There has been a long-term trend in the decline of farm numbers that has seemed to have been reversed. The large farms are continuing to get larger as mid-sized operations continue to decline, 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. Some are even military veterans looking for a new career when they leave the service.
The learning opportunities for these folks have never been greater, especially coming up in the early part of this year. I want to highlight three great events you should be aware of taking place in our state. First, the Alabama Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference will be held Feb. 6-7 in Opelika. The meeting will be at the Marriott Grand National Hotel and Conference Center.
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 best meet your needs. For details and registration information, visit their website at www.aces.edu/afvga.
Second, the Southern SAWG meeting will be in Mobile January 14-17. This is a huge event that moves from state to state. This is a rare opportunity for Alabamians to attend this event in our 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.
Southern SAWG is an acronym for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group whose 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 on January 14 with two full days of pre-conference activities, including a wide selection of intensive short courses, mini courses and field trips. Last year, I attended a 1.5-day workshop on growing vegetables in high tunnels that was excellent. I see the same presenters will be back again this year.
The two full days of general conference activities will start January 16 and 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.
First time attendee James Chris Fields of Bunny Goat Farm in Brewton said, "This conference was way beyond my expectations … the amount of information I came away with was voluminous, but, more importantly, I met so many great contacts with way more experience than me and that is worth more than I can even comprehend."
More information about this event can be found at www.ssawg.org/january-2015-conference/.
Lastly, for those interested in the greenhouse, nursery and landscape industry, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Gulf Coast Horticulture Expo also in Mobile. The 2015 event will be held January 28-30 at the Mobile Outlaw Convention Center right on the water in downtown Mobile. This event will be filled with educational opportunities for both experienced and newcomers to the ornamental industry. From my personal experience, I learn as much from people on the trade show floor than from the seminars, but you don’t want to miss either one. Learn more about this event and register online at www.gshe.org/.
Turn your winter months into a time to learn and get inspired by what others are doing by taking advantage of one or more of these great events taking place in the next few weeks.
Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.