Hands-on Vegetable Production Demonstrations at the Mid-Florida Conference

Do not miss the opportunity to attend the Shadehouse/Greenhouse demonstrations at the Mid- Florida Specialty Crops Conference on November 6, 2015. www.midfloridaconference.eventbrite.com

At the beginning of the conference speakers Bob Hochmuth and Richard Tyson from UF/IFAS Extension will provide the essential information you need to start up your vegetable production. Following this classroom session, participants will have two chances to visit the hands-on Shadehouse & Greenhouse demonstration.

gh demonstration
Greenhouse plants growing at the Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center, Live Oak

Speakers at the Demonstration session are Steve Brown of A & S Horticulture and Liz Felter from UF/IFAS Orange County Extension. Both speakers have extensive experience consulting in greenhouse production. We are working to prepare a greenhouse and a shade house to demonstrate the various types of growing systems used to grow vegetables, Felter said. Participants will see a good variety of vegetables growing, including tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, among others. These crops have already been seeded and will be in a good shape for the conference, Felter said.

The five different growing systems showcased will be:

1. Hydroponic system: Deep water- troughs, filled with nutrient solution.
2. Flat Bags with coconut coir: The use of bags filled with coconut coir as a growing media for plants
3. Container Production
4. Vertical Systems
5. Nutrient Film Technique

Several varieties of lettuce growing in a Nutrient Film Technique system

For those growers who have worked in the foliage sector, you will learn that it is easy to switch to vegetable production, said Felter. These growers maybe looking for opportunities to diversify their operations, and local vegetable production and marketing is an attactive option. While considering the transition to vegetable production, they have various production system options to choose from. “The important thing is to determine what production system works better for you and for the structure you already have in place,” Felter said.

Additionally participants will learn the best kind of crops that will grow in Central Florida conditions and the supplies you need to establish and maintain successful vegetable production systems.

The Mid-Florida Specialty Crops Conference in Apopka, Florida will take place on November 6, 2015. Check out the Conference Program and Register online at www.midfloridaconference.eventbrite.com

Early Bird registration is $30 if you register on or before October 25. Registration is $40 after this date. Your registration includes refreshments, lunch, and educational materials.
For more information about the conference, contact Jose Perez at 352-294-1692 or joseperezoro@ufl.edu


PhotoStory: Cover Crops

Cover Crops for Pest Management and Soil Health

Back in June 2015, UF/IFAS Extension organized a “Discover the Cover” Workshop. The workshop showecased the experiences with cover crops at the Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center in Live Oak, and at the Rooney’s Front Porch Farm.

Sunnhemp is a summer cover crop well adapted to Florida conditions. Because it is planted during the summer, the plants will develop limited number of seeds, due that bee population declines in this season. This crop is very effective for nematode control. Crude protein content in the leaves is 22%, in the plant 18%, and after flowering Nitrogen content is 8%.

Trying out the brand new crop roller. Dr. Treadwell from UF/IFAS explained that for killing a stand of sunnhemp, the trick for a good kill is to make sure that the stem can break easily around the base of the plant.

A row of sunflower can be used as a trap crop. These rows should be placed between your marketable crops and the pests’ overwintering sites (usually forests). Varieties recommended are “Giganteus”, “Titan” and “Mammoth”. Next to the row of trap crops, they have planted strips of buckwheat to provide habitat for beneficial organisms and pollinators. This combination of plants, along with the other measures of whole farm IPM, provide a comprehensive management approach to pests, rather than relying on a silver bullet.

According to Bob Hochmuth from UF/IFAS, due to this system of cover crops, the farm has not had to apply insecticides to manage the marketable crops for more than 2 years. Some pesticides have been used but only as spot spraying on the trap crops.

Another important recommendation from the experiences at the Suwannee Valley Agricultural Extension Center is that these cover crops should be managed diligently. These crops should be provided with irrigation and some fertilizer. This is needed because whenever the plants are in distress due to drought or other reason, their nectar is no longer effective at maintaining good populations of beneficial insects and pollinators.

The Rooney’s Front Porch Farm has 6 acres different varieties of rabbiteye blueberries, and some hundred plants of thorness blackberries. Their primary market is U-Pick, but also market some of their produce to local area restaurants. In addition to berries, they are also working with grass fed “hair sheep.” For more information, visit http://rooneyfarm.com/

Farmers Scott and Billie Rooney have been experimenting with the use of cover crop and wildflower strips. Among the cover crops used are buckwheat, sunflowers and triticale. The farm also uses sunnhemp for small ruminant grazing. The impact of the cover crops and permanent wildflower strips has been the reduction of green stink bugs.

