Education: Florida Small Farms Conference, Part II

In my last article Education: Florida Small Farms Conference I wrote a lot about what we were fed by farmers and ranchers while we attended the conference, and I wrote a lot about the issues facing small ranches in Florida.

In this article I intend to mention the classes I attended, and what I took away with me. I probably won’t talk much about the class I took about Grass Fed Beef, because I have already written about what I took away from there and more in my last article.

But first:

I have to talk about the amazing facility for this conference. We were at the Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee. The conference spread itself out over three huge buildings, the University of Florida Extension Services (IFAS EXTENSION), the Exhibition Building, and the Kissimmee Valley Livestock Pavilion (KVLS). The KVLS had a large and immaculately clean stable area where several ranchers had their livestock on display. We saw some cows, llamas, alpacas, rabbits, all sorts of chickens, their chicks, and some turkeys, including some black turkeys. One building had space to seat us all for meals as well as a huge exhibition area for vendors, and farm support organizations. This affair was beautifully housed and done well. The class rooms were large enough to handle all who attended.

The first class I took was about solar energy technologies for farms and ranches. We heard from a rancher who used solar photo voltaic panels to power the water pumps that filled the troughs for his cattle. We also heard from John Schaeffer from The Real Goods company in Florida that sells solar energy technologies, and we heard from William Young from the University of Central Florida, Florida Solar Energy Center. I think that the solar energy equipment necessary to replace all of the kilowatts of energy used at my home is way too expensive, but I see how I could collect a bit here and there to cover a few spot lights, and a pond pump.

The most important thing to know about solar energy is that in order to even qualify for the state and federal money available to people who invest in solar energy technology all of the work done to convert to solar has to be done by a licensed contractor, so if you’re planning on doing it yourself plan also to do it without any rebates, or run off to college for a contractors license. Furthermore, only so much money is out there for these rebate programs, so once your work is done and paid for you may wait quite a while before rebate money is available. The best part of the solar energy class was at the end when we went outside to see the solar energy demonstrations. I especially liked the solar ovens.

The next class I took was Horticulture- Producing High-Value Vegetables and Herbs For Direct Markets. The presenters were: Ken Shuler, of Stephen’s Produce in Palm Beach County, Florida, Lynn Steward, of Mr. Citrus Organics and Vegetables in Arcadia, Florida, and Bea O’Toole, of O’Toole Herb Farm in Madison County, Florida. They were excellent presenters, and the class was riveting.

Lynn Steward of Mr. Citrus Organics and Vegetables was one of three Florida Innovative Farmer Award winners at the conference. Our friend Linda Hart from Crazy Hart Ranch was another and Bobbie Golden from Golden Acres Ranch in Monticello, Florida was the other. The Florida Innovative Farmer Award was created to recognize Florida farmers and ranchers who are leaders and innovators based on the following criteria:

Success in making farming systems more profitable over the long term.

Ability to use farming practices that enhance, rather than harm, natural resources.

Leading – or participating in – activities that support viable communities, either through economic development or contribution to regional food systems.

Effective outreach and/or education about sustainable agriculture ideas and practices to others, such as producers, community leaders, agricultural educators and the general public.

O.k., back to the classes.

Grass Fed Beef in Florida: What is the Potential? was the next class I took. I wrote enough about that in my last article Education: Florida Small Farms Conference

I also took the class Business And Marketing – I’ll Buy From You Because…
Presenters were Allen Wysocki, of the Food and Resource Economics Department at UF-IFAS,
Linda Landrum, North Florida Research and Education Center – Suwannee Valley, UF-IFAS,
Eva and Chris Worden of Worden Farms of Punta Gorda, Florida and
John Mathews of the Suncoast Food Alliance of West Central Florida.
That class was excellent for growers planning to get into direct marketing at local green markets.

The last class I took was amazing. It was Hydorponics for Small Farms. The presenters were Tim Carpenter, the owner of Verti-Gro Systems in Summerfield, Florida, Tim Blank, the President of Future Growing, Inc. in Altamonte Springs, Florida, and Bob, Laura and Zachary Braun, of Rest Haven Farms in Seminole County, Florida.

Tim Carpenter’s presentation was an introduction to the Verti-Gro Vertical Hydroponic growing system. His systems stack up and rotate, and some of his models have a soil pot at the bottom for growing root crops and others that do better in soil, and those pots catch the water and nutrient overflow from above that would otherwise be wasted. His systems can be viewed at www.verti-gro.com.

The third presenter from Rest Haven Farms was a grower who was marketing his hydroponic produce at his area green markets. He and his family worked together at their home greenhouse to produce primarily tomatoes, and cucumbers and lettuces. He picked up his system used from an out of state grower who was closing down. What I found most interesting about his system was that he was growing indoors and had once kept bees to pollinate his crops but he found that once he added a cooling system (kind of like a giant radiator with fans that suck air out of the greenhouses forcing intake of air across the radiators) he didn’t need the bees, the vibrations from the fans caused the pollen in the flowers to bounce or vibrate out, and so they were producing just fine indoors without the bees! I was also impressed with the way that tomatoes were grown in this system. The stems went on forever, once a stem had produced, it’s leaves were cut off, and the stem was pulled down to allow the new growth to go up. The stems looked like miles of rope running horizontally along the base of the rows.

Both the first and third presenters were using synthetic fertilizers in their hydroponic systems. I can imagine doing some vertical growing, but I don’t ever see myself using synthetic fertilizers. To win me over to hydroponics you’ve gotta show me the organic way. Tim Blank was the second presenter and I save him and my take on hydroponics for the next article. Stay tuned for Education: Florida Small Farms Conference, Part III.

One Response to Education: Florida Small Farms Conference, Part II

  1. Sara says:

    Thanks, as always, for lots of excellent info! And, overall, it is gratifying to know what kinds of resources and opportunities are out there for grenn-ness.

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