Organic agriculture networking

As organic food goes mainstream, more small farms are looking to get into the industry, says Jim DeValerio, agriculture agent for Bradford County with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension program.

“We’ve seen growing demand in small farm communities for more opportunities to learn about organic agriculture, and meet others who are also interested in going organic,” DeValerio said.

Growers will have a chance to do just that at the next meeting of the Florida Agriculture Network (FAN), April 25 from 4 to 6 p.m. at 1655 SE 23rd Place in Gainesville, Florida. Attendees will tour two organic farms, mingle with other growers and help inform future UF/IFAS research.

Those interested in attending can register at http://tinyurl.com/l5yzv2y or call the UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County office at 352-955-2402. Registration is $15.

Organized by UF/IFAS Extension faculty, FAN meetings help growers to network and also meet their local county Extension agent — all in one place.

“When you’re a farmer, your time is limited, and it may be hard to get to know farmers in your area or your local Extension agent,” said Tatiana Sanchez, commercial horticulture agent for UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County. “FAN is a centralized place where farmers can make these connections.”

FAN meetings rotate through various north-central Florida counties. In January, the Network met in Lawtey, Florida, where attendees learned about growing leafy greens and marketing produce to local restaurants.

The April 25 meeting will take members to Siembra Farms and The Family Garden, neighboring farms in southwest Gainesville. These farms grow a variety of crops, including strawberries, squash and onions, depending on the season.

During the tours, farm owners Cody Galligan and Jordan Brown will share their own networking experiences and explain their respective farm management philosophies, DeValerio said.

Tours will be joined by Danielle Treadwell, associate professor of horticultural sciences, and Jose Perez, small farms coordinator for UF/IFAS, who will update attendees on organic certification and UF/IFAS efforts to source organic seed in Florida. Treadwell will also discuss how UF/IFAS research on organic production is responding to growers’ needs.

After the tour, attendees will convene at The Family Garden barn for hors d’oeuvres and socializing.

Proposed topics for future meetings include:

  • How to get your farm certified organic
  • Raising grass-fed beef, June 13 at the Call Street Café in Starke, Florida. Participants will enjoy a grass-fed beef burger and learn how to produce certified grass-fed beef and how to make their forages work for them.
  • Agritourism
  • Conversations between food buyers, chefs and growers

Farms in north-central Florida are welcome to host upcoming FAN meetings, Sanchez said. “Inviting other growers to your farm increases your visibility, fosters relationships among producers and has helped farmers attract new clients,” she said.

Growers interested in hosting a FAN event should contact Jim DeValerio (904-966-6224, jtd@ufl.edu) and Tatiana Sanchez (352-955-2402, tatiana.sanchez@ufl.edu), and join the FAN Facebook group.

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