Backyard Basics Expo in San Antonio gives attendees a taste of self-reliance

Click here for video: 2013 Backyard Basics Expo

SAN ANTONIO — About 400 people attended the Backyard Basics Expo held recently at the James Madison High School Agriscience Magnet Program facility in San Antonio, coordinators said.

The expo, presented by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Texas Public Radio, featured a sampling of educational opportunities related to the production, preparation and preservation of homemade and homegrown foods. Two dozen educational sessions were presented by AgriLife Extension personnel from Bexar and surrounding counties involved in the Backyard Basics pilot program, along with experts from other organizations, associations and area businesses.

Twenty-four educational sessions relating to homegrown and homemade food were presented at the recent Backyard Basics Expo in San Antonio. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Twenty-four educational sessions in eight different categories relating to the production, preparation and preservation of homegrown and homemade foods were presented at the recent Backyard Basics Expo in San Antonio. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“People are becoming more interested in knowing where their food comes from, and many are interested in producing and preparing their own to ensure the freshness and quality of the foods they serve to their family,” said Dr. Connie Sheppard, AgriLife Extension agent for family and consumer sciences for Bexar County.

Instruction and hands-on demonstrations included making soft cheeses; using herbs in cooking; pickling; making jerky and sausage; vegetable gardening; growing fruits; small-area gardening; water-bath and pressure canning; composting; hydroponics; aquaponics; drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting; keeping laying hens, rabbits and bees; and building a rain barrel, chicken coop and raised-bed garden.

In addition, a vendor area at the facility provided attendees with information on products and services from more than a dozen local businesses and organizations supporting self-reliance, conservation, education and healthy living.

David Martin Davies, Texas Public Radio personality and host of “The Source,” introduced the expo.

“Our members appreciate sustainability, being healthy and being self-sufficient,” Davies said. “This expo was a great way to get useful information to our members and the general public. It showed how healthy food can be produced at home for pennies on the dollar. Besides, people want to know where their food comes from, and they enjoy it more when they know it has been produced through their own sweat and intelligence.”

John Durham of Wimberley was one of the expo attendees.

“To be truthful, my wife signed me up for this,” Durham said with a smile. “She wanted me to attend so I could get information for both of us on rainwater harvesting and raised-bed gardening, plus other ways to produce fruits and vegetables in an environmentally friendly way.”

Durham said the prolonged drought had increased their interest in ways to conserve water.

“Three generations of my family attended,” said Amanda Fernandez of Cibolo, who brought both her father and her son Chris to participate in the expo. “We heard about the expo on TPR, and I wanted Chris to attend so we could both get to know something about how to grow our own food.”

Fernandez, who grew up in Iowa, said some of her early memories were of her family’s farm, which was sold before she came to Texas.

“It’s been a long time since we grew any of our own food, so I wanted to get information on raised-bed gardening and on how to grow our own vegetables,” she said. “I was also interested in attending the sessions on pickling and on starting a home fruit orchard.”

Among the educational sessions at the recent Backyard Basics Expo  were do-it-yourself sessions on how to build a small home rainwater harvesting system, a chicken coop and a raised-bed garden. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Among the educational sessions at the recent Backyard Basics Expo were do-it-yourself sessions on how to build a small home rainwater harvesting system, a chicken coop and a raised-bed garden. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Edwin Marty, executive director of E.A.T. — Educate, Act, Transform — South, based in Montgomery, Ala., and co-author of Breaking Through Concrete: Building an Urban Farm Revival, was the expo’s keynote speaker. Marty, who addressed a crowd of more than 250 during his lunchtime presentation, spoke about “urban farming” and its positive effect on revitalizing communities.

“Unfortunately, we are often two or three generations removed from our agrarian roots,” Marty said. “Many people, especially in urban areas, simply don’t have the knowledge of how to produce our own food and what to do to ensure we’re successful at it.”

Marty, who also presented a session called Considerations in Urban Gardening, said he and other expo presenters shared some basic techniques to help attendees successfully produce their own food at home.

“We’re glad so many people attended the expo and got a good idea of the variety of educational programs offered through our AgriLife Extension Backyard Basics program,” Sheppard said. “This program, which was piloted in Bexar and surrounding counties, is now becoming a statewide initiative.”

For information on upcoming Backyard Basics programs, go to http://backyardbasics.tamu.edu.

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