At the Rooney’s Front Porch Farm, they plant strips of buckwheat about every six weeks. This is done to make sure that nectar is always available. After harvest, and during winter, they don’t see the need to continue planting cover crops, until the next season starts. Additionally, the strips have provided plenty of natural, native pollinators. They have not had the need to bring in additional honey bees to help pollinate the crop.

At the Rooney’s Front Porch Farm, they have placed educational signs about their Integrated Pest Management work.

120                                                                              That’s it folks!

For more information on whole farm approach and trap cropping, check this article from Bob Hochmuth of UF/IFAS. http://hos.ufl.edu/newsletters/vegetarian/issue-no-584

For cover crop information in Florida check out these publications by Dr. Treadwell: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs389 and http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs390

Pictures by Chelsea Slater and content by Jose Perez

Announcing the Mid-Florida Specialty Crops Conference

The UF/IFAS Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Extension Team

is proud to present the


An educational event for Florida fruit and vegetable producers on

Friday, November 6, 2015 from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM (EST)

at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center in Apopka, FL


The Mid-Florida Specialty Crops Conference on November 6, is designed to provide multiple networking and educational opportunities for small and medium size farm operators and other stakeholders in the regional food system. This conference is the second of the new regional events created by a team of UF/IFAS Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises extension agents.

The Mid-Florida Research and Education Center will be used to provide a great networking space and share practical farming knowledge that can help farmers across the region. If you are looking into diversifying your agricultural production and markets, this is the place for you. Are you in the ornamental industry and are considering producing greenhouse vegetables? Or perhaps diversifying into relatively new crops such as blueberries or grapes? This event is for you! For other farm operators, regardless of their farm size, there are plenty networking and learning opportunities. It will be a full day of learning and you will have a diverse program to choose from.

tomato_TysonThe session topics include Vegetable Production, Grape and Blueberry production, Post-Harvest Handling, Food Safety Audits, Local and Wholesale Marketing and Integrated Pest Management.  An important feature of the conference is the participation of experienced farmer speakers. They will discuss among themselves and with IFAS experts about their challenges, successes and opportunities for growers like them.

Keynote speaker John Rife, owner and founder of East End Market, will talk about how local agriculture can revitalize local economies in the region. Additionally, Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson will also provide his perspective on the importance of agriculture in the Central Florida region.

Come, network and learn with other farmers, IFAS Extension and Research Personnel and other industry representatives.

Check out the Conference Program and Register online at: www.midfloridaconference.eventbrite.com  Registration fee is $30 early bird, $40 after October 25.  Registration includes refreshments, lunch, and educational materials.

For More information, contact Jose Perez at joseperezoro@ufl.edu or call 352-294-1692

Announcing Keynote Speaker for the First Coast Specialty Crop Conference


By Lana Nasser

Friday, July 17, 2015

The First Coast Specialty Crop Conference Planning team is pleased to announce Patty Cantrell as the conference keynote speaker. Cantrell has more than 20 years of work focusing on the community economic development power that comes from supporting family-scale, local farms in their work to produce tasty, healthy food for people and the planet.

Patty Cantrell

When asked to share her observations on local food systems, Cantrell explained that new supply chains are forming to bring healthier, fresh food to market. They involve businesses and many others with different interests and values. Some may care about the environment, others about farmers, others about human health, and so on. This creates a values-based food supply chain, or value chain.

“We are very excited to have Patty. She was an excellent choice from the planning team. She will be able to offer great insights and inspiration to our farmers in Northeast Florida,” said Danielle Treadwell, Associate Professor in Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida.

You may recognize Patty Cantrell from her TedXManhattan talk in 2012, “New Roads to New Markets,” in which she spoke in depth about farm business options for local and regional food as well as public policy. Cantrell is also recognized for her program Regional Food Solutions, where her passion for regional food system development is put into action.

Developing healthy food systems “is challenging but very transformative and we have to be very honest about it,” Cantrell said. “Although there is not a lot of margin in this business, there is a lot of innovation happening because people from all corners are doing this because they want to,” Cantrell said.

One of the most important messages Cantrell hopes conference attendees walk away with is the notion that they are part of something larger than a singular individual or farm and each person has the power to re-purpose ideas into action. The main focus not only surrounds the farms, but the consumers and diverse interests as well, according to Cantrell.

“Entrepreneurs pursuing these opportunities also provide real benefit right in their community with new products and services ,” Cantrell said, “it’s great..”

The First Coast Specialty Crop Conference in Jacksonville, Florida, will take place on August 14 & 15.

Check out the Conference Program, all speakers and sessions, and register online at www.firstcoastconference.eventbrite.com

Early Bird registration is $45 if you register on or before August 2. Registration is $55 after this date. Your registration includes refreshments, lunch, and educational materials.

