Florida is often associated with beaches and tourism, but The Sunshine State also has a tremendous agricultural industry with tens of thousands of active farms. With the number of farms in the state jumping 8% between 2002 and 2007, and with almost all of that growth in the small farms category, small farms are big business in Florida.
As small farmers have become strong players in Florida’s agriculture community, their educational needs have grown. The University of Florida’s (UF) Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), Extension, and Florida A&M University’s (FAMU), College of Agriculture and Food Sciences (CAFS) Small Farms Focus Team have teamed up to support small farmers by developing an extensive website specifically targeted toward meeting the needs of small farms. The site (http://smallfarms.ifas.ufl.edu), which includes access to a tremendous amount of useful information, a calendar of small farms events, a Feature Farmer page, and social media links to help small farmers engage in purposeful networking, has been extremely well received, garnering over3 million hits a year.
The annual Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference began in 2009 in response to the popularity and benefits of regional small farms conferences being held around the state. In 2006, Florida hosted at least a dozen annual regional conferences in addition to numerous county and local Extension programs. These successful programs were, and continue to be, attended by a few thousand people annually.
Resoundingly, conference and Extension program attendees expressed a desire for a statewide conference at which they could address not only local issues, but also tackle those issues relevant to small farmers throughout Florida. Although they found the regional educational programs helpful in satisfying many of their educational needs, Florida’s small farmers were looking for a chance to come together as a whole. The UF and FAMU teams decided to meet that need by developing what is now the annual Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference.
The annual Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference has been successful from its inaugural year, with the vast majority of attendees returning to subsequent conferences. Florida’s small farmers find that, in this forum, their diverse experiences, coupled with their shared challenges (risk management, business planning, regulatory compliance, and so forth), create a unique opportunity for collaborative problem solving and resource sharing.
We invite you to take a moment to view our archive of past events. We hope to see you at this year’s conference!
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Registration will be available on-site at the conference beginning at 1:00pm, Friday, August 1
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Conference photos provided courtesy of UF, IFAS, ICS