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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Small Farms Conference

First statewide conference a success

The vast majority of Florida’s 47,000 farms are classified as small by U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, but there’s been little opportunity for all the people behind those farms to get together and work toward common goals.

That changed on August 1 and 2 with the first Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference, a statewide event that was such a success, organizers plan to repeat it yearly, said Bob Hochmuth, a multicounty extension agent with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

More than 800 farmers and agriculture professionals attended the event, held at Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee.

“It shows that even in today’s economy, there is great interest among the small farmers in Florida to improving the things they’re doing on their farms,” said Hochmuth, who helped plan the conference.

The event was hosted by UF/IFAS and Florida A&M University’s College of Engineering Sciences, Technology and Agriculture. It featured more than 100 speakers, 30 educational sessions, networking opportunities, more than 80 exhibitions of new products and technologies, and livestock displays.

Highlights included a welcome address from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson; an impassioned keynote speech from nationally known small farms authority John Ikerd; and presentation of Florida Innovative Farmer Awards to three attendees for developing and sustaining their small farm enterprises.

Another detail that set this conference apart—much of the food served to attendees was prepared with items produced by Florida’s small farms. Food service was provided by the Osceola Heritage Park’s in-house caterers, who were not only cooperative but enthused about the project, Hochmuth said.

“They were amazed by how much high-quality food was available from small producers in Florida,” he said. “They really got into it.”

The 2010 conference will probably take place in midsummer, again at Osceola Heritage Park, he said.

Photos, videos and other material from the 2009 conference will be posted at the small farms website maintained by UF and FAMU. The site will soon include information about the 2010 conference, and contains helpful material for anyone operating or launching a small farm in Florida.

For the latest demographic information on Florida’s small farms, see the recently published UF document, Characteristics of Small Farm Operators in Florida: Economics, Demographics and Preferred Information Channels and Sources.

- Article courtesy of UF IFAS, Tom Nordlie
- Photo courtesy of UF IFAS, Tyler Jones