Last weekend more than 250 farmers and budding agricultural entrepreneurs gathered at Warren Wilson College for Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s 11th annual Business of Farming Conference. The conference worked to provide a venue for those interested in agriculture to take part in training sessions which included forums for farm business planning, agritourism operation, web-based marketing and food safety protections. Attendees were given their choice of sessions over the course of the day, which included three training periods.
Charlie Jackson, executive director for ASAP, opened the conference by providing insights into the current status of farming in North Carolina with statistics gleaned from the forthcoming 2012 Census of Agriculture.Jackson also provided a breakdown of our “food dollars” showing how much of each dollar that we spend ends up in the hands of farmers. The figures revealed that only slightly more than 11 cents out of each dollar we spend makes its way back to the farmer; the rest are distributed out into the larger economy. Holly Whitesides of Against the Grain farm in Watauga County recounted her experiences as a farmer and the journey of operating a farm.
In addition to the more formal training sessions, attendees were given an opportunity to consult directly with experts in legal issues, business formation, marketing, product development and web design. Buyers were also on hand to meet with farmers about selling their products to retailers, wholesalers and restaurants. Warren Wilson offered a post-lunch tour of its farming operations, giving attendees an opportunity to see baby chickens and pigs as well as its garden and greenhouse operations.
The sessions held and the experiences shared were intensely personal, offering attendees a chance to understand the nuances of farming. While the sessions varied in content, several themes were woven throughout the conference; many of the presenters who operated their own agricultural operations talked about their struggles and successes as a case for creating collaborations and partnerships. During the sessions on agritourism and community building, presenters talked about their own dreams and what had inspired them to share their visions of agriculture with the wider community. The importance of business planning underscored the conference.
The Business of Farming conference offered a unique experience allowing those of any level of agricultural interest to understand the business side of farming. Participants left inspired, but with a new sense of purpose regarding how they could take the next step in their own ventures.