps to getting started with hives, no matter what your space or situation. Particulars of city dwelling and keeping are discussed including: zoning for bees, keeping possibilities in various situations including rooftop keeping and community garden keeping, keeping your city neighbors happy, swarms and other trouble shooting in the city, and much more. Plus, we'll learn to do it all organically! Join us for this interesting and informative beekeeping class.

Swarms And Other Beekeeping Buzz ~ For those keepers who are interested in the more "exotic" or puzzling beekeeping conundrums, this class is for you. Worried about catching your first swarm, or looking to keep your bees from swarming altogether? What happens when your hive goes queenless? Is there a way to foster more honey production? What's the latest or best hive and equipment for your bees? These questions and more will be answered in this class. Bring us your toughest questions and you'll find an answer here!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

FAMACHA training confirmed!

If you have sheep or goats, you need to attend FAMACHA training at the conference. I'm so excited to confirm that we'll have this session because I know what a positive difference it has made in the long term health and sustainability of my sheep and goats. Homesteaders don't want to use drugs unless we absolutely have to, but at the same time, we don't want to see our animals die either. And who wants to be running to the vet for a fecal every couple of weeks?

Here's the description of what you'll learn and why it's so important:
The barberpole worm is the number one killer of sheep and goats. Unfortunately, past recommendations of deworming protocols have led to worms that are resistant to available dewormers. The FAMACHA© system provides a tool to identify anemic animals (assumed to be caused by the barberpole worm), so only affected animals are treated. This will reduce the number of dewormer treatments given and slow the development of resistance in the parasite. During this class, you will learn about the barberpole worm biology and the development of drug resistance, Smart Drenching and use of the FAMACHA card. Lecture is 1.5 hours followed by hands-on training with your card. Cost for the class is $25 per card - you are welcome to share a card between a family or a farm to save money.

I attended this training several years ago and have been singing its praises ever since. Hope you'll be able to make it!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


The space is rented, speakers have been contacted, and plans are underway for a day filled with education and inspiration. We are planning sessions on raising chickens, turkeys, goats, sheep, pigs, and cattle, as well as gardening, beekeeping, canning, and marketing what you grow!

Confirmed speakers include Cathy Lafrenz of Miss Effie's Country Flowers and Garden Stuff, as well as Deborah Niemann of Antiquity Oaks, author of Homegrown & Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living.

Check back often for updates or subscribe via RSS or email in the right-hand column. Over the next few months, we'll be giving you more information on speakers and topics!