Opportunities abound for honing farming, marketing skills

Despite the cold, wet weather outside, it is not uncommon for folks this time of year to begin seeking information about new crops, new productions systems, marketing opportunities and land management strategies.

Perhaps cabin fever has provided folks time to catch up on TV or the past five editions of their farm or garden magazine subscription, or maybe it has just given them time to dream and plan. Whatever the reason, this type of excitement that this time of year generates is contagious.

Over my now quarter century with Purdue Extension, I have always enjoyed the opportunity to share an email, a phone call or an in-person visit to discuss the possibilities of how one might prepare for the growing season ahead.

It seems this year, Purdue Extension has gone the extra mile to provide a plethora of opportunities for us to learn about a variety of topics that should help this audience with a diversity of interests and foster and direct their enthusiasm for whatever venture they see in their future.

In addition to the Wholesale Success program (to be conducted Friday at the Smith Family farm outside of Pendleton in Madison County), there now seems to be a program to meet almost every need within the next month.

The Purdue Extension Local Foods Program is continuing to help farmers markets improve their marketing and better understand government regulations through the Indiana Farmers Market Forum.

This event will be conducted 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Building, 225 S. East St., Indianapolis.

Indiana has seen a doubling in the number of farmers markets over the past 10 years. This forum and the new Hoosier Farmers Market Association will work to create a stronger network of markets and market masters throughout Indiana.

New this year in the Exhibition Hall will be farmer’s market resources and representatives from support organizations including Purdue Extension Local Foods, Hoosier Farmers Market Association and the Indiana State Department of Health.

Attendees will also be among the first to learn about the new FoodLink tool that will be available to help farmers, markets and grocery stores share information about Indiana fruits and vegetables in a new way with the consumer.

There will be sessions on marketing your farmers market; maintaining positive manager-vendor relationships; meeting Indiana’s food safety and health regulations; increasing participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, at your market; alternatives to traditional farmers markets; a look at your market audience; and state Health Department regulations and HEA 1309 (home-based vendor rules).

Registration is $30 and includes lunch. Some of the registration fees can be applied to a Hoosier Farmers Market Association annual membership.

Further details about the forum and registration information are available at hoosierfarmersmarkets.org

Coming up on March 3 to 5 will be the fourth annual Indiana Small Farm Conference. In addition to the concurrent sessions on a diversity of small farm topics on March 4 and 5 and the trade show full of relevant vendors and support agencies will be a series of pre-conference workshops on direct marketing, woodland management, hops cultivation and other topics.

The daylong workshops will be offered March 3, a day before the conference opens at the Hendricks County Fairgrounds in Danville.

Workshops include:

Producing Meat for the Local Communities on a Small Farm: Participants will tour This Old Farm, in Colfax, Indiana. The owners will discuss how they process and market locally sourced meats from a network of 20 farms.

Making Markets Work for Your Farming Enterprise: Participants will learn how to increase sales at farmers markets and food stands as well as online and through wholesale arrangements with restaurants, schools and other institutions.

Getting the Most Out of Your Woods: Forestry and wildlife specialists will discuss strategies for managing woodlands to maximize income and biodiversity. Participants will learn how to identify and control invasive species, land management practices that benefit wildlife, techniques to control wildlife damage, and income opportunities for rural land.

Starting and Sustaining a Small Acre Farm in Indiana: Experienced and beginning farmers will explain business planning for small and mid-sized farms, including how to boost production and profitability. Representatives from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program will discuss farmer/rancher grant opportunities.

Gaining New Knowledge to be Successful on Your Hop Farm: Participants will learn about hop varieties and trellis systems, as well as the costs and benefits of growing hops and collaborative marketing opportunities among Indiana brewers and consumers.

Workshops costs are modest and discounts apply to most when registration occurs prior to the deadline, which is this Sunday.

The 2016 Indiana Small Farm Conference will be March 4 and 5 at the Hendricks County Fairgrounds, 1900 E. Main St., Danville. Cost of the conference is $120, or $100 if paid by Sunday.

Keynote speaker is Mary Dee Berry, founder of the Berry Center, an organization focused on land use, farm policy, farmer education, urban agriculture education and local foods.

For more information, or to register for the workshops or conference, go to ag.purdue.edu/extension/smallfarms/Pages/default.aspx.

Roy Ballard is an agriculture and natural resources educator with the Hancock County office of Purdue Extension. Contact him at 317-462-1113 or rballard@purdue.edu.