Reflections on the 2009 Farm-Based Education Association Conference

By Todd McLane, West Haven Farm Manager todd_brooke_joanna_

It was a cold dark November morning as I prepared to embark on an exciting trip with Groundswell’s Director Joanna Green. We were headed to the national Farm Based Education Association conference being held in Tarrytown, NY.

Although the rigors and tiredness of a long farm season were beginning to show, I was filled with an almost uncontrollable energy. I sensed it in Joanna too (even though we left around 5 am!) I think there was only about 10 minutes where we weren’t talking during the 4 ½ hour trip. From Groundswell brainstorms to philosophies on life, we covered it all! Here we were, headed down to the national FBEA conference. I thought that was a pretty big deal. After months and months of volunteer hours by all of the Groundswell Committee, the ship continued to move forward.

As a farmer, I love having the opportunity to provide good wholesome fruits and vegetables to my community. But I also have a passion to teach, whether it’s exposing someone to their first farm experience or showing the proper way to hand hoe a bed of broccoli. I was about to spend 3 days immersed with others in the growing farm based education movement. One of the great things about the weekend was the fact that there were workshops geared both to administrative/organizational development (Joanna’s focus) and educational programming/models (my focus).

It wasn’t just the sessions were motivating; it was all of the educators from around the country that I met. There were so many inspirational stories and innovative ideas being shared. I truly felt humbled to have the opportunity to attend this conference and be around all of these amazing individuals! I was feeling real good about what we were hoping to accomplish with Groundswell. The foundation has been set and I feel that we are going to start to fill a void that has been missing in our area.

During our journey home, you could see that our energy level had grown. As darkness fell, we shared our notes from the different sessions we attended under the light of my headlamp. It was a very tangible experience and the knowledge that I gained was very reassuring. I think that one of the things that got me really excited was the uniqueness of Groundswell. There are so many incredible programs and models throughout the country, but I truly feel we have something special here nestled in the Finger Lakes. Many programs have a focus for elementary age students and are held at non-profit/educational farms and ours will be aimed at secondary and college aged students and held at for-profit production farms. Needless to say, I am looking forward to what 2010 brings!!

-Todd McLane

The 2009 FBEA conference was held on November 12th-14th, 2009. For more information, visit