DANVILLE — More than 200 farmers from all over Indiana attended the Indiana Small Farm Conference held this weekend at the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds and Conference Complex.
This was the second year for the event, said Steve Engleking, LaGrange County Extension educator and conference coordinator.
“It’s intended for anyone who is currently involved with, or interested in, small farms in Indiana,” Engleking said. “That could be farmers, Extension educators, agricultural agency people or students. We hope to continue building a statewide community of people who have a passion about small farms.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a small farm as one with no more than $250,000 in annual agricultural commodity sales. They accounted for 91 percent of farms in the nation and half of the farm land, according to the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture.
“We had a few less attend this year but we believe it’s due to the weather,” Engleking said. “The weather has been so uncertain around the state.”
Last year, the conference welcomed approximately 250 farmers to the conference. This year the conference goers were between 225 and 230 individuals.
He said there are many people coming back to run a family farm.
“The Extension started 100 years ago to help farmers learn better practices,” he said. “So many people are returning to family farms.”
He said the Extension has been having somewhat of a difficult time plugging into the “new” farmers.
“The Extension has marketing channels for these types of programs but this clientele is not always tuned into our networks,” Engleking said. “We are looking for ways to reach this new clientele.”
He said he meets people new to the farming industry that does not know about the Extension.
“They say we are the best kept secret,” he said. “We need to find new ways to spread the word about our programs.”
The keynote speaker for the conference was Tom McConnel is the program leader for the West Virginia Small Farm Center and manages the annual Vest Virginia Small Farm Conference.
Engleking attended the West Virginia event prior to starting the Indiana Small Farm Conference last year.
“They had 75 attend their first conference 10 years ago,” he said. “He was so excited when I told them we would have 250 at our first conference.”
“Tom said something today I really connected with, ‘small farms grow food and grow communities,’” Engleking said. “I just thought about how true that is. We don’t think about it as raising cattle or growing produce. We grow food and grow communities.”
He said having conferences like this one will help small farmers come together to form a network.
“We are social animals,” he said. “We like to make connections.”
He said this also the reason why locally produced foods are doing so well at farmers markets and other retail outlets.
“People want to know where the food comes from,” he said. “We are hearing things like, ‘this came from my farmer.’ People will go each week to a farmers market and buy produce from the same people because they know who the grower is.”
There are several small farm and sustainable farm events hosted by the Purdue Extension. The 2014 Small Farms Workshop and Tours spring calendar is now available online at https://ag.purdue.edu/extension/smallfarms/Pages/default.aspx.
More information is also available on the website at www.extension.purdue.edu or calling toll-free at 888-EXT-INFO (398-4636).