There is a science behind the art of producing quality produce, paying attention to the little things, such as controlling pests, preventing disease, balancing the soil, even selecting the right variety.
The first-ever Mid-Ohio Growers' Meeting, scheduled for Jan. 10-11 at the Holmes County Expo Center in Millersburg, offers a slate of researchers and industry professionals who will present the latest research and techniques on produce production. The meeting will include a trade show with 50-plus exhibitors offering new information and technology for the produce industry, with significant discounts for purchases during the show.
The goal of the meeting is to provide educational information on growing and marketing fruits, vegetables and flowers for small growers, according to Fred Finney, a member of the planning committee.
For the past four years, a group of produce growers in the Wayne and Holmes counties area talked about having a meeting and each year, the idea gained momentum. This year, everything came together as they formed a planning committee; the Mid-Ohio Growers' Committee found a location, lined up speakers and formed an LLC. And if this event is successful, the committee hopes to make the meeting an annual event.
"We are not a new organization, nor will we be collecting memberships," Finney said. "We formed the LLC simply to allow us to establish a bank account and pay the bills related to the meeting."
Finney was emphatic that this meeting was not designed to take away from the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketing Association's meeting later in January. In fact, the OPGMA is one of the sponsors of this meeting. Instead, it is designed to build on topics covered at monthly growers' meetings.
The meeting is also designed for small growers and members of the Plain community who may not be able to get away to attend meetings in other parts of the state. Some members of the Plain community may prefer not to attend meetings using a lot of technology for the presentations.
"A lot of small growers are glad this meeting is happening," he said. "They would like to go to some of the other meetings, but they often can't take the time to go very far away."
Finney added that some sessions of this meeting would not be using technology for the presentations, for the benefit of some attendees.
Finney said the produce industry has grown over the past 20 years. And while it is hard to put a dollar figure on the volume of business, he estimates the numbers between $5 million to $10 million or even pushing closer to $15 million dollars if flowers, bedding plants, orchards, specialty, greenhouse and nursery crops are included.
"'Buy Local' is a real thing," said Finney. "It seems like people want to know their food and know their farmers. People like going to farmer's markets."
Finney said produce is expanding slowly, mainly because it is a highly technical, labor-intensive system.
"Over the years, larger farmers have tried to add small fruits and other crops to their farming operations, but it doesn't work for them," Finney said.
At the same time, produce production appeals to members of the Plain community, as their farms tend to be smaller, and often have other enterprises such as dairy, or family members work off the farm in woodshops or other businesses.
"They can grow produce, keep their family together and make a good living," he said. "And since farming is becoming more profitable, more farms are staying together."
"This meeting is geared toward growers with fewer than 100 acres," Finney said. "It is geared toward growers who sell their products at farm markets, farmer's markets, produce auctions and other outlets such as Local Roots. There are a few sessions geared toward backyard orchards."
In addition, some sessions will also offer Pesticide Application Training Credits.
"Most of the growers in the area grow under the Integrated Pest Management program," Finney said."But they also have pesticide applicator licenses because some products need to be used by a licensed applicator."
Finney said he is excited about the line-up of speakers for the first growers' meeting.He added that not only would the presenters offer the latest information on diseases, insects and weed control in flowers and produce during their sessions, but also they would be available throughout the meeting to answer questions from growers.
"Yes, producers can find this information online or with a telephone call, but some growers don't have Internet access," he said.
Highlights of the Jan. 10 session include: Charlie Svec of Hanover, Pa., discussing "Sustainable Small Produce Farms in Three Different Countries -- How They Do It" and "Tomato Varieties -- Which Tomato Is Bred to Fit Your Farm or High Tunnel" by Steve Bogash of Chambersburg, Pa. Bogash is the regional horticulture educator for the southeast region of Pennsylvania. He will also do a presentation on Hi-tunnel Tomatoes -- Growing, Pollination. Jeffrey Smith is an author and the executive director for the Institute for Responsible Technology. Wrapping up the session will be David Schlabach of Medina, N.Y. Schlabach is the owner of Schlabach Nurseries and author of several books on fruit production. His topic will be "Growing Apples, Peaches, and Pears In Your Backyard, Pruning, Spraying, Etc."
