News AFVGA Conference Highlights Greatness on the Gulf

AFVGA Conference Highlights Greatness on the Gulf

AFVGA Conference Highlights Greatness on the Gulf
April 2, 2024 |

By Maggie Edwards 

The Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association’s (AFVGA) Annual Conference and Trade Show brought almost 300 specialty crop farmers and industry leaders to Gulf Shores Feb. 14-16. 

That included AFVGA board member Craig Goolsby of Silverhill Satsumas. 

“I’m not a traditional farmer,” said Goolsby of Baldwin County. “I’m a second-career farmer. AFVGA pushes me to interface with folks who have more experience. It provides guidance and lets me know I’m not alone.”

One area of focus for Goolsby is marketing his fruit.

“This industry is a lot different than most areas of farming,” said Goolsby, a member of state agricultural branding program Sweet Grown Alabama. “Someone who deals with fruits and vegetables is not only a grower but a marketer of their own produce. The conference allowed me to meet business owners who are looking for products to sell in their storefronts.” 

Attendees met Sweet Grown Alabama Director Ellie Watson at the organization’s interactive exhibit. Watson dove into program logistics  and benefits during the luncheon on Day 2.

“We are here to help farmers sell their products to consumers,” Watson said. “Our friends at AFVGA have been with us since the beginning. We will continue to serve our producers and welcome new members to join.”

Sweet Grown Alabama Director Ellie Watson spoke to conference attendees on Day 2. Watson thanked AFVGA for its continued support of the state’s agricultural branding program. 

Along with Sweet Grown Alabama, 30 other vendors greeted guests during the trade show sponsored by Bejo Seeds, a global fruit and vegetable seed company. 

“We love getting to visit with the growers,” said Dylan Teel of Bejo Seeds. “We network with other industry members, too. The conference helps expose all of us to what’s out there.”

Alabama native Teel received the AFVGA scholarship in 2019 while studying horticulture at Auburn University (AU). 

“This is one of our favorite shows because it’s down home,” Teel said. “There are good grower contacts and impressive breakout sessions.” 

Those educational sessions centered around vegetable production; orchard fruit and nuts; small fruit; and marketing and farm management. 

Farm tours and workshops were on the agenda, too. The group visited Wildfork Blueberries in Brewton and the Gulf Coast Research & Extension Center in Fairhope for equipment demonstrations before arriving at The Lodge at Gulf State Park Feb. 14. 

More hands-on learning took place during produce safety training with Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries. Other workshops focused on hydroponics and protected agriculture, agricultural labor, variety trial research and flowers.

“The American-grown cut-flowers movement has increased the last few years,” said AFVGA Executive Director Blake Thaxton. “We believe farms have opportunities to create markets in the cut-flower industry. This workshop was a great introduction to the crop.”  

Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Dr. Clement Akotsen-Mensah, left, and Edgar Vinson discussed educational sessions during breaks on the Dunes Terrace at The Lodge at Gulf State Park.

The fun continued during a family luau. Special entertainment from duo Wylie Pete created a relaxed atmosphere as farm families placed bids at the silent auction, a new addition to the conference. 

The AFVGA board incorporated the auction to fund the Jimmy Witt Memorial Scholarship. Generous farmers raised over $2,000.

“Jimmy was an integral member of AFVGA,” Thaxton said. “Since his passing, we honor his legacy by giving back to young people pursuing careers in agriculture.”

AU graduate student Savannah Busby of Jefferson County was presented the scholarship during the business session Feb. 16. 

Bobby Boozer of Boozer Farms in Chilton County received the AFVGA Exceptional Award for outstanding involvement. 

“It’s humbling,” said Boozer, who worked with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) for 26 years. “There are always people watching us who can be impacted for the rest of their lives. I have been affected by many of our members.” 

Additionally, Dr. Chip East of ACES received the Service to Horticulture Award.

“When I think about the title of this honor, my mind goes to influential leaders like Dr. Wheeler Foshee and Dr. Arlie Powell,” said East, motioning to colleagues in the room. “Those are the ones who trained me. I am thankful for them and our farmers.”

Auburn University’s Dr. Wheeler Foshee presents to attendees during educational sessions at the Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Grower’s (AFVGA) Annual Conference and Trade Show.

Powell’s service to AFVGA dates to the 1980s when he helped create the association. He serves as the 2023-2024 AFVGA president and said it’s an honor to help fellow growers. 

“In the past, we have hit some hard times,” said Powell, who owns Petals from the Past in Chilton County with son Jason. “Now we are pushing almost 300 people at the conference, and I’m proud of that.” 

AFVGA joined the Alabama Farmers Federation as an affiliate association in 2016. That partnership has been fruitful, Powell said. 

“Since joining the state’s largest farm organization, we have moved in the right direction,” he said. “We see a good mix of ages in our crowd. That’s what we need to keep growing.”

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