The 13th annual Food and Growers Association Winter Conference, “Growing Together,” takes place Saturday, Feb. 2, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at Batesville Middle School.

President Melissa Watkins says, "Anyone who cares about where their food comes from, how to get involved in growing their own food, or learning how to tap into potential new markets for their food production should consider attending this informative event. Growers and consumers alike will benefit from the expertise of their peers and experts in the local food movement."

The conference will offer two tracks, one with lectures relevant to farmers/producers and another aimed at home gardeners and consumers.

The president of the Batesville-based nonprofit, says, "We have a great lineup and are really excited about this year’s conference. Based on conference surveys and hot topics in gardening and farming, we’ve tapped into the topics our attendees are most interested in and will be most useful. The speakers we’ve chosen have a vast amount of knowledge and experience. Back by popular demand, Ben Cohen will be our keynote speaker, addressing both consumers and producers."

Cohen will discuss "Sowing the Seeds of a Sustainable Future" -- seed sowing, planting the garden for success, spacing, timing and the benefits of companion planting. The Michigan Seed Library founder says, "There will also be a focus on mindfulness in the garden and, of course, we'll talk a bit about seed saving as well."

One improvement: "We are extending the hours of the winter market," which offers locally-grown products and handmade treasures, into the afternoon. Hours are 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. It will be open to the public, not just conference attendees. The president says, "We are expecting a variety of vendors, some returning vendors as well as new ones." Free space is still available. Interested persons should email contact@foodandgrowers.org.

Two other sessions are aimed at growers:

• Dave Fischer will explore "Grow for Profits: Being Profitable in the Farm-to-Table Market." Dave and Diana Fischer operate Fischer Farms, Jasper. After earning an M.S. from Purdue University, he worked for 15 years as an industrial engineer, focusing on supply chain management computer software, in Dallas and Munich, Germany. They returned to the Civil War era family farm in 2002 to raise their three children and started selling naturally raised beef to restaurants and retail stores in 2004. The Fischers expanded to 750 acres and also sell their neighbors' pork, vegetables, turkey and chicken, currently shipping over 30 skids of meats and products to over 120 restaurants and retail stores across Indiana and neighboring states every week.

• Tim Schwipps and Robert Zupancic will discuss soil health in pasture and cropland settings, rotational grazing, cover crops and programs available to farmers. Schwipps is the Natural Resources Conservation Service district conservationist for Ripley and Jefferson counties. He continues to assist his family with the Milan farm. Zupancic is an NRCS grazing specialist in southeastern Indiana. He helps his father with a small beef herd on the Morgantown family farm.

Three other sessions are for both farmers and consumers:

• Darren Bender will speak about composting, mulch, no-till gardening and edible plants for landscaping. He and wife Espri Bender-Beauregard operate Brambleberry Farm (www.brambleberryfarm.org), a small permaculture-focused homestead and plant nursery outside of Paoli. They began with a market garden, selling produce at farmers' markets and a small CSA; added various intensively-grazed livestock enterprises, such as pastured pork, sheep, cattle and geese; and continue to experiment with various cover crops in rotation with pasture and grazing. Their main enterprise, however, is a regionally-focused plant nursery, where they propagate and sell hundreds of different species and cultivars of edible and useful plants.

• Larry Bledsoe will speak about managing insects and related pests in home and commercial gardens. Learning to see, understand and correctly diagnose problems in the vegetable garden are the first steps in managing insect pest problems. This program focuses on the fundamental concepts and practical approaches to learning to manage, and sometimes live with, the critters that want to share your garden with you. Bledsoe, who received an M.S. degree in entomology at Purdue University, is active as a presenter for the Indiana Master Naturalist and Master Gardener programs.

• Heather Tallman, Indiana Grown Membership Development Program manager, will introduce the program.

One session is for consumers:

• Linda Cox will eye the benefits of fermenting. The former missionary lives with husband Ed on a 6-acre farm in Dillsboro. She began a business, Bread to Perfection, teaching topics ranging from sprouted grain baking and traditional pickling to making butter and fermented beverages. Cox now travels across North America, teaching seminars about the advantages of fermented foods and how to properly make them.

Lunch will be catered by Izzy's at Hillcrest and is included in the ticket price. Options for personalized bowl meals, many locally sourced, are bulgur, potato and butternut squash hash, cannellini beans, fresh pork carnitas, assorted fresh and sauteed vegetables, choice of three homemade sauces with a fresh fried egg on top, according to board member Kathy Cooley.

Watkins reports, "We have an amazing team of board members planning the conference that represent Franklin, Ripley, Decatur and Hamilton counties."

A schedule is posted to the website https://www.foodandgrowers.com/conferences and a Facebook page (Food and Growers Association) with spotlights on each presenter.

Seating is limited. Tickets at $35 for members, $55 for member couples, $45 for nonmembers, $75 for nonmember couples and $20 for students can be purchased at the website or by contacting Kristen Giesting at 812-934-4620.

Annual membership fees are $30, community; $40, grower and producer; $75, $150 or $500, farm-to-fork advocate. The president says, "I would imagine if someone wants to join that day and pay at the door they could do that."

Cooley is excited about the conference, predicting "it will be a great day for just about anyone interested in good food and/or agriculture .... We always attract a great group of attendees, so it is fun to network with others with the same interests as you."

She reflects, "The FGA has a lot to celebrate. We have some new awesome board members. We are getting ready to hire a consultant to launch a food hub. We hope to help our local farmers grow and become more profitable and help our institutions have easier access to local food."

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.