Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Farmers Learn From Siting Your Farm to Sampling a U-Pick

Eighteen eager beginning farmers absorbed information from selecting a site for their vegetable and fruit operations, to how to manage water, to what kinds of equipment work best for various tasks on a produce farm last Friday in Springfield MO. They were back for more on Saturday as the group toured the Springfield Farmers’ Market, picking up tips on how to sell at farmers’ markets, explored the fields of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, and visited a U-Pick berry operation where samples were the name of the game. 

Friday morning began with an extensive discussion of all the factors to consider when selecting a site for fruit and berry production – from thinking about the soil, hours of sunlight, elevation and slope of the land to what kind of water, utilities, and roadway access the site has. Pat Byers, MU Extension Horticulture Specialist in Greene County walked through his own personal experience in setting up a peach orchard with his family. Jay Chism, MU Extension agronomy specialist, focused on the importance of good soil, understanding the soil, and managing soil well to get the most out of it. Bob Schultheis, MU Extension Natural Resources Engineer, explained the importance of managing water and showed off a number of different irrigation tools for beginning farmers. Gordon Carriker, MU Extension Agribusiness Management specialist, drove home how important financial planning and figuring out profitability is to a beginning farmer. (In fact, there was a great deal of jesting back and forth about which was the absolutely most IMPORTANT factor for beginning farmers to consider: Soil? Money? Water?) The day finished with a discussion of marketing options and strategies, with Eileen Nichols, manager extraordinaire of the Webb City Farmers’ Market, a destination market in SW Missouri.

Saturday was devoted to hearing from those already farming and marketing. Bright and early, the group gathered to hear about what factors to consider in choosing a farmers’ market, and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of selling through farmers’ markets at the Springfield Farmers’ Market. Participants were encouraged to take note of the merchandizing arrangements, and other marketing tools experienced farmers were employing. We then visited the Milsap Farm, where Curtis Milsap led us through the fields, explaining pest and weed management, answering questions about soil amendments and soil fertility, and discussing post-harvest handling practices. We beat the rain to explore the Prairie Picking Patch operated by Larry Smith. Beginning farmers asked questions about how to manage risks on a u-pick operation, which varieties work best for blackberries, and sampled some very good blackberries! All through the workshop, we had the pleasure of our three youngest participants – who had the best time picking berries!  The rain finally came and the workshop was over!

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