BY CHARLEY UNDERWOOD
In my youth, I used to look forward to winter for a particular reason: reading. I would set aside a long book for the long nights … Russian novels, historical fiction, post-apocalyptic adventure stories. My bed was a hide-away that would pull out from under the sitting couch, perfectly designed for never having to straighten the covers to my mother’s satisfaction. I would slide the bed out, stack a couple of pillows under my head and read for hours about feverish existentialist nobles, courageous Resistance fighters in the sewers under the Warsaw ghetto, young heroes hiding from the tyranny of totalitarian overlords. It was a perfect antidote for the lawn-mowing I did during the summer months, a quiet little “boy cave” I could inhabit, away from the stresses of school and family.
Before electricity, they say, our social rhythms were structured more like that. They were seasonal and nature-based, involving spring planting, barn-raising in the summer, harvest festivals and long winter evenings telling stories by the fire. We still have elements of that, perhaps vestiges of ancient times, like the appendix or tonsils in our body, whose function has disappeared while the organ remains. In the fall we have the Barebones Theater’s homage to growing shadows and to the memory of those who have died. In the spring, we have the Heart of the Beast Mayday festival, an announcement of spring and rebirth. In the summer, we open the city beaches to swimmers, close the park roads for marathons and sometimes escape to the old family cabin. And even now, in the winter, we watch movies about wonderful lives, see plays about ghosts of Christmas past or watch dancing sugarplum fairies. In some ways, those winter rituals are our modern stories around the fire, our warm soup in the family kitchen, our refuge from the howling winds or frantic crowds at the mall.
Soon enough, I will be sorting out my maple syrup equipment, checking the calendar for the Gardening Matters Spring Resource Fair, thinking about which seeds and plants I should get from the Food Resource Hubs. I may even try to figure out why my lawn mower wouldn’t start and if I really need it, now that I have mostly replaced my grass with food plants.
If you are truly tempted by conferences, there are some very good ones. On Jan. 9 and 10, the Minnesota Organic Conference is being held in St. Cloud. There are wonderful workshops on cover cropping, growing garlic, pollinators, dry bean, high tunnel production, poultry, organic soil fertility, greenhouses and ancient wheats. If Friday and Saturday aren’t enough, you can go a day early and do half-day or all-day workshops on multi-species grazing, beekeeping, high tunnels and advanced pasture planning. You can get more information at 651-201-6012 or http://www.mda.state.mn.us/organic
On Jan. 16 and 17, also in St. Cloud, are held the workshops and meetings of the Minnesota Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. There is a beginning growers workshop the day before, on Wednesday, Jan. 15. I went to this one for the first time last year and picked up information I have been using ever since. 763-434-0400 or http://mfvga.org/education_umrgvgc.shtml
Then there is the conference of the Sustainable Farming Association on Saturday, Feb. 8, in St. Joseph. There are workshops on cheese making, seed saving, root cellaring, season extension, agroforestry and more. More information is at http://www.sfamn.org/conference/
Last, but very definitely not least, is the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) conference Feb. 28 to March 1 in St. Cloud, with pre-conference Organic University workshops offered the day before, on Thursday, Feb. 27. This is my absolute favorite in the area. You can call them at 715-778-5775 or go to http://mosesorganic.org/conference/
I will be driving to the SFA and MOSES conferences, so email me at email@example.com if you want a ride. Please put something about Southside Pride in the subject line so it doesn’t get lost.
Or just stay home and read books. Or stay home and invite the neighbors over for a pot-luck. There will be a time for planting and weeding and foraging later. Now is the dreaming time of the year.
There are lots more classes coming, but here are a few gardening classes for now:
Saturday, Jan. 25, 1 to 3 p.m. $20. “Fermentation basics” (like sauerkraut and yogurt), EggPlant Urban Farm Supply, 1771 Selby Ave., St. Paul. 651-645-0818 or http://eggplantsupply.com/Classes.html
Monday, Feb. 3, 7 p.m. Free but RSVP required. “Get your seeds out” (seed starting), Mother Earth Gardens at Riverview Wine Bar, 3745 42nd Ave. S., Mpls. 612-724-8463 or www.SignUpGenius.com/go/10C094BA4A828A0FE3-winter
Monday, Feb. 10, 7 p.m. Free but RSVP required. “Neonics and honeybees,” Mother Earth Gardens at Riverview Wine Bar, 3745 42nd Ave. S., Mpls. 612-724-8463 or www.SignUpGenius.com/go/10C094BA4A828A0FE3-winter
Monday, March 3, 7 p.m. Free but RSVP required. “New Varieties,” Mother Earth Gardens at Riverview Wine Bar, 3745 42nd Ave. S., Mpls. 612-724-8463 or www.SignUpGenius.com/go/10C094BA4A828A0FE3-winter