I am so pleased that the days are beginning to lengthen, the sun rising ever so marginally earlier and setting slightly later. It is breathing life into these wintery days. Even though the days are short in light, they are most definitely long in activity! For, my friends, it is now full-on workshop and conference season!!
The kick-off is my annual favorite, the Illinois Specialty Crops, Agritourism, and Organic Conference this week, Jan 12-13! This two day event is like an annual reunion for many attendees. I can’t wait to see my western Illinois friends! I’ll be looking for you Mike Roegge and Jessica Whiston! A highlight of this year will be our Farmers’ Market Manager and Outreach Coordinator, Sarah Simeziane, speaking on Friday afternoon about sampling at farmers’ markets! Don’t forget to stop by our booth at the tradeshow! We’re holding a drawing for a tote bag full of TLC swag!
Attending the ISCAO Conference marks the beginning of the dive into TLC’s winter workshop run. Our Marketing Strategies for Specialty Crops and Diversified Farms leads the pack on January 26. We’re holding this at our old standby, Prairie Fruits Farm classroom in Champaign. I am looking forward to exploring diversified marketing strategies with area farmers. Tracey Vowell of Three Sisters Farm will be bestowing her formidable knowledge on selling to chefs and restaurants, and Natalie Kenny Marquez of Urbana’s Market at the Square will be exploring branding and marketing principles. Several more farmers will be on hand to dive into other topics such as social media marketing, running a CSA, and selling to groceries and farmer coops.
Just a few weeks later on February 9, we’re hosting a workshop on Farm-Scale Seed Starting at Parkland College’s greenhouse. This is going to a really fun workshop! I’m working together with horticulture instructor Theresa Meers to show examples of many seed starting systems, strategies, and troubleshooting techniques. This 2.5 hour workshop will incorporate classroom learning with hands-on experience in the greenhouse facility.
Only two days later on February 11, we’re holding a great workshop with the Farm Service Agency, Money to Grow: FSA Programs for Beginning Farmers. I have been hard at work creating a guide to all of the programs FSA has that benefit beginning farmers. If you sign up for this half-day workshop, you’ll receive a copy of the guide, and learn about programs like the Farm Storage Facility Loan that can finance the purchase of a walk-in cooler, or refrigerated truck! Or, the microloan, that has more attainable borrower eligibility requirements and can be used for the purchase of real estate or operating expenses. We’re holding this workshop in conjunction with one of our sessions of Farm Beginnings, so if you sign up for this workshop, you’ll get to meet our wonderful students!And then, five days later on February 16, the BIGGEST event of the season!!! Beyond Production: Growing the Organic Grain Industry is the culminating conference in our Risk Management in the Organic Grains Industry series. Held at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign, this day-long seminar will explore the many facets of expanding the organic grain industry through collaboration among farmers. The list of presenters is astounding! We have Rich Ritter of Flanagan State Bank speaking about financial forecasts in organics, Bill Davison of the U of I Extension addressing ways local organics can be effectively branded and safeguarded from large corporate takeover, Gary McDonald, a regionally famous organic farming consultant, speaking about organics from a farm manager’s perspective, Jonathan Manuel of the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District speaking on leveraging NRCS and FSA programs to assist in organic land transition, and a panel of farmers moderated by legendary Jack Erisman of Goldmine Farms addressing strengthening the organic industry through farmer collaboration.
Oh, but I buried the lede… the keynote speaker is non-other than the highly acclaimed organic farmer, researcher, visionary, organic no-till pioneer, and executive director of the Rodale Institute, Jeff Moyer!!! Can you tell I am excited?! This event is a MUST attend. It doesn’t get any better than this!!In late-February, we are holding a short workshop, Marketing and Booth Design for the Farmers’ Market, at two locations: Champaign, IL on February 20, and Springfield, IL on February 28. Our Farmers’ Market Manager, Sarah Simeziane, is leading the charge to help farmers’ market vendors increase sales through fine tuning their booth layout and marketing strategies. Katie Bishop, marketing guru for PrairiErth Farm in Atlanta, IL, will share her innovative social media strategies and loyalty programs that have proven successful in her business. More details about location, times, and registration will be available soon!
March, the start of spring, will bring three more workshops. Sarah Simeziane will be organizing a half-day workshop, Money Matters at the Farmers’ Market, which will explore farmer finances at the market. This will be held in two locations, Champaign on March 9 and Springfield on March 23. More details and registration info will be available soon!
Finally, on March 29 and 30, we are partnering with Family Farmed to bring Atina Diffley back for a two day workshop on direct farm marketing and post-harvest handling of produce. Save the date, this is a must attend event for vegetable farmers in Illinois! More details will be provided in the coming weeks!
WHEW! That’s a wrap for the workshop season! We have so many opportunities this year to reach new and established farmers and help them make more money and do it sustainably for themselves, their families, and our environment. What a privilege it is to do this work! See you at our workshops!