The first ever Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference was held on August 1-2, 2009. The success was incredible with 800 attendees. Shortly after the 2009 conference the Stakeholder Planning Committee let it be known they were ready to immediately begin planning for the 2010 conference. The 2010 Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference has been set for Saturday, July 31st and Sunday, August 1st. The great excitement surrounding the first conference promises the 2010 event will be even better.
The vast majority of Florida’s nearly 47,463 farms are classified as small farms. Calculated on an area or on an economic basis, nearly 90% of all Florida farms are small farms. Florida is unique in that there was an 8% increase in farm numbers from 2002 to 2007, essentially all in the small farm category Recent increased efforts to meet the educational needs of small farmers in Florida became visible through the work of the University of Florida/IFAS and Florida A&M University Small Farms Focus Team. Efforts have included the development of an extensive website specifically targeted at small farmer needs. The site (http://smallfarms.ifas.ufl.edu) receives over 100,000 hits monthly and includes a calendar of small farms events and a Feature Farmer page. A series of regional small farms conferences were initiated in 2006. At least a dozen regional conferences are held annually in Florida and in addition, many other county or local Extension programs are now being held. These programs are very popular and are being attended by a few thousand people annually.
As the success of the local and regional meetings, became very apparent, a common question also emerged from the small farmers. That question is how can we get more information and get to the “next level”? Although the regional educational programs have been successful in satisfying many educational needs, all Florida small farmers are faced with similar challenges of (economics: land, gas, inputs) increasing regulatory pressures, challenges of marketing, etc. so that by coming together as a diverse group, solutions can be identified. This brought us to the stage of starting a statewide small farms conference for Florida in 2009.
The statewide Conference is useful and important to small farmers, allied industry representatives, researchers, educators, institutional members, policy-makers, small farm commodity associations, foundations, and others interested in strengthening the small farm community in Florida. The two Land Grant Universities; The University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) and Florida A&M University are your proud hosts of the conference.
The Conference includes many activities that benefit small farmers including:
- A general educational session to attract well known speakers on topics of broad interest.
- Concurrent educational sessions (presentations, workshops, hands-on demonstration, and discussion groups) will be provided to share results of groundbreaking research and provide educational support for producers to operate sustainable and profitable enterprises.
- A large exhibition area to introduce new products and technologies to small producers will be available. Industry suppliers, allied organizations, educational groups, funding agencies, foundations, and other allied industry representatives with services for small farmers will be encouraged to participate. The 2009 conference attracted 80 exhibitors and well over 100 are expected in 2010.
- Other activities will include other creative ways to facilitate farmer networking at the Conference.
- All these activities in total will help facilitate networking, dialog, and visioning among members of the Florida small farms community, and to increase awareness of the small farms industry to decision makers, supporting institutions, and the general public.
We are pleased to provide Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference participants the option to offset their carbon emissions as they travel to the conference. Visit www.carbonfund.org, to begin shrinking your carbon footprint today.
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