WESTERLY — Ellie Coffey loves to spread the dirt. So much so that she has organized a whole weekend for dirt lovers.
The first-ever “Southeast New England Regenerative Agriculture Weekend,” taking place at the Westerly Armory on January 7 and 8, will feature two days of workshops and talks with soil scientists and agricultural experts all eager to share their knowledge on dirt-focused topics.
Educating people about “regenerative agriculture,” or “regen ag” as those who work in the field call it, is a goal of Coffey’s.
“We need to talk about dirt,” Coffey said one afternoon last week as he described the genesis of the symposium and the theory behind regenerative agriculture.
“Certainly, regenerative agriculture is not a new concept,” he added, explaining that indigenous peoples understood and practiced the concept, which focuses on sensible farming practices that make food more nutritious and improve soil fertility.
Coffey, a member of the armory’s board of directors, said his life changed, as did his understanding of the importance of dirt, after he took a class with famed farmer Craig Floyd, the manager of the Coogan Farm of the Denison Pequotsepos. Nature Center.
“It was a revelation,” Coffey said. “Caring for the soil is essential. Not just for now, but for the future.”
Floyd, who also manages the Giving Garden at the nature center, is a tenth-generation farmer who is passionate about, and quite knowledgeable about, the subject of soil health.
Floyd, a “regenerative no-till, no-spray” farmer, is a Ted Talk host who frequently speaks on regenerative farming techniques. He teaches a year-long regenerative agriculture course at the center and his volunteer-run Giving Garden has donated thousands of pounds of produce to food pantries in southeastern Connecticut since it began.
People need to understand the importance of healthy soil so they can make the changes necessary to save the earth, he said in a phone interview.
Floyd plans to educate attendees on the best ways to test and analyze their soil and make the healthiest corrections.
“The planet is not in a good shape,” Floyd said. “Land degradation has to change. But there are a lot of good things in the works to change that.”
“We all need interpreters to tell us what our soil wants and what nutrients to add,” he added.
And if people are growing acres of vegetables or diced tomatoes, learning how to improve the soil without the use of chemicals, as was done in this country before the 1940s, Floyd stressed, and working in tandem with Mother Nature , will benefit. all the world.
Coffey said the weekend event will also feature a seed swap.
Some of the scheduled talks have names like “Leaf Spraying,” “Compost and the Invisible World,” “Using Plastics and Cloth to Prevent Weeds,” “Managing Native Ecosystems Around the Farm,” and “Land Stewards: critique The role livestock managers play in soil rejuvenation”.
In addition, he said, soil scientists and farmers from Rhode Island and Connecticut will speak on “Balance Crop Growth for Vitality and Abundance,” “Principles of Biological Systems,” “Analysis of Plant Sap” and “Regenerative Agriculture Certifications.”
“Attendees will also gain a better idea of why buying from our local farmers is so important,” Coffey said.
In addition to the speakers, he added, vendors like Green Earth Ag and Turf, Savoy Bookshop and Café, Agway and other companies will have information tables, and organizations like UConn Master Composters, Westing Price Foundation and Westerly Land Trust will host and demo tables.
Marc Doherty, the land trust’s land management manager, said he plans to set up an “interactive table” where attendees can learn about soil classification and the importance of regenerative agriculture.
Like Floyd, Doherty praised Coffey for hosting the “important” event.
“Gob bless Ellie,” Floyd said.
Coffey said there will also be lunchtime food available at Nana’s Bakery and Pizza Westerly, and a variety of coffee, tea, cider, soft drinks, beer and wine available throughout the two days. She said she’s also been working with Alyson Mansfield of Vesta Bakery to have two regenerative agriculture-themed cakes on hand.
One cake will be chocolate to represent “a cross section of the soil,” he said, and the other will be vanilla and raspberry to represent “a soil analysis report.”
Coffey said he knows it’s going to be “a great time.”
“I love talking about dirt and I want to learn from others,” he said. “Because when you see your dirt turn to dirt, you really have done something wonderful. It’s not just worms that appreciate it.”
Coffey, who is also a well-known local quilter and member of the Ninigret Quilters Guild, said four garden-themed quilts will be sold at a silent auction during “Southeast New England Regenerative Agriculture Weekend.”
They are all made by members of the guild, he added, and are “each a representation of a vegetable.”
Tickets are $10 for one day and $15 for both days when purchased in advance, and $20 each day, or $30 for both, at the door. Advance tickets are available at https://westerlyarmory.com/events-2/.