By Nikki Seibert Kelley, Director of Sustainable Agriculture, Lowcountry Local First

In farming, winter means business.

Farmers and their supporting organizations are reflecting on the end-of-year, evaluating what worked, and planning on how to make the next year even better. Production has slowed down, seasonal markets are closed, and the cold wet weather drives many people indoors, making it the perfect time of year to schedule agricultural conferences. For those of us in the industry, conferences are an opportunity for us to climb out of the trenches and take in the lay of the land, reconnect with our community, and reignite the passion that will sustain us through another year.

From seed-swaps and farm tours to networking sessions and presentations these events are incredible for both farmers and support organizations. The last two years, the conference circuit has provided Lowcountry Local First an opportunity to share our models, resources, and ideas in places as far as Minnesota and Indianapolis to cities as close as Saint Simons Island, GA and Greenville, SC.

Most recently, I joined a number of incredible individuals at the Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group conference in Mobile, AL to share resources for new and beginning farmers through a presentation and panel discussion. The panel included two farmers, staff from the National Young Farmers Coalition and myself all sharing best practices and tools for success. The audience was comprised of individuals from over 6 southern states aspiring to farm, growing their new businesses, or providing support to new farmers.

Conference Panelists

The first take away from the discussion: farming is a business and individuals entering the market need to be equipped with the tools to operate as business owners. Topics included the evaluation of personal skills and resources, understanding budgeting and financials, determining the best market outlets, and knowing when to invest more or change directions.

The second largest theme was the importance of community: finding it, building it, and participating in it. Farming can be a lonely and challenging business, especially for fledgling operations struggling to overcome the barriers facing all start-ups: lack of capital, limited infrastructure, and the balance between the physical and office work. Having a community to lean on for support, ideas, equipment, and socialization can provide the personal and professional resources to help new farmers grow and learn from challenges instead of being hindered by them.

Conference SC Four

After every conference I am continually struck by how farmers face very similar challenges, regardless of location. LLF’s Eat Local Initiative has developed to help farmers overcome these challenges, which has resulted in a program that is not only relevant for farmers in our area but also provides a model for communities across the Southeast. Leaving the conference, I felt energized about the year ahead and confident that our programs will continue to help farmers find success in their independent businesses.

Nikki Seibert Kelley
Director of Sustainable Agriculture at Lowcountry Local First