Other Jan. 10 sessions include: "Why Do I Get Powdery Mildew? Where Does it Come From? How Do I Control It?" by Sally Miller, OSU plant pathologist; "Propagating Flowers -- Varieties and Temperatures" by Roger Steyer, Fides Oro; "Soil Testing or Just Add More Fertilizer? Cover Crops to Balance Soil" by Rory Lewandowski, OSU Extension, Wayne County; "Record Keeping on a Produce Farm" by Lloyd Schrock, manager, Lincoln County Produce Auction, Crab Orchard, Ky.; "Plant Physiology -- Understanding What Your Plants Are Telling You," by Don Coulson of Hanover, Pa.; "Flower Diseases From A to Z in the Greenhouse" by Mary Hausbeck, professor of plant science, Michigan State University; "How Do I Get Ready for a Food Safety Audit," by Michael Hari, Equicert, and "Good Bug, Bad Bug -- Controlling Pests Naturally in the Home Garden" by Ron Becker, former IPM program leader in Wayne County and Celeste Welty, entomology, Ohio State University.
Schlabach and Smith will be back on the program on Jan. 11. Smith's presentation is titled "Where Do We Go From Here with GMOs? How Will the Future of GMOs Impact Us, Our Children, Our Grandchildren?" while Schlabach's presentation is titled "Growing, Pruning, Spraying Strawberries and Brambles."
Other Jan. 11 sessions include "Weeds And What They Tell You" by Dr. Doug Doohan, OSU specialist in weeds and weed management; "Biological Flower Pest Control," by Dean Palm, Green Circle Growers; "Pests on a Produce Farm" by Celeste Welty, entomology, Ohio State University; "Small Fruit Diseases," by Mike Ellis, Ohio State University; "What Flew and What Flopped in 2012 Flowers," by Mike and Patty Boyert, Boyert's Greenhouse and Farm, Medina; "Long Term Business Relationships" by Dave Kauffman, Kauffman Realty, Sugarcreek; "Flower Nutrition" by Roger Steyer, Fides Oro; "What Kind of Plan Do I Need Before Going to the Bank if I Need Financing to Grow Produce," by Tom Stocksdale, First National Bank; "Establishing and Maintaining an Irrigation Pond" by Dr. Gary Graham, OSU Extension, county operations; "Balancing Soils to Get a High Brix Fruit or Vegetable" by Don Coulson of Hanover, Pa,; "Off-season High Tunnel Production" by Dr. Matt Kleinhenz, OSU Extension vegetable specialist; "What is the Best Way to Market My Produce, Auction, Farm Market, CSA" by Dave Graf, produce buyer for Buehler's Food Markets, Trevor Clatterbuck, Fresh Fork CSA of Cleveland, Jamie Moore, produce buyer, for Eat-n-Park Hospitality Group and "Downy Mildew in Flowers" by Mary Hausbeck, professor of plant science, Michigan State University.
Finney said the committee has made the meeting attractive to families with economical registration fees. The cost of the meeting is $20 if postmarked by Dec. 31. After Dec. 31, the cost is $25 and may be paid at the door. Those 14 and younger will be admitted free. The fee includes the trade show, materials and shuttle service from the Mount Hope Auction Barn, if needed. As an added benefit, all full admissions are eligible for a drawing for a 30' x 96' greenhouse. Growers may also register for the Thursday Evening Special including the presentations by Jeffrey Smith, David Schlabach, Ron Becker and Celeste Welty. All special admissions will be eligible to win a hobby greenhouse. A food concession by Der Dutchman Restaurants will be available during the meeting.
For more information or to register, call or write: Mid-Ohio Growers LLC, 6464 Fredericksburg Road, Wooster, Ohio 44691, 330-263-0254 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.