Real Foods For Real People

Access to fresh, nutritious foods and local foodsheds is essential to society’s health, security, and prosperity.  National initiatives such as the National Good Food Network of the Wallace Center are working to scale up the supply of good, real food – food that is healthy, green, fair, and affordable – into more retail, wholesale, and institutional markets, and provide greater food access for everyone.

In the spirit of such goals, the UF/IFAS/FAMU Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Program announces the third Regional Small Farms Conference on April 1-2 in Fort Myers, Florida for local farmers and/or those who aspire to grow fruits and vegetables crops, as well as stakeholders of local food systems, in the greater Sarasota County area.

This event provides lots of learning opportunities for everyone, from prospective and beginner farmers to experienced growers, and from rural to urban settings. In addition, there will be sessions for networking between local consumer stakeholders and growers that are so important for the continued growth of local food systems in southwest Florida. The theme of the conference is “Strengthening Local Food Systems with Diversity”.

Starting April 1, activities include tours of four local farms. Alternatively, the conference offers four field workshops at the E.C.H.O. educational farm in North Ft. Myers.

On the evening of April 1, participants may partake in a farm-to-table banquet at Buckingham Farms. There, keynote speakers Karen Dakin of Dakin Dairy (Manatee County), Mike Greenwood of 31 Produce Farm (Lee County) and Gabriele Marewski of Paradise Farms (Miami-Dade County) will share their perspectives on diversifying their farms with agritourism. You can also taste of beverages from local breweries and wineries.

On April 2, the conference moves to the Holiday Inn Fort Myers Airport at Town Center, for the bulk of educational sessions. Topics include urban farming systems, agroforestry-based integrated farms, financing the farm, cottage and value-added foods to food policies, medicinal foods, and local food systems.

In addition, participants can network with vendors and educational organizations at the trade show.

Check out the conference program and register online at www.smallfarmsconf.eventbrite.com. Early bird registration fee is $90 until March 21, and $100 after that, $125 for full conference plus farm-to-table banquet at Buckingham Farms. Registration includes refreshments, lunch, and educational materials.

In the program you will see that greater Sarasota area has a very strong representation from our local community as presenters at our conference.  For example:

  • Karen Dakin of Dakin Dairy (Manatee County) – talking about agritourism enterprises on the farm
  • Christine Babiak, Nutritionist MD (Sarasota County) – talking about ‘food as medicine’
  • Stacy Spriggs of Sarasota County Extension – talking about ‘growing new farmers’ with school gardens
  • Laura Espinosa of Fair Foods Standards Council (Sarasota County) – talking about consumer and farmer education of food labels and certifications
  • Larry Heiny of Green Path Veterans Farms Project (Sarasota County) – talking about training homeless veterans in urban agriculture opportunities
  • Christine Nordstrom of Rise Kitchen (Sarasota County) – talking about resources for cottage and value-added foods entrepreneurs

For more information, contact your Sarasota County Extension at 941.861.5000. Partial support for this event is provided by a Specialty Crop Block Grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

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