Local farmers hone their craft at small farmers conference

Local farmers hone their craft at...

PRINCESS ANNE, Md. - Hundreds of area farmers are congregating to the UMES campus this weekend, hoping to make connections and learn new techniques to hone their craft.  The 14th annual Small Farm Convention can make a big difference for the owners of local small farms and in turn the industry itself.

Erroll Mattox has been a mainstay at the conference held on UMES's campus.  The 22-year veteran of a certified organic farm in Hebron has one word to describe the state of agriculture on Delmarva, 'Prosperous.'

"We have new folks coming into the business.  Most of them are not traditional farmers.  But what I'm seeing also is that folks are looking to diversify."

Another word popped up multiple times in conversation with local farmers who were in attendance, 'transition.'

"I think that we're in a transition period here in Maryland where we're seeing kind of a rebirth of small diversified farms.  Very exciting to be involved in that," said Vine Matanoski, owner of a small farm north of Baltimore.

The two-day conference provides small farmers with information in multiple forms.  The owners we spoke with, like Anna Chaney, say attending this conference is an investment, as the information provided is updated every year.

"While most of us farmers want to stay on the farm and we don't want to leave because there's always so much to do, by attending these workshops what you do learn, you can go back and be more productive with less time."

Chaney says she will take the information she learns and apply it to her apple farm, producing viable, nutritious apples that can be used to expand her business to apple butter, apple sauce, cider and hard cider.

Educators were also in attendance, looking for information to take home to teach their Ag students.

"So far I've been learning a lot about some special crop that I'm thinking maybe I can make a workshop in our area of learning, so it was very productive," said Mojdeh Karimi, an agriculture instructor at Virginia State University.

Though the ag industry appears to be growing, Mattox says there is room to grow.

"We need more entrepreneurs, we need more folks under 50... For many reasons. One is environmental issues, and the entire local food movement.  That's where I see the major growth, is in local fresh food."

The convention will continue Saturday morning, beginning at 8:30.  The day will include discussions on alternative agriculture, the business and marketing aspect, and workshops for farmers who are just starting out.

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