UACES Facebook Well Rooted Homesteading Conference draws 200-plus farmers, families for workshops on sustainable living
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Well Rooted Homesteading Conference draws 200-plus farmers, families for workshops on sustainable living

By Rebekah Hall
U of A System Division of Agriculture

March 1, 2023

Fast Facts:

  • Conference hosted by Little River County Extension Office at Cossatot Community College in Ashdown
  • 270 farmers, growers, home gardeners and families attended
  • Workshops offered information on soil health, backyard poultry, food preservation and more

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ASHDOWN, Ark. — Hundreds of farmers, growers and home gardeners gathered at Cossatot Community College for the Well Rooted Homesteading Conference, to hear experts lead workshops focused on sustainable living and ask questions about managing their own self-sufficient homestead.

SUSTAINABLE LIVING — At the Well Rooted Homesteading Conference in Ashdown, over two hundred farmers, growers and home gardeners gathered for workshops led by homesteading experts in soil health, backyard poultry, rainwater safety and storage, gardening techniques and more. Local vendors also sold their wares, including crafts and baked goods. (Division of Agriculture photo.) 

Jennifer Sansom, Little River County extension agricultural agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said 270 people attended the Feb. 18 conference. Attendees represented 26 of Arkansas’ 75 counties, along with three Oklahoma and four Texas counties and one Louisiana county.

“People are reaching out for information like this, so it’s definitely needed,” Sansom said. “A lot of other county agents are now getting requests for homesteading conferences.”

Lauren Reed of Russellville attended the conference with her husband and said she was excited to take advantage of the education provided by homesteading experts.

“I worked in environmental quality and am kind of a nerd when it comes to that kind of stuff, so I try to be as conscious about how we impact things as possible,” said Reed. She was particularly interested in the rainwater safety and storage workshop led by John Pennington, extension water quality educator. “We live right in the middle of town, we don’t have a homestead, so learning to be sustainable where I live is how we want to do it.

“We have a little garden, and we’ve been looking at doing the rain capture piece of it,” she said, noting the prevalence of misconceptions about rain capture being illegal. “A lot of people think that you can’t do it, that it’s not allowed. So, to hear somebody from a regulatory background say, ‘Yes, you can capture rainwater, and here’s how to do it safely,’ I think that’s a really good thing.”

Sustaining skills

Les Walz, extension livestock and forages educator for the Division of Agriculture, led a workshop on Hügelkultur gardening techniques. Hügelkultur is a centuries-old permaculture method of building a garden bed from a mound of decaying wood and other compostable plant debris. These mounds are then topped with soil, and the gradual decay of the wood and plant matter within the bed provides long-term nutrients and moisture for the plants growing atop it.

Walz said hügelkultur beds are “really appealing to people who live in arid places” because they retain moisture through periods of drought.

Carey Robinson, owner of CWC Farm and former extension agent, led a lively workshop on backyard poultry, answering many questions from attendees about chicken breeds and sources for poultry. She also addressed misinformation about chicken feed being tampered with by suppliers.

“I feed a feed that, according to social media, is contaminated and causes chickens to not lay, and my chickens are laying,” Robertson said. “It’s just a totally normal year, I’m not seeing any problems. Some of the things that I think may contribute to this is that a lot of people got chickens when COVID hit two years ago, and now their chickens are two years old. What happens when chickens are two years old?”

“They slow down,” an audience member said.

“They slow down, they take a bigger break, they enjoy a winter vacation,” Robertson replied. “In the world of chickens, all those things can happen.”

Robertson’s husband, Bill Robertson, retired extension cotton agronomist, led a workshop on soil health, covering topics such as the importance of biodiversity and the benefits of improved soil structure.

“An improved soil structure holds together better, and when we do that, we have places and channels for water to go, and water goes deeper,” he said. “When the water goes deeper, we have increased water holding capacity in the soil. When you have a bigger, better root system, you’re more efficient with the water and you’re more efficient with the nutrients.

“Think about when you’re growing tomatoes, and you do a patio garden with a tomato in a five-gallon bucket,” Bill Robertson said. “It dries up fast, you have to stay on top of watering it. But if you’ve got it in your garden, where you’re able to water it better, it has a much bigger, effective root system and it’s easier to maintain.”

Relevant resources

The final workshop of the day focused on long-term food storage methods, including freeze-drying, canning and dehydrating, as well as sourdough basics and cheese making. Bethany Barney, Terrie James and JoAnn Vann – extension family and consumer sciences agents in Little River, Hempstead and Clark counties, respectively – along with Carolyn Spencer, Hempstead County Extension Homemakers Council president, led the workshop.

The conference concluded with a charcuterie tasting and an expert panel Q&A session with Walz, Pennington, Carey and Bill Robertson and James.

Reed said she was grateful to the Cooperative Extension Service for providing such important information and resources to Arkansans.

“A lot of people don’t realize the extension resources that are available to them, and that they’re free,” Reed said. “And that there’s one sitting in every county, and they will come to you. You don’t have to go find where their office is, they will literally come out to your house, come out to your farm and teach you.”

To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: Follow on Twitter at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture, visit Follow us on Twitter at @AgInArk.

About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system. 

The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.  

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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Media Contact:
Rebekah Hall