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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Food for thought: Upcoming conferences unite growers, shed light on current issues

Dec 08, 2018 12:07AM ● By Paige Slaughter

Raul Suarez of Suarez Orchard talks to 2017 Western Colorado Horticultural Society conference bus tour attendees about how fruit sizing is a pruning decision, not a thinning decision. This pruning technique has proven to produce large peaches on a consistent basis year after year. Photo by Paige Slaughter.

Next month, farmers and gardeners alike learn and connect at the 75th annual Western Colorado Horticultural Society (WCHS) Conference & Trade Show in Grand Junction, and the seventh annual Western Colorado Food & Farm Forum in Montrose.

Bringing people together around a shared love of growing food is what these upcoming conferences are all about. Both host speaker presentations that cover topics ranging from soil health and Colorado water laws to research and finding solutions to real issues affecting fruit growers today.

Farm tours and Colorado wine

WCHS has been uniting Western Slope growers for more than 100 years. The annual conference and trade show, held January 15-17 at Two Rivers Convention Center, unites fruit growers and agricultural enthusiasts for two days of informational seminars following a day of bus tour to Grand Valley farms.

WCHS conference attendees are also invited to participate in the Colorado Association for Viticulture & Enology’s (CAVE) VinCO conference, held in conjunction with the WCHS, to learn more about viniculture and Colorado’s emerging wine industry.

WCHS Vice President Dan Kroll said the occasion is not just for large-scale growers.

“Though the WCHS/VinCO Conference is geared toward the commercial grower, the topics discussed throughout are certainly applicable to home gardeners,” Kroll said. “We bring in speakers that are relevant to our fruit growing community, who will be covering the latest in soil health, plant nutrition, integrated pest management and drought contingency planning—the list goes on.”

The trade show also provides a platform for growers to discover the latest in fruit-growing technology.

Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, will give the keynote address about planning for the future in a time when drought and uncertainty are upon us.

Healthy fields, farmers and futures

The following weekend, folks will gather at the Montrose Pavilion for the Western Colorado Food and Farm Forum on January 25-26.

This year’s theme is “Healthy Fields, Farmers & Futures.” Nationally recognized farmer and author Joel Salatin will give the keynote address and close the conference on Saturday evening with a community and all-conference session called “Dancing With Dinner: Healing the Nutritional Deficit in the Urban Rural Divide.”

Carol Parker, who chairs the forum's planning team, is excited to have Salatin and many other well-known speakers at this year's forum.

"He, by far, is the most dynamic speaker I've ever had–not bad for a farmer!" said Parker.

Ben Hartman, author of “The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables,” will present a half-day workshop on Friday that demonstrates the application of lean concepts to crop production and will speak on Saturday about how farmers can maximize value and profits with less work.

“We really strive for a very diverse program,” said Parker. “Our conference is really focused on crops, livestock, marketing, management and specialty crop areas. We try to attract a diverse audience from home gardeners to small and mid-size farmers and ranchers, and people who are interested in policy issues regarding farming systems. We try to bring people together around the idea of regenerative agriculture and growing great, nutritious food.”

In addition to speaker presentations, the forum promotes networking and interaction among attendees and speakers, hosting topic-focused round tables that give conference attendees an opportunity to chat about specific issues.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is create space for dialogue,” Parker said.

The forum’s Invention Convention encourages farmers and gardeners to bring their most innovative creations to the conference for a chance to win a cash prize.

Both conferences offer home gardeners a chance to explore the many connections between gardening, farming and agricultural policy and to connect with other people who are passionate about growing food.

For information and to purchase tickets, visit and