For more information about the conference, contact Jose Perez at 352-294-1692 or joseperezoro@ufl.edu

More about Patty Cantrell

Patty Cantrell researches, writes, and speaks nationally about local food as community economic development. She also offers strategic communications, facilitation and project development through her business Regional Food Solutions LLC. Cantrell spent 12 years developing and leading regional food initiatives in Michigan, including the 10-county northwest Michigan Taste the Local Difference and Food and Farming Network initiatives. She recently returned to live and work in her home territory of the Missouri Ozarks. Current writing includes Good Food Economy Digest blogs for the Wallace Center at Winrock International, home of the National Good Food Network. Other recent work includes Food Innovation Districts: An Economic Gardening Tool, which won a 2013 Innovation Award from the National Association of Development Organizations, and Food Hubs: Solving Local, a report for the Wallace Center on wholesale regional food marketing. In 2012 Patty brought her food system insights and expertise to the TEDx Manhattan stage. She also devoted significant time to food and farm policy outreach in 2007-2009 as a Kellogg Food and Society Fellow. Her background includes newspaper and magazine work as a business journalist. She holds a masters degree in business administration from Drury University and bachelors’ degrees in economics and political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Conference in Jacksonville open for Registration


First Coast Specialty Crop Conference in Jacksonville

to provide practical skills for strengthening local agricultural communities.

Online Registration Open!

Mark your calendars, the UF/IFAS Small Farms and Alternative Enterprise conference is coming to Jacksonville. This conference has evolved from an annual statewide event beginning in 2009 in Kissimmee, Florida, to more targeted, regional conferences across the state.

The Jacksonville conference, taking place on August 14 & 15, 2015, is designed to provide multiple networking and educational opportunities for farmers and other stakeholders in the regional food system. This conference is the first of the new regional events created by a team of UF/IFAS Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises extension agents and other stakeholders in the region. This local planning team has created a conference program designed to address the needs and concerns of Northeast Florida farmers.

Whether you are interested in improving your farming skills by enhancing your soils and pest management, obtain practical knowledge for food safety and post harvest practices, or diversifying your farm through cut flower production, mushrooms or microgreens, this is the place for you.

IMG_0688The conference will also provide attendees with marketing skills through a number of detailed skill-sessions. Finally, in a small group setting, there will be comprehensive, in-depth small group meetings that are created to provide attendees with specific skills like reading and interpreting your soil test and pest and disease identification.

Check out the Conference Program and Register online at www.firstcoastconference.eventbrite.com

Early Bird registration is $45 if you register on or before July 28. Registration is $55 after this date. Your registration includes refreshments, lunch, and educational materials.

For more information about the conference, contact Jose Perez at 352-294-1692 or joseperezoro@ufl.edu

Two Regional Conferences Announced

Regional conf anno

Two Specialty Crop Conferences in 2015 including Jacksonville and Apopka

GAINESVILLE, Florida. May, 2015 – The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Extension Team is pleased to announce five Regional Small Farms & Alternative Enterprises Conferences throughout Florida in 2015 and 2016.

The annual statewide Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference has been a signature event in the Florida farming community since 2009. In the past six years (2009-2014), more than 4,000 attendees have benefited from educational programs and networking opportunities at these events.  Year after year it has been a tremendously rewarding and successful event.

Building on this foundation, the conference planning team has evolved into regional events to better serve the needs of local farmers across Florida. These events will continue to offer the same quality of programming as past statewide conferences, but they will also meet the needs of targeted specialty crop industries at a local level. Each regional event will be led by a local team composed of extension faculty, farmers and local industry stakeholders, as well as statewide partners.

Regional Events Planned in Northeast and Central Florida

A regional Conference is planned for northeast Florida. This event will take place on August 14 & 15, 2015 at the University of North Florida (UNF) Student Union in Jacksonville. Online Registration for this event will open on June 1st, 2015.

Another regional conference is planned for Central Florida at the Mid-Florida Research and Education Center, Apopka; on November 6, 2015.

About the Conferences

The goals of the Florida Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conferences are to provide farmers with up-to-date, research-based and in-depth educational information they can immediately apply to their operation to facilitate solutions-based collaboration by encouraging networking and an open dialog among members of Florida’s small farms community, and to increase awareness of Florida’s small farms industry among decision-makers, community organizations and agricultural professionals The conferences are supported in part by a competitive grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

For more information please contact Jose Perez  at 352-294-1692 or joseperezoro@ufl.edu. Visit us online at http://www.conference.ifas.ufl.edu/smallfarms. For updates on these conferences please sign in to receive email updates, or follow us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FL.SFAEC ###

Cost Share Helps Farmers, Ranchers Conserve Natural Resources

Take advantage of this opportunity from Florida NRCS!

nrcs pic citrus
Orange Grove, Photo by Florida NRCS

Application deadline for Environmental Quality Incentive Program Nov. 21

Florida farmers and ranchers can apply until Nov. 21 for financial assistance in fiscal year 2015 through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to improve soil, water, air, plants, animals and related resources.

