Preparing for Next Year's Garden: Winter Education Round-Up By Joe Nolan

Just because its freezing outside doesn't mean you shouldn't be thinking about your garden, or next season's crops or that canning project you swear you're really going to do in the spring. Farmers use this time to catch up on reading, learning and sharing information on such things as new growing techniques, new varieties, adding livestock to their operation and much more. When the weather outside is frightful, it's a delightful time to take advantage of the classes, conferences and workshops that are filling Tennessee's winter calendar. There are a multitude of free and low cost learning opportunities available for new and experienced gardeners, urban farmers and consumers interested in making their lives a bit more self-sustainable.

Here's a breakdown of some of the opportunities that will have you ready for spring long before the first blossoms bloom. The folks who put together 4-H and Master Gardeners are also an incredible resource for learning – whether it be about growing veggies, having bees or raising dairy goats. Every county extension office offers their own schedule of classes and workshops, so please check your local extension office website or give them a call. There is also a host of free information, paid for by your tax dollars, available online at

TN Local Food Summit –

Middle Tennessee farmland once fed Nashville, and it will again. The Tennessee Local Food Summit is a year-end event held at Vanderbilt University on December 5-7 aiming to make Nashville eat those words – literally. Sponsored by The Barefoot Farmer and Vanderbilt Health and Wellness Center, this year's conference will feature Nashvilleâ€TMs best chefs offering delicious, locally grown organic meals during full days of educational workshops, networking, and the celebration of another great growing season. The event kicks-off with a reception Friday at Vanderbiltâ€TMs Dyer Observatory. Saturday will be a day of workshops on backyard and community gardening, soil and compost, economic and business models and opportunities, the effects of different approaches to farming on the environment, including climate change and more. Expect cooking demonstrations, a chef-made lunch and dinner. The Summit concludes Sunday with a tour of Bells Bend Farm. Visit the website for complete information and schedule.

Tennessee Agricultural Museum –

During the month of December, the museum will host their annual Christmas Open House. Grab a ham biscuit or a homemade cookie and enjoy holiday music and arts-and-crafts shopping, just in time for the holiday season. The museum's Strasser Experience Center is also open year-round, bringing a day on the farm to life even during the cold-weather months. Visitors to the self-guided center will see vintage tractors, learn how to measure a horse, identify animal tracks and try the analemmatic sun dial where you become the time piece! If the winter weather doesn't put a stop to your outdoorsy side, take a walk on the museum's Forest Discovery Trail and discover a dozen points of interest along the way.

University of Tennessee (UT) Extension Office Montgomery County – Each Friday through the middle of May the UT Extension Office in Montgomery County will host their Winter Market at Smith Trahern Mansion “Home of Family and Community Education” 101 McClure St. Clarksville, TN from 9:30 A.M. – 1:30 P.M. Most market days will feature a food preservation/healthy food demonstration at 10:30 A.M. Visitors can also tour the historic antebellum home, making this market two experiences in one.

University of Tennessee (UT) Extension Office Rutherford County – The Rutherford County Master Gardeners are taking applications now for their 2015 Certification Class. If you'd like to volunteer in the community, improve your gardening knowledge and make new friends, this class is for you! Starts Jan 20th 6-9pm for 10 weeks. Cost per person is $150.00 Visit the extension's website to get your application form.

University of Tennessee (UT) Extension Office Davidson County – The Davidson County UT Extension Office will also be hosting Master Gardener certification classes beginning in January. The classes will run through April and will be held at the Metro Southeast Building on Murfreesboro Pike. Classes will be held from 6:30 – 8:30 P.M. And will run for a full 14 weeks and will begin on January 15 at 6 p.m. and meets weekly every Thursday for 14 weeks. The cost for this course is $125 per person or $175 per couple.  For additional information, contact David Cook,

Tennessee State University (TSU) Extension Office – When Local Table contacted the TSU Extension Office, their winter schedule was still being finalized, but we were able to glean some highlights you should expect this season. The extension has been asked to do a class on the emerald ash borer by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture so definitely expect to see that on their winter schedule – likely on the third Thursday of January or February. Visit the extension's website for updated class listings and schedules. In addition, the TSU Extension Office has teamed up with the UT Extension Office in Shelby County to organize a symposium on Organic Certification for Crop Producers that's open to farmers, ranchers, restaurant owners, farmersâ€TM market managers, and vendors. The certification process allows verification of food systems that comply with United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Standards which helps create market differentiation and gives added value. This symposium will cover all things organic and will include information on how to become officially certified. The symposium will be held at the Agricenter of the UT Extension Office in Shelby County. For more information, contact Jo Anne Waterman at 901-752-1207 or

Center for Profitable Agriculture - As part of the University of Tennessee Extension Office, the Center for Profitable Agriculture provides educational programming and technical assistance to Tennessee farmers interested in a value-added enterprise to improve farm income. The Center helps new and experienced farmers evaluate the costs of starting a new enterprise, navigating regulatory issues and identifying potential markets when considering a value-added enterprise. The Center hosts many educational workshops and conferences, educational publications and planning tools at little or no cost to the public. The Center is a partnership between the UT Extension Office and the Tennessee Farm Bureau and Works Cooperative with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group (SSAWG) –

SSAWG's 2015 conference titled 'Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms' runs January 14 – 17 in Mobile, Alabama. This popular event draws over 1,000 farmers and local food advocates from across the country. With outstanding “field-tested” presenters and a full slate of hot-topic conference sessions, pre-conference courses and field trips, this conference is a great way to get a leap on the new year, make connections and become more educated about everything to do with running a small farm. The conference includes offerings for veterans and newbies alike including: Sustainable and organic crop production in fields and in high tunnels, grazing and holistic livestock management, direct and cooperative marketing, farm and food policy, farm to school, food hubs, beginning farming and more. Visit the website for more information.

Middle Tennessee Sustainable Farmer Meeting Tentatively scheduled for Monday, February 2, the upcoming gathering plans to discuss the Share-a-Share initiative, the Community-Building Gleaning initiative by Second Harvest Food Bank, and the first Middle Tennessee food assessment initiated by the Nashville Food Policy Council.  Also, further development of the Middle Tennessee Farmers' Group's collaboration with the Middle Tennessee food system will be open for discussion. The group is for all Middle Tennessee farmers and friends of farmers.  Free lunch provided.  Meeting will be held at the Green Door Gourmet, 7011 River Road Pike, Nashville, TN 37209. Contact is John Patrick, or 615-876-0899.

For constantly added educational events and workshops, check out .