Practical information on small scale farming and sustainable living will be the focal point of the first South Arkansas Homesteading Conference to be held Saturday, April 5, at the Pioneer Village in Rison.

The conference is a collaborative effort between the University of Arkansas-Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service and the Cleveland County Herald newspaper in Rison.

“Whether you’re interested in growing your own vegetables in the backyard or starting your own homestead, this conference will have something to pique your interest,” said Britt Talent, one of the conference organizers.

Gates open at 9 a.m. with the first session beginning at 10 a.m. Admission is $3 for adults or $5 per couple. Children under the age 18 are admitted free.

The conference will include five informative seminars, each lasting about an hour long:

• Solar Polar on the Small Farm/Homestead – (10 a.m. session) Dr. Kate Shoulders, assistant professor at the Dept. of Agricultural & Extension Education at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, will speak on using solar energy on the small farm/homestead. Shoulders oversees the Solar Energy Analysis Station at the university’s farm in Fayetteville. Part of her duties are to experiment with ways to use solar and other alternative energy sources on the farm.

• Plant Propagation/Seed Saving – (11 a.m. session) John Gavin, staff chair for the Bradley County Cooperative Extension Service at Warren, will speak on plant propagation and saving seeds. Gavin is considered one of the top experts in Arkansas on growing tomatoes and is currently experimenting with grafting heirloom tomato varieties onto commercial root stock.

• Demonstrations (Noon session) – Various how-to demonstrations, including building your own pea sheller and learning how to make seed-starting pods out of newspaper.

• Raised Bed/Square Foot Gardening – (1 p.m. session) Les Walz, staff chair for the Cleveland County Cooperative Extension Service, helped establish the Rison Community Garden, a series of raised beds located at the Pioneer Village. His session will cover every aspect of raised bed gardening, from bed construction to soil composition to irrigation. In addition, there will also be a  demonstration how to build a quick, inexpensive tunnel system that can protect your garden against pests and extend your growing season.

• Practical Reasons for Homesteading – (2 p.m.  session) Gary “Pa Mac” McWilliams of FarmHandsCompanion.com will give some practical reasons on why people should homestead. McWilliams is a true modern-day homesteader, using many of the same skills and techniques that were passed down to him by his father and grandfather to carve his own homestead near Glenwood. His website and accompanying YouTube channel were launched only about a year ago, yet her already has more than 4,000 subscribers and more 62,000 views of his videos.

• Herbal Preparations – (3 p.m. session) Debbie Tripp, owner of Rosemary Hill Herb Farm at Royal, and Cindy Faulk, of the Herb-N-League at Hot Springs, will lead a session on converting herbs into tinctures, lotions, salves and other forms suitable for practical uses. Tripp and Faulk are popular speakers on the Master Gardener circuit throughout Arkansas, speaking on nearly every aspect of growing and using herbs.

In addition to the speakers, there is also a demonstration session scheduled for the noon hour. That session will include advice on do-it-yourself projects like a homemade pea sheller from Keith Gresham, staff chair for the Dallas County Extension Service, and instructions on how to make seed pots from newspaper.

Vendors are welcome. For more information about booth space or the conference, call Britt Talent at (870) 325-6412 or email him at [email protected]. Information about the conference can also be found here.


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