On July 19, 2023 the Southwest Small Farmer Network held the summer meeting at FruitScapes, LLC on Pine Island in Lee County, FL. The focus of the meeting was to highlight the resiliency of producers on Pine Island which was devastated by Hurricane Ian, connect producers with each other, and share UF/IFAS Extension and Florida State Agricultural Response Team resources and recovery efforts.
The Southwest Small Farmers Network is facilitated by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension agents from Lee, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Polk, Manatee and Collier counties. The network is made up of small farmers throughout the SWFL region that gather to learn, share knowledge, and interact with each other to create a community of small farmers.
Alongside disaster preparedness, the 43 meeting participants learned about updates from stakeholder agencies that provide support and funding in the agricultural industry such as USDA NRCS, FDACS Farm Food Safety, Harry Chapin Food Bank of SWFL, Feeding Florida, Blue Zones Project SWFL, the SWFL Regional Planning Council among other local organizations.
Owner and operator of FruitScapes, Steve Cucura and Farm Manager Elijah took two groups for a farmer-led tour, offered a mango tasting, and grafting demonstration. Their tours demonstrated the incredible resiliency of farmers in Florida as well as the strength of tropical fruit trees to bounce back from weather related impacts.
The tour was followed by a round-robin where attendees learned about each other’s farm businesses, interests, or agencies. The introductions helped with networking, knowledge sharing, and helped extension agents identify current trends in small farms.
Survey results showed that 96% of participants gained knowledge on tropical fruit production such as methods for growing fruit trees, post management of hurricane impacted trees, pruning practices, and fertilization practices. Many highlighted the ability to networked with other small farmers and identified new market opportunities. Participants also learned skills such as grafting and nursery management and nearly 90% said they would reach out to a new contact they made at the meeting.
“I have not attended past regional meeting because I could not make time for them. I am so glad my schedule opened up to attend. I look forward to the exchange of ideas in the next meeting.” – Dave, Last Penny Farm Manatee County, FL
Fruitscapes, LLC is a tropical fruit plant nursery located in Bokeelia, Pine Island and specializes in tropical fruit propagation. We thank them for providing the location for this meeting to support the local small farmers and demonstrate some of their practices. And a special thanks to network member, Nicole Cruz of Circle C Farms for giving everyone a carton USDA Organic pasture raised eggs to take home with them!
The SWFL Fresh: Choose Local, Choose Fresh brand is a farmer driven initiative that began after Hurricane Irma’s impacts to the SWFL agricultural sector in 2017. It is supported by the SWFL Regional Planning Council and UF/IFAS Extension. The website and brand was developed to encourage Southwest Florida residents and visitors to choose food and beverages sourced from Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee and Sarasota counties.
If you are interested in attending the next SWFLSFN meeting, reach out to your local extension agent to be added to our mailing list.