Friday, February 1, 2013

A Full House at the Getting Started in Organic Farming Conference

Last Saturday, January 26, 2013, CT NOFA held it's annual Getting Started in Organic Farming Coneference at Goodwin College in East Hartford.  Despite a winter storm that inundated much of the mid-Atlantic states, we had sunny, albeit cold, weather up in Connecticut on the day of the event.  This was the first time the conference has been held at Goodwin, and we couldn't have been happier with how the day turned out.

The conference began just after 8am, and every seat in the room was filled.  Our Executive Director, Bill Duesing, kicked off the day with a compelling 30 minute overview of our current agricultural situation and how that ties into important global issues like climate change, biodiversity loss, and nutrient loading in fresh and salt water.  Bill gave an inspiring call to action for new farmers, explaining that organic farming directly addresses our planet's (and humanity's) most pressing ecological concerns.

After Bill's excellent introduction, Joe Bonelli from the UConn Cooperative Extension Service spoke briefly about Connecticut Farm Risk Management and crop insurance, explaining the tools that UConn and RMA have to offer new farmers to help them get started.

Our first full-length speaker of the day was Kip Kolesinskas, a conservation scientist with 35 years of experience. Kip has been a major contributor in efforts to increase farmer access to land, develop farm friendly municipalities, and promote locally grown food.  Kip's 45 minute presentation, Gaining Access to Quality Farmland, gave an overview of the common methods and sources for gaining access to affordable farmland, such as matching services, opportunities on Municipal and Land Trust properties, and the basic elements of a good lease, technical resources, and its role in risk management.

Next Erin Pirro, a Farm Business Consultant for Farm Credit East with a background in agricultural economics, spoke for an hour about Budgeting from the Bottom Up.  Erin has been helping farmers large and small make their businesses run better since 2001, and showed her knowledge and expertise by describing how to build a plan in numbers, designed to show you if you can take your business where you need it to go. Erin delved into the many aspects of building a strong and comprehensive budget, and showed how doing do will save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.

Kerry and Max Taylor, owners and operators of Provider Farm in Salem, CT, followed Erin with  a half hour presentation about Starting a CSA for Long Term Success. Provider Farm is a 200 share CSA, wholesale, and market biodynamic farm.  Kerry and Max described what it takes to start a CSA and why it can be a really valuable tool for new farmers. They addressed the benefits and draw backs of starting a CSA in the first year as well as lessons learned, tools for success and how a CSA fits into a whole farm plan.

Kerry and Max's presentation served as a great opening to the 45 minute CSA Panel where five Connecticut farmers, including Kerry and Max, addressed CSA-related questions from the audience ranging from the more general to the technical and specific. Other than Kerry and Max, the panel was also represented by three other farmers: Karen Pettinelli from Holcomb Farm, Mark Gauger from Maple View Farm, and Rodger Phillips from Grow Hartford.  Together, the panelists operate CSA programs in a wide range of sizes and specialties, and cater to different clientele.  The panel was a great way for attendees to learn a great deal about the different approaches to running a successful CSA program.

After the panel, the conference broke for lunch, some of which was generously donated by Whole Foods West Hartford and Chabaso Bakery. Thanks to CT NOFA staff and board members for providing some of the lunch as a supplement to the donations! There was plenty of food to go around, and the  break afforded attendees a great chance to network and get to know one another.  It also gave the staff and presenters time to get ready behind the scenes for a packed afternoon program!

The afternoon program started off with NRCS Opportunities for the Organic Producer, a 45 minute presentation from Adam Maikshilo, a Soil Conservationist for CT NRCS. Adam talked about technical and financial assistance that's available through the NRCS to organic producers, how to apply for those services, and common conservation practices that organic producers follow.
After Adam's presentation, Kim Stoner, the vegetable entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, presented about Pest Management for Organic Farms.  Kim explained which pests can be tolerated, which can be managed at low levels, and which can appear suddenly and devastate a crop.  She also described ways to reduce pest damage, like diversifying, using resistant varieties, and using other non-chemical strategies for control.

Our last presenter of the day was Duncan Cox, a  Certification Administrator at Baystate Organic Certifiers.  Baystate is the only organization that certifies organic farms in Connecticut, and it was important to end the day describing the step by step process of becoming certified.  Duncan explained not only the certification process, but also addressed common concerns among farmers about becoming certified and maintaining certification.

This year's event was a blast!  Many thanks again to Whole Foods and Chabaso, as well as to the USDA RMA and the Specialty Crop Block Grant for providing some of the funding for this event, and to Goodwin College for the venue.  Also, a very special thank you to all the presenters for making the event informative and engaging.  Lastly, thanks to all the attendees for coming and learning about how to get started in organic farming!  We really appreciate the evaluations you filled out, and will use them to make even better programming for you in the future.  Thanks for your support!

Couldn't make it to this year's event?  No worries - we will be offering 8 beginning farmer workshops this year focusing on a variety of technical topics, and three CSA fairs.  Check our website often for the most up to date information.

Have a great weekend!

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