WILMINGTON — How does someone who grows vegetables or other products find success at a farmer’s market? Can you retire and move to your own farm? How are the best ways to raise and maintain healthy goats?
Those are just three of the more than 30 topics covered Friday and Saturday at the 2016 Southwest Ohio Small Farm Conference and Trade Show held at Wilmington College.
Sponsored by Ohio State University Extension, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Wilmington College, the annual event draws hundreds of farmers from across Ohio to learn more about successful farming and agriculture practices.
On the opening day of the conference, Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dave Daniels attended the sessions held at the Wilmington College Academic Farm, where more than 100 farmers and students attended.
“Since the day I took office as director, water quality has been the number one issue that we have had to deal with,” he said, commenting on the state’s fertilizer certification training program for Ohio farmers that was taking place the same day on the Wilmington campus. He said water quality was the top issue for state agriculture directors across the nation, he added.
On Saturday, more than 170 farmers attended the day-long sessions.
“Explore the markets – visit as many farmer’s markets as you can,” OSU Extension Direct Marketing Specialist Christie Welch told those attending the “Farmer’s market Vendor Best Practices” session for those thinking about producing goods for their local farmer’s market.
“All farmer’s markets are different,” she pointed out.
She added that the most important things for a farmer is to decide what they want out of selling; what they actually would enjoy producing; and how much profit they would want to make. “I am a small fruit producer, but I would not want to try to grow and sell green beans,” she pointed out.
Grow what you enjoy producing. “You don’t want to be miserable out in the hot sun working, picking a crop,” she said.
In showing slides of various farmer’s market booths, she pointed out the need for the vendor to have an attractive and informative booth for the customers who are shopping at the market. She surprised those in attendance when she said “Don’t compete with the box stores. If you are the cheapest price, you are sending the message that the quality is not good.” She said surveys have shown people are willing to actually spend more for locally grown, fresh produce from a local farmer.
“If you are priced too low, you will know it. You will sell out immediately, and no one complains about your prices” she said.
She said vendors should always ask for feedback from the customers, make sure employees at the booth are well trained, and to brand their booth. She said vendors should build customer loyalty and provide as much service as possible.
“Farmer’s markers are booming across Ohio,” she pointed out. “There are a lot more of them now then there were 10 years ago.”
In his session on “Retiring to the Farm,” Ashtabula County farmer and County Extension Educator David Marrison told the audience that the most important factors in being able to afford retiring on the farm are: When you want to retire, how old you are now, how much income you expect to have when you retire, and how different than that is from what income you will actually have at retirement.
He added that other factors will be inflation, living expenses and life expectancy.
Other seminars and workshops were held on goat production and maintaining goat health; alpaca, sheep and rabbit production; cheese making; fertility management of fruits and vegetables; and what consumers want in organic food.
Clinton County Extension Educator Tony Nye, who organizes the conference each year along with a second upcoming conference in northern Ohio, said the conference was a “tremendous success.”
He said he was especially pleased with the response to the Friday programs at the college’s academic farm.
“We had more than 170 people attend the two days, and we had people registered from three states,” he said.
Gary Brock can be reached at 937-556-5759.