October 21, 2015; by Lana Nasser
With November right around the corner, the Mid-Florida Specialty Crop Conference is swiftly approaching. The conference’s keynote speaker needs no introduction. He is a well-known, passionate advocate of sustainable food systems and small, local businesses.
The esteemed urban farmer we are talking about is John Rife, founder and owner of East End Market in Orlando, Florida. Rife’s keynote speech at the Mid-Florida Conference, “How Food and Farming Can Revitalize Local Economies,” will explore the ways agriculture can be an economic stimulus for a region by merging the experience of older farmers and the energy of beginner ones, and by promoting sustainable food systems from the grassroots up and from the policy level.
According to Rife, there is enough demand for produce in central Florida to create and maintain a sustainable system capable of revitalizing the economy. “Customers and restaurateurs want something different because they’re tired of the same vegetables,” Rife said. “That message is making it to the farmer and either old farmers have to get with times or young farmers have to see the gap and working towards filling it.”
Rife believes that farmers and local producers can re-stimulate the economy without having to start from scratch. “There is a lot of interest in farming and we have the natural resources that already have wealth that we can convert to take the advantage of what’s existing in central Florida, at the same time showing the fertile ground that exists in that area to take advantage of the infrastructure already in place,” Rife said. “Because infrastructure is already there, with improvements we can re-vitalize an old farm into something profitable and sustainable.”
There is a specific marketing advantage for small farm operators who are able to cater to diverse and quickly changing local demands, as this flexibility separates these growers from others who are more limited in their crop diversity.
“If you were a farmer before, you were beholden to the distributor and growing what that market would bear. With CSAs, farmers markets, and other channels now, all of which have a higher price point, you have some other options,” Rife said.
According to Rife, the best outcome for this conference to produce is increasing dialogue between consumers, distributors and local farmers to create a more fluid environment.
For this conference and for the future of agriculture, “my heart is just to see more growers and if that means folks that are retiring their farms, rather than sell to developers, work with young farmers and give them a chance,” Rife said. “Our job is to inspire the next farmer and give them a leg up,”
The Mid-Florida Specialty Crops Conference in Apopka, Florida will take place on November 6, 2015. Check out the Conference Program and Register online at www.midfloridaconference.eventbrite.com Early Bird registration is $30 if you register on or before October 25. Registration is $40 after this date. Your registration includes refreshments, lunch, and educational materials. For more information about the conference, contact Jose Perez at 352-294-1692 or firstname.lastname@example.org