Post Conference Euphoria Syndrome

Though I’ve returned from Portland to typical end-of-season chaos, peak season weddings, and the ever-present threat of frost, I haven’t actually landed.  In fact, I’m still hovering over my farm imagining acres of luscious garden roses guarded by stalwart clematis trellises, and Oh look! there I am cruising around in my new super-cool mini-truck through rows of super-alien-sized headed hydrangeas. It’s really not my fault. If this year’s conference had not been as good, the presentations not as compelling and seductive, the tours not as inspiring, I’d be in much better shape. As it is, I am exhibiting the typical symptoms of Post Conference Euphoria Syndrome.  
Although it manifests itself differently in each individual, PCES generally refers to any post-conference symptoms related to reconciling your vision of what your farm could be with the reality of what it actually is. Specifically, on our farm I find myself prone to periods of distracted in-field arm waving, directing untold imaginary crews, planting and harvesting untold numbers of imaginary plants and of course yielding untold imaginary millions. What keeps me from just flying away? Fortunately, this year, I’m tethered to the ground by one key concept I gleaned from the conference and I cling to as I begin my slow descent into planning for next year: “Grow What Grows Like a Weed”.
Or more simply, grow what grows the best, the easiest, with the least maintenance and the highest yield for your area. Although it sounds simple and perhaps a little unromantic, I realized this concept for evaluating our crops would provide a much-needed baseline for our production.  Although we make lists, spreadsheets and databases, there have been too many times when I’ve looked around our farm thinking, “I definitely didn’t plant enough of this crop!” or “I planted way too much of that one”.  In the past our planning efforts have concentrated on what we “could” grow, this year we’ll focus on what we “should” grow relative to our overall growth plan and profit margin.
So I left this conference with the confidence (some might say delusion) that if anyone can grow beautiful, pest-and disease-free garden roses that compete with the Big Guys, in the state of Virginia, I CAN.
Achieving a well-diversified balance on our farm is our ultimate goal. This year will usher in a new level of crop evaluation by assigning a point scale to each crop. Positive and negative points will be accorded in many areas, including ease of culture, market acceptance, pest and disease problems, etc.  In the end we hope to empirically discover exactly which crops are “weeds” on our farm. Imagining “weed” crops as the base of our production pyramid we can discern what percentage of our production and our investment $$$ will go toward building the upper tiers. How we decide what type and how much of any new “non-weed” crop to invest in is what conferences are made for. Growing what is difficult to grow in my area and bringing it to my enthusiastic customers is rewarding both personally and financially. The Portland conference was no exception.
There were so many new varieties of flowers, growing and marketing strategies and new garden toys presented that it is difficult to focus on any one that stood out over the other, especially when suffering from PCES.  Jeriann Sabin and Erin  Benzakein’s presentation on growing stunning English garden roses hooked me from the first whiff of their exceptional product.  Propelled to the trade show through rose-scented corridors, I found myself frantically trying to decide which rose and how many with reckless abandon. Luckily, Polly Hutchinson could see the state I was in and rescued me. She could tell I was teetering on the edge and agreed to share an order, which we would on decide later, when at least I had one toe on the ground.
Thank you, Polly. I’ve learned not to ignore these strong reactions to flowers. If I feel them, then it’s likely my customers will too. So I left this conference with the confidence (some might say delusion) that if anyone can grow beautiful, pest-and disease-free garden roses that compete with the Big Guys, in the state of Virginia, I CAN. And who knows, in time, with help and guidance from my fellow members and a lot of trial and error, they’ll grow on our farm like “weeds”.
So the next time you debate about attending a conference, convinced it’s too expensive or in-convenient. I assure you the small price you pay, be it a Regional Meeting or a National Conference you’ll more than recoup the costs in the coming years, even if it’s as simple as discovering a new “weed”.