WOOSTER, Ohio — With 150 registered attendees at its first visit to the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, the Ohio State College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Science’s Living the Small Farm Dream small farm conference March 28 was a success, organizers said.
“I’m tickled pink,” said Tony Nye, an Ohio State University Extension educator who coordinates OSU Extension’s Small Farm Program.
“We have had the conference in Wilmington (Ohio) for seven years and we move around the location of the second conference each year. If we get 100 or 110 people the first time at a location we are happy, so we will be coming back here.”
Attendees, by all accounts, found the conference equally beneficial.
Bernie and Michele Bronson, of Morrow County, are in the beginning stages of starting a small, organic farm and market.
Michele said demand for such a venture is growing, but a centralized market location would be a boon to both producers and their customers.
“(Bernie) is more on the systems side and I am more interested in the marketing,” she said. “So I am planning on attending presentations like the one on cottage foods.”
Bernie Bronson said programs like the small farm conference make the process of getting basic information on a wide range of topics much easier.
“You can’t always corner someone and get one-on-one (attention) at an Extension office,” he said. “And sometimes you have one Extension person you need to speak to from Wilmington and another from Knox County or somewhere. With this, you get them all together in one place.”
The conference included a wide array of vendors, from finance and equipment to food programs. Throughout the day, Extension educators gave presentations on equally varied topics, including sessions on both production and marketing various commodities, to farm safety issues, and leveraging state and federal funding.
Rory Lewandowski, a Wayne County Extension educator, said a number of presentations were particularly popular.
“The high tunnels presentation is popular because people are always looking for ways to extend the growing season,” he said. “And we always have a lot of questions about the ‘direct marketing of meat to the consumer’ session.”
Sessions on marketing farm products and on-farm solar energy development also saw large audiences.
“It is small and personal and that is good,” Andy Luther, of Luther Farms in Richfield, Ohio, said of the conference. “I also went to the Wilmington one, and I go to the produce one in Sandusky, which is bigger. But this one has a little bit of everything.”
Holmes County farmer Nathan Chrapowicki found the session on the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service programs for small farms helpful.
“My wife and I bought the farm off my dad three years ago, so I’m officially a ‘beginning farmer’ and I’m also a veteran — I was in the Marines for four years,” Chrapowicki said. “And some programs offer grants to both.”
No sure definition
Defining a “small farm” can be difficult, Nye said. A half-acre vegetable plot is a small farm, he said, but he has also seen the same production and market principles applied to an 1,800-acre property left to several family members.
“You make you’re own definition and you take (information from the conference) and apply it as you want,” he said. “To be successful, you need passion, interest and information.”
Assuming that the attendees came equipped with the first two qualifications, Nye said the goal of the small farm conferences is to give them plenty of the latter.
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