News AFVGA Conference Highlights Greatness on the Gulf 

AFVGA Conference Highlights Greatness on the Gulf 

AFVGA Conference Highlights Greatness on the Gulf 
February 21, 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. 

One of those was AFVGA board member Craig Goolsby of Silverhill Satsumas. 

“I am not a traditional farmer,” said Goolsby of Baldwin County. “I am a second career farmer. AFVGA pushes me to interface with folks who have more experience in agriculture. 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 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 the logistics of the state’s agricultural branding program during the luncheon 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 in 2019. We will continue to serve our producers and welcome new members to join.”

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.”

Teel, an Alabama native, 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 were 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. 

“I visited Wildfork Blueberries to get a first-hand look at their packing facility,” Goolsby said. “Once our crop comes out of the ground or off the tree, it needs to be processed. These takeaways will help when we open our own packing house.”

More hands-on learning took place during produce safety training with Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries. Other workshops focused on hydronics 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 that farms have opportunities to create markets in the cut-flower industry. This workshop was a great introduction to the crop.”  

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

The AFVGA board of directors pushed to incorporate 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 strive to honor his legacy by giving back to young people pursuing careers in agriculture.”

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

Bobby Boozer of Boozer Farms in Chilton County was also recognized. Boozer received the AFVGA Exceptional Award for outstanding involvement with the association and industry. 

“It’s humbling,” said Boozer, who worked with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) for 26 years. “There are always people watching us that 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 that trained me. I am thankful for them and our farmers.”

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

“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 member in 2016. That partnership has been fruitful, Powell said. 

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

View conference photos here.

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