January 2014
The Magic of Gardening

Learning Opportunities Abound

Last year, I developed a very successful series called "Farming 101" designed to help beginning farmers. One thing I learned from this course was the insatiable appetite for learning those of you interested in agriculture have. I view this as a positive sign for the future of agriculture in Alabama. Recently we have seen a reversal in the long trend of lower farm numbers to an actual increase in people involved in agriculture. The large farms are continuing to get larger, but at the same time large numbers of small farmers have sprung up. Many of these folks are either first-time farmers or retirees returning to the farm after off-farm careers.

The learning opportunities for this latter group have never been greater, especially coming up in the early part of this year. Two great events you should be aware of are the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference Feb. 7-8 in Opelika and the Southern SAWG Conference Jan. 15-18 in Mobile.

The AFVGA Conference is an annual event with a focus on fruit and vegetable growing. This conference and tradeshow will feature many sessions for beginner farmers and the advanced grower as well. Concurrent sessions allow you to choose the programs that meet your needs. There will also be a half-day intensive workshop just for the beginning farmer focusing on marketing. For details and registration information, visit their website at www.aces.edu/afvga.

The Southern SAWG meeting in Mobile is a huge event that moves from state to state. This is a rare opportunity for Alabamians to attend this event in their own state. Over 1,200 organic and sustainable farmers are expected to participate in one of the largest and oldest sustainable farm and food conferences in the country.

SAWG is an acronym for the Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. Their whole mission is to provide practical information tailored for those in the South producing organic and sustainable food on a commercial scale and for those in our region working to improve local food systems.

Farmers, researchers, Extension agents and community leaders serious about creating more vibrant community food systems will attend this event covering all areas of small scale agriculture. The four-day event will start with two full days of pre-conference activities including a wide selection of intensive short courses, mini courses and field trips, plus a virtual farm tour extravaganza, a seed swap and a special showing of the film "Eating Alabama."

The two full days of general conference activities start January 17 and will include over 60 educational sessions, a series of networking sessions and a trade show. It will conclude with the big Taste of Alabama banquet dinner Saturday evening.

Nearly 100 presenters from across the country, most of whom are innovative farmers and ranchers from the South, will share their valuable information and experiences during the event.

More information about this event can be found at www.ssawg.org/january-2014-conference. To read the experiences of some who have attended this event, go to www.ssawg.org/first-time.

I plan to attend both of these events and I hope many of you will take advantage of these events as well.

Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.