Saturday, January 26, 2013

Farmers Conference to Help Growers Thrive for Tenth Year



Over the last decade, the Southern Appalachians have seen a whopping 855% increase in the number of farms selling direct to consumers. ASAP’s Business of Farming Conference has guided the farmers behind these emerging and changing farms since 2004—providing them the business and marketing skills needed in order to be a successful agricultural enterprise. The event will celebrate its tenth anniversary when held next month, February 23 from 8 am until 5:30 pm, at Warren Wilson College.

“It’s been exciting to see the conference grow,” says Julie Mansfield of Mountain Harvest Organics in Hot Springs. She and husband Carl Evans have attended regularly since the first event. “In the beginning it was mostly attended by small farmers who made their money from tailgate markets or through a CSA,” Carl remembers. “Today, even larger farms with much of their business from wholesale orders are represented. It’s exciting to see representatives from grocery stores attending so that farmers big and small and grocers can discuss how a local food system can work for both sides.”

Of course, in addition to the opportunity for farmers to connect with buyers, the conference offers attendees the chance to attend workshops on everything from QuickBooks to websites and direct marketing. That’s key, says Debbie Hamrick, Director of Specialty Crops for NC Farm Bureau and member of the state Sustainable Local Food Policy Advisory Council, which recently proposed meetings modeled after ASAP’s conference to the NC legislature. “Connecting enterprising farmers to the right information and to one another not only builds a strong sense of community and network, but it directly impacts on-farm profitability. ASAP’s Business of Farming Conference sessions are filled with usable information, great ideas and practical experience.”

The full list of workshops and speakers can be found at asapconnections.org/conference.html. Registration is $30 per person before February 1 and $35 after February 1, with a discount for multiple farm registrants. A special dedication will commemorate the anniversary.  The conference is made possible with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Risk Management Agency, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and Farmers' Market Promotion Program.

ABOUT ASAP (APPALACHIAN SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE PROJECT)
ASAP’s mission is to help local farms thrive, link farmers to markets and supporters, and build healthy communities through connections to local food. To learn more about ASAP’s work, visit asapconnections.org, or call (828) 236-1282.

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