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Professional networking helps Southwest Florida farmers

The News-Press – 09/30/2021

Jessica Ryals
Guest Columnist
USA TODAY NETWORK – FLORIDA

Just like other lines of work, building and maintaining relationships is critical for farmers’ professional success. Participating in professional networks is a great opportunity to learn from peers, mentors, exchange ideas, meet clients, and gain access to resources and opportunity.

The Southwest Florida Small Farmer Network is an informal network for beginning and established producers interested in learning from fellow producers.

Agriculture in the United States has made significant operational changes to meet buyer demands, combat new pests and disease and navigate new food safety and policy changes that impact markets. Organizations like UF/IFAS Extension Collier County provide education and help develop skills in these areas, but nothing can replace the insight and lessons learned producers share with each other.

Formal and informal Florida farm networks across the state have developed through Extension workshops, farm tours, conferences, farm bureau meetings, breakfast and dinner gatherings. In addition to information exchanges, these get-togethers have resulted in new business opportunities, funding for on-farm research, advocacy work and marketing connections with urban centers looking for local food. To put it simply, when producers convene, business and community opportunities arise.

UF/IFAS Extension agents in Southwest Florida host the Southwest Florida Small Farmer Network . Meetings include a farm tour, producer’s meeting and updates from UF/IFAS Extension and industry representatives like the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Now on its 13th year, meetings have attracted those in a wide range of production models, including row-crop vegetables, tropical fruit, livestock, poultry, mushrooms, beekeeping, permaculture and community gardeners. In recent years, chefs, food entrepreneurs and school planners have attended so they can meet famers and learn about local agriculture.

Most producers walk away with a better connection to what others in the industry are doing and how to access resources.

“I definitely benefited from having made connections with other farmers and the small farms programs”, said Russell Hollander of Care2Grow Farm in Collier County.

As one of the first commercial mushroom growers in the area, he appreciated the opportunity to connect with other farmers and learn more about regulations and opportunity in the industry.

“There was so much more to learn; just in how small farms operate, their distribution and the connections I made,” Hollander said.

As a result, Hollander found that connecting with other producers helped him distribute his product more widely. He built relationships with producers already selling to restaurants and at farmer’s markets.

The 2021 fall Southwest Florida Small Farmer Network meeting will be October 4 at Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farm in Lee County. Rosy Tomorrows is a sustainable farm and open-air restaurant raising 100% grass-fed cows and heritage breed pastured pigs and poultry.

Visit our registration page to learn more about the event:  www.2021swflsfn.eventbrite.com