NCAT Southeast agriculture specialists Margo Hale, Linda Coffey, Guy Ames, Nina Prater, and Luke Freeman made the (relatively) short trip from Fayetteville to Little Rock, Arkansas, last month for the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) Conference. Following is a reflection on their experience at this popular annual event.
The SSAWG Conference draws a very diverse and vibrant crowd from all over the South, and it is absolutely a “don’t miss” for NCAT. This year’s conference had 1,100 attendees, and all of us stayed active meeting people and talking about ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture services and resources. We had a great time chatting and answering questions at the NCAT/ATTRA booth in the exhibit hall. We also really enjoyed spending time with our colleagues Rockiell Woods, Felicia Bell, and Liz Broussard from NCAT’s Gulf States Office.
Several of us taught sessions and moderated panels during the conference. On Friday morning, Luke presented on “Using Social Media to Grow Your Farm Business” with Lauren Manning of the University of Arkansas. Their talk was based on NCAT webinars they recorded last year, which are available at https://attra.ncat.org/multimedia/videos/. On Friday afternoon, Guy had a packed house for his session, “Growing Fruit That is Suitable for the South.” Linda led a session on “Planning for Success: Whole Farm Planning for Livestock Farms,” and Margo and Luke joined forces to talk about “Accessing School Markets.” Each of our sessions had a great audience, engaged and eager to ask questions.
On Saturday morning, Margo led the veteran networking session while Linda facilitated the session on grazing. Saturday afternoon, Margo moderated the “Veterans Succeeding in Ag” panel. The panel of farmer-veterans included Armed to Farm program alum Damon Helton of The Farm at Barefoot Bend, along with Jon Jackson of Comfort Farms and CheFarmer Matthew Raiford.
Besides outreach, this is a great conference for staff professional development. Nina enjoyed all the soils talks, while Linda and Margo attended “Niche Pork,” featuring Jon Jackson. Linda also soaked in the session on “Pricing Livestock Products,” another about “Lean Farm” principles, and finally, “Livestock Guardian Dogs.” There was a strong racial equity theme to the conference, and Liz found many of the sessions beneficial to her in supporting future food justice and systems work in Mississippi.
Nina was delighted to record a podcast interview with Dr. Buz Kloot about soil health and composting. You can listen to their conversation at https://attra.ncat.org/soil-health-and-johnson-su-composting-podcast/. Through a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development project with the University of Arkansas, NCAT sponsored 20 veterans to attend SSAWG. Margo was able to network with these veterans throughout the conference. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with the Armed to Farm alumni in attendance and get them connected to each other. SSAWG has been a great partner the last several years in helping with our outreach to veterans.
Luke met up with the other leaders of the Arkansas Young Farmers Coalition and talked about training needs for young and beginning farmers in the state. In addition to land access, they discussed the need for training on business planning, farm accounting, and legal structures. Stay tuned for online training from NCAT’s Southeast Office on those topics, coming later this year! Luke also visited with Cara Fraver from the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) about the success NYFC has had leading practical skills workshops on produce safety topics.
Margo, Guy, and Linda were fortunate in ending the conference on a really high note. We were invited to join Damon and Jana Helton, Jon Jackson, and Matthew Raiford for dinner. CheFarmer Matthew cooked a fabulous farm-to-table meal for us. The conversation and the food was wonderful. We are still talking about the amazing fellowship and magical bacon jam!
The networking, professional development, and outreach at SSAWG make it incredibly valuable, and we’re already looking forward to next year’s conference.
You can find resources on the topics our specialists covered in their sessions at SSAWG—fruit production, farm planning, farm to school, farm marketing—plus many, many more on our website at https://attra.ncat.org/. And remember that our agriculture specialists are just a phone call or email away if you have questions! Call 1-800-346-9140 or email email@example.com.
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