Recently I attended the 3 day Indiana Horticulture Congress put on by Purdue. It was a great experience with multiple sessions going on throughout the day, and a host of trade vendors to check out between educational sessions. I figured for anyone who missed out I would highlight some of my lessons learned, and vendors I spoke with. This in no way endorses the vendors, merely that I found some of it interesting. On the lessons from the sessions it may be notes I took or points I found interesting not a summary of the presentation, or even the most relevant material the speaker wanted to convey. I was only able to attend one of the five sessions going on. There was a cider taste testing, and meals (had to pay separate but look great), and was for produce only.
Food Safety (Tuesday AM)
While I had intended to go to the Hemp series, it was postponed so I had to make another selection. Why not food safety? Glad I did vs walking the trade show. A few years back Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act, and it is now going into effect in 2017. This is the first I have heard of it. But we haven’t been growing produce for sale yet, but it is something to pay attention to. Prior to this law food recalls related to foodborne illnesses were a reaction event. This new law puts more emphasis on prevention. There is a whole series of trainings supervisors or persons in charge must take to comply, in addition to giving the correct level of training to employees. not everyone needs the whole list. Something else I learned that 90ish (I didn’t write down the number) percent of foodborne illness is transmitted fecal to oral…meaning eating poop. Not necessarily human, and pickers aren’t pooping on your food. But it all went back to sanitation, cleaning, washing hands, washing produce, utensils etc. There are a bunch of new laws that came out including water testing. The level is is based on income from produce on your farm on what you need to follow. Since we are small at the moment I didn’t pay attention to the breakdown, but under $25,000 in averaged rolling 3 year sales and you are exempt from the legal obligation. Meaning in any given three concurrent years your annual sales needs to be less than $25,000 of produce only and you are exempt. What stuck out to me is that you may be exempt from the law, but you are NOT exempt from liability in a lawsuit. If you do not implement some sort of food safety initiatives then you could be liable for illnesses or death.
Hemp (Tuesday PM)
I got to attend the hemp session in the afternoon. It was educational and rather than write a bunch on it they have done much for me on their website. Purdue Hemp gave the talk and Indiana Hemp Association was there as well. For 60 years hemp has not been grown in Indiana. Hemp is different than marijuana in that Hemp is <0.3 % THC (The psychoactive drug in marijuana), and marijuana is >0.3%. They are doing some genetic investigation if they can be considered two different plants. Hemp is not as easy to grow as I once thought. I was always told throw the seeds anywhere and it will grow. This is not the case as their data showed. Soil depth, temperature, daylight hours all important. The focus for Purdue is growing two types of hemp. One plant that grows short (3-4 ft tall) but produces abundant and easily harvested seeds, and a taller (7-9 ft tall) plant that puts its energy into fiber. They did say, speaking of fiber, there is NOT a demand for hemp rope made from the fiber. I was surprised to learn there is no studies going on for hemp’s role in animal feed. I was told this is due that hemp is not on an approved animal feed list from the federal government. We also got to learn about CBD oil which has been talked about for lots of neurological issues from parkinson’s to seizures to pain and depression given by a representative of RealHemp. All cannabis (Hemp and marijuana) and now CBD oil has been classified as Schedule 1 Narcotic by the DEA, which means it has NO medicinal value. Yet here is a patent from the US that claims it HAS medicinal value US6630507BL. I will let you form your own opinions.
Organics (Wednesday AM)
Wow, this was one of the most eye opening. Unfortunately I didn’t write down where the small farms were from or I would have included links. The first part of the session was about using biochar in organic gardens as a soil amendment. None of the data, to me, seemed to prove that it did anything. But they are having ongoing studies. What I found more interesting is the intensity and variety of pests that affect growers. This has made us revisit our biosecurity program here at the farm. From listening to the speakers discuss, I have come to the conclusion (my own opinion) there are three types of growing produce. Each is as unique as it is different.
Home grower- Back yard plot, produce food for your family, and maybe sell the overage at a road stand, or to friends and family.
Market grower – 1-5 acres (may be more may be less) intensively growing produce for sale at regular farmers markets, CSA, Small restaurants, and/or small groceries. Variety of crops, rotated, and varied harvest times.
Commercial grower – 1 maybe 2 crops growing at a time, uses commercial machinery, 5+ acres, hired labor possibly, sells to wholesaler, grocery chains, restaurant chains, national brands
Being that the topic was organic pest management how each of these growers deals with a particular pest problem is different. And pests impact them differently. Additionally what is available to them to treat problems is different. I learned thes market growers work hard, harder than i thought. To be fair there wasn’t any commercial growers in the panel, but there were a few in the audience who gave feedback and they work hard, but seems the market growers have to hustle more and wear a wide variety of hats in their operation. Another lesson I took away that moving from one level to the next is just not scaling up. You just don’t grow a bigger garden. It is a different ball of wax. Think bowling, hockey, and formula 1 racing are all sports. Bowling is an individual sport and really only depend on yourself. Hockey has lots of things going on all the time, and constantly changing, and you must be adaptive. Racing is expensive to get into, is not like nascar, or drag racing. You get sponsorship as well to share in costs. Sorry, best analogy I could come up with.
Trade Show (Wednesday PM)
I met the guys from 3 Caps who are partners for mushroom growers. You can learn more about them from their website. They ship you pre inoculated bricks for mushroom growing. You soak the brick, place it in the correct conditions, and in 7 days you have a mushroom harvest. Eat them all? Let the brick dry, soak again, and boom, more mushrooms! Then, when you eat all those (or sell them, this is a commercial type operation) you have mushroom compost ready for your garden as a freebie. These guys are local here in Spencer Indiana. They can assist you in developing the correct room for growing conditions at your site.
Ecocert – One of the speakers at the Organic session. Originally we were not going to go the route of organic certified on our farm. We felt it was an undue expense to prove we were doing things right, we have tours, and planned to know our customers. After talking to a certification manager, and inspector we have reconsidered this. When you can have face to face connections with your customers you are the face of your company. You are the one conveying your passion for organic, clean, quality. Once you move to a point due to growth you can no longer have that face to face connection, it is the certification and certifiers stamp of approval that says you did everythign you could to ensure your product is of the utmost quality. With my background in quality and validation, this resonated with me. The end customer wants to know that you have met the standards, you are doing all you can. Without it you are a barn with closed doors and nobody knows what is going on behind those closed doors. So certification makes sense when we reach that level of success. Would if turn away potential customers who don’t know us yet? Maybe, but we are not there yet. This doesn’t mean we can’t look up the standards and follow them so that is is a way of life once we are ready to get certified. Curious what some of the standards are? Jeff Evard gave me this link for Livestock.
Did you know what the difference between apple wine and hard apple cider is? Both have alcohol, both made from apples. A) Apple wine has added sugar, hard apple cider has no added sugar.
NRCS – is a division of the USDA. NRCS stands for Natural Resource Conservation Service. I have spoken about NRCS before and have tried working with them on 2 different times locally and that left me turned off to the organization. I do know other NRCS agents in Indiana and seems my experience is isolated here. I spoke with them again, and happen to sit next to a mentor NRCS agent in one of the sessions to encouraged me to try again and not give up. NRCS offers technical assistance and financial assistance to property owners to make improvement, preserve, and conserve the natural resources on their property. This can be from erosion control, to fencing, to high tunnel purchase, to solar panels installed. There is a process and since I haven’t gone through it yet, I will wait and write that up some other time. But notice I didn’t say “farms”. There is no minimum property size for applying for help.
High Tunnels (Thursday AM)
High tunnels are essentially greenhouses that use plastic. There are a variety of sizes and shapes. You can build them yourself, buy them, or have them built for you. NRCS does reimburse up to 95% of costs associated with high tunnels if you meet the requirements. Which is why we may be looking into them. One requirement that stands out, you must grow in the ground in your high tunnel for the first 1-3 years depending on your contract with NRCS. Growing in a high tunnel does allow you to grow for longer season and if you supplement with heat year round. You can use it as a heated greenhouse to grow tomatoes in winter, or a cool house (minimal heat) and grow greens in the winter. And for winters here, gothic roofs vs dome roofs seem to do better here in Indiana. You do not have to grow anything over winter. You can use them for annuals, perennials, canes, and even trees. High tunnels do have some drawbacks such as pollination, moisture, moisture related disease, heat etc. From the session, it appears that anyone who has started using high tunnels have increased production in almost every instance. Pollination can be solved by purchasing bumblebees and releasing into the tunnels which is what many of the speakers did. Something I found interesting is that NRCS supports using the high tunnel with the intent of soil improvements. Yet in every instance speakers encountered soil health actually decreased inside the high tunnel. This would be expected if you harvest constantly and do not replenish nutrients equal to or above what you are removing.
Social Media Marketing (Thursday PM)
The last session of the day was using social media for marketing. While it was mainly geared to winerys, I was informative. Many of the audience was older and do not use social media for their business. The biggest social media platform was Facebook, then Twitter, then others. They put Pinterest in marketing which I had not thought of as a marketing tool, up until then. Pinterest market is 85 or more percent women. The presenter was advocating 20 or more hours a week on social media. This just isn’t feasible for many farm owners. But I also think that is complete overkill and her job was marketing and social media so unless you have money to pay someone, or a marketing firm it may be overkill. Some important notes were if you do use social media be responsive to customers, delayed response will lose customers. Also, if you are a business have a business account on Facebook, and separate personal from business use. They touched very little on the use of a website as social media.
All in all, it was eye opening. I ended up having to pay $120 for the 3 day conference, $100 if I had done early registration like my wife told me to do. I feel it was worth the money I spent. I learned a lot, and learned how much I don’t know. I would have liked to attend other sessions but had to make a choice and the above sessions won. Would I recommend it to others., definitely. But more if you are already selling produce, or are on the edge of selling. If you are just a home producer and not really moving to regular sales, it is informing, go if you have the money, but there are other conference that may be more appropriate for time off or if cost may be an issue.