165 attendees helped celebrate Rhode Island’s farmers and agricultural professionals at the third RI Women in Agriculture Conference held at the University of Rhode Island. Rhode Island’s largest agricultural conference brought together farmers, growers, producers, agricultural professionals, extension and university educators for workshops, networking sessions and delicious local food.
This successful conference included many talented presenters from beginning farmers and seasoned professionals. Topics included:
- Farm life is real… different – Kim Coulter of Stone Hill Cattle described growing up on a farm and how she balanced farm life with a professional career, taking vacations to hay their fields.
- Food Safety – Phana Tum of RI Department of Health discussed the importance of good food safety practices on the farm and at farmers markets. Dr. Scott Marshall, RI State Vet discussed the importance of selecting the proper livestock breed to match farm practices. A grass-fed operation should select a Devon or other small to medium breeds instead of Jerseys or Holsteins that need corn to thrive. Marshall stressed the importance of providing proper care and traceability requirements.
- Growing new farmers – Beginning farmers, Tess Brown-Lavoie of Sidewalk Ends Farm and Margiana Petersen-Rockney of the Young Farmer Network (YFN) described available resources. Andy Radin of URI Cooperative Extension and Michele Sheehan of RI DEM Land Acquisition discussed production assistance, business education and land access opportunities.
- Marketing – Successful farmers, Kerry Stenovitch of Phantom Farm, Polly Hutchinson of Robin Hollow Farm stressed only offering high quality products. Karla and Sara Young of Young Family Farm described their favorite tricks to reach and reward loyal locavores.
- Ken Payne of the RI Agricultural Partnership shared key findings from a professional market research on "Who are the customers at Farm Stands and Farmers’ Markets?" RIers have a high awareness of, participation in and support of local agriculture and farm markets. Research confirmed that customers are happy with local quality and nutrition. Ken suggested marketing efforts should be on bringing customers back to markets more often and having them spend more. Customers want convenience and seek a social experience connecting with friends and chatting with farmers.
- To hire or not to hire – Carolyn Huff of Farm Credit East discussed employment law and the importance of distinguishing between retail and agricultural employees. Kerri Stenovitch of Phantom Farm described a heavy fine she incurred by a small misunderstanding of this distinction.
- Show me the money – Carrie Novak of FSA discussed FSA microloan operating loans. Heather Allen of Farm Credit East/Country Living described financial services available through Farm Credit East. Joanne Demars of Rural Development discussed energy efficiency grants and cost sharing opportunities. Brunilda Velez of Natural Resources Conservation Service USDA (NRCS) discussed resource conservation and cost sharing programs.
- Amazing Farm Women - Diana Kushner of Arcadian Fields Farm described her unexpected journey from Providence to farming in Hope Valley. Laura Brown-Lavoie of Sidewalk Ends Farm shared her experience as a new urban farmer and performance poet. Polly Hutchinson of Robin Hollow Farm entertained us with stories from over 20 years of farming in RI.
- The Director of RI’s Department of Environmental Management described the challenges for a woman in a man’s workplace.
- In his closing remarks, Keys Ayars, Chief of the Division of Agriculture said, “After a day at this conference, I’d like to speak about the challenges of being a man in a woman’s world. He shared highlights of the national Agricultural census. Ayars congratulated RI farmers, “Agriculture is coming back to life.” RI has a successful dairy co-op in Rhody Fresh, a livestock-processing co-op through the RI Raised Livestock Association (RIRLA) and a strong horticultural trade association called the RI Nursery & Landscape Association (RINLA).
- Cindy Elder of the RI Community Food Bank thanked RI farmers for raising their donations of produce and meats to over 400,000 pounds last year. She described the growing needs the RI Food Bank and its local food pantry partners. Every month 68,000 people are served across the state. Each year the RI Community Food Bank distributes over 10,000,000 pounds of food including 2,000,000 pounds of fresh produce.
RI Farm Service Agency staff coordinated production of a Resource Guide. Attendees brought home a binder filled with USDA contacts, RI Government Agencies, University of Rhode Island resources as well as dozens of related agricultural trade associations and business development resources. A section on Food Safety from the RI Department of Health and on Animal Health and Welfare from the RI State Vet was also included. A Who’s Who in RI Agriculture photo show ran during breaks and lunch. This resource was posted at the Conference Facebook page. Plans are underway to offer these resources online.
URI’s Center for Biological and Life Sciences (CBLS) Building’s spacious lobby contained 30 vendor booths offering agricultural services and education to farmers and growers.
This event was sponsored by the Center for Mediation & Collaboration Rhode Island, Country Folks Grower, edible Rhody, USDA Farm Service Agency, New England Farmers Union, Rhode Island Farm Bureau, Rhody Fresh Milk, the Rhode Island Sheep Cooperative, University of Rhode Island and URI Cooperative Extension. Farm Credit East of Dayville, CT and Farm Family Insurance/the John T. Howard Agency sponsored conference scholarships for 25 beginning farmers. Cory’s Kitchen and Poblano Farm donated products as speaker gifts.
See speaker photos and resources at their Facebook page.