Through EQIP, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) develops contracts with agricultural producers to help plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns.  Eligible land includes cropland, rangeland, pastureland, private non-industrial forestland and other farm or ranch lands.  The application process for conservation programs is continuous, but funding selections are typically made once a year.

Begin by visiting your local NRCS field office and requesting help developing a conservation plan. Our experts provide this free service to help you use your natural resources more efficiently. To learn about technical and financial assistance available from NRCS, go to Getting Started with NRCS.

Thank you for a Great 2014 Conference!

florida-small-farms-logo.jpgWe would really like to thank you for attending the 2014 Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference. It was great to see how months of planning came to successful fruition on August 1st and 2nd. Check out the picture gallery below and a video from the conference in this post.

At the conclusion of the 2014 conference, we had welcomed nearly 600 attendees, presented 21 educational sessions with 57 speakers, showcased 74 exhibits, displayed 17 educational posters and several livestock demonstrations, and conducted 3 pre-conference food and farm tours.

Additionally, participants enjoyed a great diversity of delicious food from Florida small farms prepared by talented chefs, recognized three Innovative Small Farm Operators and networked at the Friday evening social with man new acquaintances.

In addition, the speaker materials from this year’s conference will be posted by August 22 at: bit.ly/ViHQLp. For the latest updates to our educational programs and highlights of Florida’s small farm industry, please also subscribe to the Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference’s YouTube Channel at: bit.ly/1ppgE9K and our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/FL.SFAEC.

See you next time!!

Photo Credit: Tyler Jones, UF, IFAS, ICS

FAMU - CAFS HR (4)UF_IFAS_Extension



Speaker Louise Divine talks about Online Farmers Markets

Louise Divine at her farm collecting squash bees
Louise Divine at her farm collecting squash bees

The internet has changed the way of communication and how people do business. It has brought new possibilities to the traditional agricultural industry. Louise Divine, owner of Turkey Hill Farm, and Katie Harris, Full Earth Farm are Executive Co-directors of the Red Hill Small Farm Alliance, which runs the Red Hills Online Farmers Market. Louise and Katie are speakers for the upcoming Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference. Divine agreed to kindly shared some her views with us in a brief interview below.

Farmers who sell their products in the open-air farmers markets experience difficulties. “You harvest your produce and take it to the market, but rain will keep consumers at home, then you don’t sell your product. It can leave you in a bad spot and it becomes a gamble.” Divine said.

The online farmers market gives farmers a platform to show their product and also consumers a window to check what’s new and fresh in the market. The Red Hills Online Farmers Market  provide home delivery service for customers that for whatever reasons do not go to the farmers market, but want fresh produce. For farmers, the online market reduces risk, as harvests and deliveries follow the online sales already made by customers.

The idea of setting up an online Red Hills online marktmarket was initiated from a software advertisement for online markets watched by Divine. Additionally, she heard one farmer speak about their experiences with an online market. Together with three other farmers who shared her enthusiasm decided to form the Red Hill Small Farm Alliance.  With guidance from all the members of the alliance, they decided to create an online market as a good marketing alternative for farmers in the region.

The online farmer market is now in its fourth year, and the farmers have seen high rates of sales growth every year. “Our farmers’ market sells in a radius of 100 miles from Tallahassee, and it has 30 to 40 farmer vendors at any given time. I believe the market has grown by word of mouth. We don’t attempt to make a profit as a market, but rather offer a service to both farmers and customers.” Divine said.

For Divine and all the farmers belonging to the online market, the market has provided an increasingly important marketing avenue and also helped strengthen the farm community in the region.

Turkey Hill Farm Produce
Turkey Hill Farm Produce

At the end of interview, Divine shared some tips about how to sell online. She said: “You have to know how to present your products and your farm in pictures, while in an open air market, farmers interact with customers face to face.” Contrary to what many expect, the online customers are of all ages and walks of life, just as her regular customers, that is, the older folks make great use of the internet to shop online just as younger people.

If you want to know more, please come to the session called “Managing a Successful Online Market” where Divine and Katie Harris, both Executive Co-Directors of the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance, will share their detailed experiences, advice and tips.

The session will be take place on Saturday from 1:45 to 3:45 pm in Room 162, and will be moderated by Ed Skvarch from UF/IFAS St. Lucie County Extension.

Find more information about the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance here, and their Red Hills Online Farmers Market here.

See you in Kissimmee!

Photo Credits: Turkey Hill Farm and Red Hill Small Farm Alliance.