Buying local the subject of upcoming conference

The “buy local” movement that has sparked increased demand for locally grown foods means that farmers who know how to market and sell their products directly to consumers can substantially increase their farm income, says an Ohio State University Extension agriculture educator.

One of the top food trends recently has been the demand by consumers who want to know where their food comes from and who is producing it, and who want to buy products from as close to home as possible, said Mark Mechling. But farmers who want to take advantage of the “buy local” movement have to follow a rigid and precise set of rules designed to ensure consumers purchase wholesome and safe products.

Mechling will discuss those rules and procedures during a presentation March 9 at the “Opening Doors to Success” Small Farm Conference and Trade Show. The conference, held March 9-10 at Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio, will feature 30 sessions from Ohio State and industry experts.

The trade show will offer information that can benefit a variety of growers, said Tony Nye, an OSU Extension educator and Small Farm Program coordinator.

The conference starts at 5:30 p.m., with the session, “Meat Marketing – Front and Center,” which will be presented by Mechling and Francis Fluharty, a ruminant nutritionist with joint appointments with OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

Mechling said he and Fluharty’s workshop will provide participants information about: obstacles to marketing meat; labeling; the meanings of grass-fed, antibiotic-free, free range, organic and grain-fed; how to find the right processor; and how to price a product.

“Farmers can capture more of those retail food dollars by selling directly to the consumers that they’re leaving on the table when they sell that product as a commodity,” he said.

Traditional farmers get about 18 to 20 cents of each retail dollar that a consumer spends in a restaurant or grocery store, Mechling explains.

“They’re leaving 80 percent of that retail dollar to others, including grocery stores, distributors, wholesalers and other components of the food chain,” he said. “By marketing directly to consumers they can capture more of those dollars, but it requires more management and marketing skills.”

The conference is also key for Ohio growers who want to expand their farm operations or those people who want to get into the agriculture industry, Nye said.

“Whether you are a landowner who is looking for development opportunities with a limited amount of acres, or have parcels of land and are looking for economic opportunity to add income, or are looking to cost recover your land taxes, this is a great place to get helpful, in-depth information,” he said.

Workshops on March 10 include: “Vegetable Disease and Insect Management;” “Beef Production;” “Website Design;” “Invasive Species;” “Aquaculture: The ‘Nuts and Bolts’ to Fish Farming;” “Food Safety;” “Green House and Tunnel Production;” and “Livestock and the Law: Managing Legal Risk.”

The conference is an outgrowth of the Ohio New and Small Farm College, an eight-week program created by OSU Extension that offers an introduction to the business of small farming or those who are new to the farming industry. The program offers information on budgeting, business planning and how to develop a farm structure, among other issues.

“We’ve put some really powerful information together so that people who attend can build a relationship with the presenters who can help them as they go through their farming journey,” Nye said.

The conference is co-sponsored by OSU Extension’s Small Farm Program; Wilmington College; Farm Credit Services of Mid-America; and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s offices of the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Agriculture Statistic Service and Rural Development.

Registration is $20 to attend the March 9 session, $50 to attend the March 10 sessions or $60 to attend both days. The registration deadline is March 5. For more information or to register, go to http://clinton.osu.edu/events/2012-small-farm-conference-and-trade-show.

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