Williamsburg, VA 

Thomas at the Small Farm Outreach Family Conference

Thomas, chosen to help pull door prize tickets, gets to spend some time at the “important” table for the dinner and awards ceremony.

Eryn, Thomas and I just came back from the Small Farm Family Conference loaded with great memories, awesome connections and lots of great ideas and inspiration for farming. This is part of VSU’s Small Farm Outreach program in cooperation with the Virginia Extension Cooperative and various USDA related divisions. VSU offer’s a plethora of outreach programs throughout the year, covering many different farming topics. They share what they have learned on their experimental Randolph Farm as well as offering farm tours and talks from farmers who have the real world experience that is so valuable. We have been blessed to have attended several of these events and they have all been quite informational.

Usually myself and Eryn attend, occasionally including other 4-H club members when they are available. All of these opportunities are during the week and during slower production times for the farmers, so the kids would have to be homeschooled or willing to take a day out of school to attend.

Eryn at the Small Farm Outreach Family Conference

Eryn enjoying a perk of the hotel and burning off some of that BIG, delicious dinner.

This conference, “Small Farms: Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century,” offered informational sessions on topics including agritourism, free-range poultry, biological pest control, nutrient management and much more. Vendors were on-site with farm related services and products. There were also plenty of opportunities to find partners in our farming endeavors. Teaming up with other farmers and agritourism hotspots, such as wineries, allows us as farmers to enhance our offerings as well as theirs. We can add value to our farm, other levels and areas of expertise, while continuing to concentrate on our own area of expertise. Farm cooperatives might be another avenue worth pursuing.

The conference ended with a bus ride to Slade’s Farm in Surry, VA. Cliff Slade is the originator of the $43560 crop plan – growing and earning $1 per foot. He has since started earning much more than that per acre by growing and selling organic produce as well as seeds. Mr. Slade was fascinating to listen to. He showed us his gardening methods, natural weed control methods and discussed converting his property to certified organic. More about his very successful methods can be found in this article by Mark Shonbeck in the Virginia Biological Farming. Mr. Shonbeck does an excellent job of describing a tour that was very similar to ours.

Visiting Cliff Slade's Farm was the finale of the Small Farm Outreach Family Conference.

Visiting Cliff Slade’s Farm was the finale of the Small Farm Outreach Family Conference.

While I came aways with a brain full of ideas, the kids had opportunities of their own. They are making friends in the small farm industry and making impressions. They enjoyed the experience of staying in a hotel and hobnobbing with the farmers. Thomas loved working the crowd, for sure. I think their favorite part of the adventure was the ferry ride that took us from Jamestown to Surry, across the lower James River.

Following are some of our favorite resources from this experience: