By Debra Davis
As awareness and popularity of locally grown fruits and vegetables continues to rise, so has interest in producing those crops in Alabama.
Nearly 200 farmers from around the state were in Clanton Nov. 21-22 at the Alabama Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association (AFVGA) Conference and Tradeshow. The event featured hands-on training, wholesale marketing ideas, integrated pest management strategies, updates on federal labor laws and introduction of Sweet Grown Alabama — the state’s new branding program.
Chase Hammock and Pete Baker, partners in Four Mile Farms Produce in Childersburg, said hearing from experts and networking were invaluable experiences.
“Every year, I meet someone new or get something that I need,” said Baker, a four-time conference attendee. “Farming is more than putting seeds in the ground. That’s where these experts come in. Their trials help save us time and money.”
Hammock, who was a first-time conference attendee, said the sessions about food safety and the federal H2A labor program were particularly helpful.
“This conference has been a good place to get training and opened my eyes to new aspects of fruit and vegetable farming,” said Hammock. “The panel about H2A was the best. We got to hear real details about the program from the farmer’s perspective.”
The conference also recognized outstanding leaders and partners in the state’s produce industry.
Arnold Caylor, retired director of the Cullman Horticulture Research Station, received the AFVGA Exceptional Achievement Award. Wes Isom of Isom’s Orchard received the Achievement Award, and Chilton County Extension Coordinator Gay West was recognized for her outstanding contributions to the organization and the fruit and vegetable industry.
The Alabama Farmers Cooperative (AFC) was recognized as the AFVGA Partner Of The Year. AFC is a premier sponsor of AFVGA and the conference. AFCs Amy Millron accepted the award for the company.
AFVGA is a division of the Alabama Farmers Federation, the state’s largest farm organization. Federation President Jimmy Parnell said the conference and tradeshow provide a great opportunity for new and experienced farmers to network and learn from each other.
“Conference speakers provided a wealth of knowledge to those interested in growing fruits and vegetables,” Parnell said. “There are new labor laws, modifications in the cottage food industry and changes in use of crop protection products. This conference provided a forum to address all those important issues and more.”
AFVGA Executive Director Hunter McBrayer said farmers at the conference were optimistic about the future of the fruit and vegetable industry in Alabama.
“The launch of a new state branding program — Sweet Grown Alabama — is something that will benefit every farmer in Alabama, especially those who grow fruits and vegetables,” McBrayer said. “Consumers are eager to buy locally sourced food, and Alabama has the climate and water to expand production to meet those needs.”