By Maggie Edwards
When Seth and Kaylee Hubert arrived in Gulf Shores Feb. 8, they shifted their Madison County row crop farmer mindset toward agritourism, a key component of the Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association (AFVGA) Annual Conference.
“One reason we joined AFVGA was for networking opportunities like these,” Kaylee said. “We get to learn from farmers who have been growing specialty crops their entire lives. We are very new to this industry.”
The Huberts and 250 fellow farmers gathered at The Lodge at Gulf State Park Feb. 8-10 for workshops, seminars and a trade show, where attendees discovered ways to improve their operations.
The Huberts joined AFVGA, an affiliate of the Alabama Farmers Federation, last year. Urban sprawl is inching closer to their century-old farm, which caused Hubert Farms to diversify with a new crop — U-pick tulips.
“We knew if we wanted to devote our life to agriculture and have something we could pass down to our children, we needed to change our business model,” said Seth, a Madison County Farmers Federation board member.
Special guests from Auburn University (AU), Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) and other Southeast land-grant institutions shared wisdom with the Huberts and AFVGA’s cadre of specialty crop farmers.
“I think my biggest takeaway was learning about things I never thought about growing,” Kaylee said. “We learned all about specialty crops and how to make more out of our acreage.”
In addition to seminar-style learning sessions, conference attendees toured Baldwin County farms. Stops included Silverhill Satsumas with a spray drone demonstration from AU’s Dr. Steve Li; Local Appetite, a hydroponic farm specializing in lettuce; and the Gulf Coast Extension & Research Center, where attendees cracked open information about pecan research.
A general business session kicked off the conference. During the session, the Jimmy Witt Memorial Scholarship was awarded to Justin Jacobsen, an AU senior studying fruit and vegetable production. The late Jimmy Witt, a board member who died in 2021, was awarded the AFVGA Exceptional Award for his outstanding involvement with the association and industry. Doug Chapman of ACES received the Service To Horticulture Award, while Alabama Ag Credit, Alabama Farm Credit and First South Farm Credit received the AFVGA Partner Of The Year Award.
Fun and fellowship were on the agenda, too, during a family luau overlooking pristine beaches and the setting sun on the Gulf of Mexico. Families visited with the Gulf Coast Watermelon Queen, sang along with special entertainment from duo Wylie Pete and created connections and lifelong memories with fellow farmers.
Historically held in November, the new conference date allowed farmers to step away from their operations before a busy spring season, said AFVGA Executive Director Blake Thaxton.
“I am excited to see where our association is headed,” Thaxton said. “It was great to have all our fruit and vegetable producers together. This truly is the best opportunity for specialty crop farmers in Alabama.”
Farmers like Jeremy Calvert agreed.
“You always learn something at events like these,” said Calvert, from J. Calvert Farms in Cullman County. “AFVGA gives producers a voice, too. We are able to learn from each other and promote Alabama-grown fruits and vegetables.”
The 2024 conference is slated for Feb. 14-16 in Gulf Shores.