My farm is a sixty acre, 30 cow, intensive grazing, and seasonal calving dairy farm with 5 acres of produce and the produce auction.
Traditionally, most Amish and Mennonite farms in the area are dairy farms or corn/hog operations, generally all are looking for alternatives. Vegetable production is one of only a few viable alternatives.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
To create a series of three winter meetings with approximately twenty respected Amish and Mennonite speakers from eastern Pennsylvania and Canada. We expected up to three hundred Amish, Mennonite and English vegetable producers to attend these meetings.
We held the series of three meetings in January and February of 2001. A total of twenty six experienced produce growers were recruited as speakers. More than 300 local growers registered at the meetings with an actual head count of over 500 people attending the three meetings.
We traveled to distant areas such as Lancaster Co, PA and interviewed potential Amish and Mennonite speakers at their farms. Those found to be suitable candidates were invited to speak at the meeting. Most of those chosen attended. Their travel expenses were paid out of the grant and they where offered $100 each as a token fee for their services. A few of the speakers declined the $100 fee, but most accepted the travel or rode along in a van we hired to transport them.
The local farming community provided lodging to the visiting speakers. This led to a large number of informal produce meetings in many homes in the surrounding community.
All 26 speakers where active vegetable growers. None of the speakers where from extension or universities. All were “hands in the dirt” farmers.
The format of the meetings were “round table discussions”. Two moderators asked a series of “producer growing” questions to the panel of speakers. This led to a large number of questions and comments from the crowd of growers attending.
Topics discussed were:
– Migrating from dairy farming and corn/hog production to growing vegetables.
– Cultural ramifications of changing from dairy to vegetables.
– The effect of vegetable production on family structure.
– How to influence young people to take up farming rather than shop work
– Greenhouse management for flowers and vegetable production.
– Chandler strawberry production
– Greenhouse strawberry production
– Plasticulture practices
– Watermelon and cantaloupe production
– Fall decorative production
– Trickle irrigation, transplanting
– Vine crops
– Tomato and eggplant production
– Early sweet corn grown under plastic
– Cole crops
This brief list is just part of what was discussed.
Meals were served to the persons attending the meeting. The food and work were donated by the local community with over 500 meals served.
An attempt was made to produce a book from the speeches at the meeting but that turned out to be a duplication of efforts as others in the local community had assembled a grower written book titled “Growing Produce II.” Three hundred copies of this book were obtained and distributed to young farm families in the nearby area.
Everything considered, we thought the series of meetings were a good success. Direct measurement of results is difficult but there was a large increase in the produce sold during 2001 at the Homerville Wholesale Produce Auction. The produce grown in this area in 2001 was approximately 150% of the amount grown locally in the year 2000.
Posters advertising the grower meeting were placed in all agricultural related businesses in a wide area. This included feed mills, harness shops, hay auctions and similar places of agricultural business.
Meeting information was sent to the extension service in surrounding counties in hopes that the meetings would be mentioned in their horticultural newsletters.
A large number of postcards were sent to all buyers and sellers registered with the Produce Auction. This was approximately 1700 postcards. Press releases explaining the meetings where sent to three agricultural newspapers.
Announcements were distributed to about 400 Amish families by sending flyers home from all the Amish schools in the area.
No pictures where taken at the meetings as most of the growers attending were Swartzentuber Amish who do not allow the photographs to be taken.
As mentioned earlier, over 300 people took the opportunity to register but well over 500 meals were served. Growers attended from five states in addition to Ohio.