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7th National Small Farmers and Ranchers Conference

By Katie Gilman, Senior Fellow

The AMI Urban Farm Team had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Small Farmers and Ranchers Conference held in Virginia Beach, VA September 20-23. This conference is held once every 4 years and is hosted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). This year additional hosts included Virginia State University (VSU) College of Agriculture, Small Farm Educational Outreach Program; and the Virginia Cooperative Extension, through Virginia Tech and VSU.

The AMI Urban Farm Team: Katie Gilman, Trevor Piersol, and Sarah Merfeld

The conference crowd consisted of folks from many different states who work for the USDA, cooperative extension, colleges, universities, nonprofit organizations and, of course, small farmers and ranchers. The AMI Urban Farm was given a space to share and promote its success story and the story of AMI at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, along with several other farmers.

We were educated on how different farm-oriented governmental agencies are able to assist farmers, which can seem overwhelmingly complicated at times, especially if you aren’t familiar with all the lingo! We listened to the stories of how other small farmers and ranchers have been successful in putting these programs and grants into use, as well as the challenges and difficulties in using governmental resources.

On our second day, conference attendees were bussed out on educational tours. Several of the options were :

- The Williamsburg Winery

- Mill Farm Christmas Tree and Berry Farm

- Cherrystone Aqua-Farms

- Virginia Institute of Marine Science

- Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center

- New Earth Farm

- Whole Foods

Highlights from my experience were learning about:

  • Fauquier Educational Farm, Warrenton, VA - "a learning resource for students, farmers, gardeners and anyone wanting to learn more about how food is grown”. It is volunteer-driven with one full-time employee, and primarily hosts beginner farmer courses.
  • Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Project Database - an online USDA program that contains tons of field research for inter-collaboration between farms and farmers. They also host Farmer’s Forums in the winter months for farmers to share and discuss various topics face-to-face.
  • Future Harvest CASA, Maryland - a free program that "provides education, networking, and advocacy to help build a sustainable Chesapeake food shed”.
  • Oral presentations on:

Biochar

The scientific justification of companion planting

Using spent mushroom production blocks as compost

Additional highlights from the trip included visiting the Atlantic Ocean, and discovering a 90% locally-sourced restaurant in the 'Vibe' district of VA Beach called Commune.

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