LAWRENCE, Kan. – Kansas City area fruit and vegetable growers on both sides of the state line are banding together to strengthen their supply chain and marketing power, and to learn from experts as well as from one another. Some of that education will happen at the 20th Great Plains Growers Conference set for Jan. 7-9 in St. Joseph, Missouri.
“The local food scene in and around the Kansas City metropolitan region is on the cusp of an exciting period of growth,” said Marlin Bates, K-State Research and Extension horticulture agent in Douglas County. “Due to the recommendations from two regional food hub feasibility studies released in the summer of 2014, several area fruit and vegetable farmers have developed an agricultural producer cooperative.”
The cooperative, named Fresh Farm HQ, is aimed at opening new, larger markets for local food producers who are interested in increasing their overall acreage of production, Bates said. However, adoption of this form of local food production requires a different set of skills for fruit and vegetable farmers than they would normally have. Grading, packing and other postharvest handling requirements are stricter for wholesale markets than for direct-to-consumer markets, such as roadside stands or farmers’ markets.
“K-State Research and Extension is committed to equipping transitioning farmers with the knowledge they need to make enterprises like those that will partner with Fresh Farm HQ successful,” said Bates, who has been involved with the development of Fresh Farm HQ from the start. He is turning his attention to the needs of the fruit and vegetable farmers who are interested in producing on a wholesale scale. As a member of the organizing committee of the Great Plains Growers Conference, Bates has worked to create a theme within the conference on “Scaling Up Local Food Systems.”
The conference is sponsored by several universities in addition to K-State.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture supports the development of local food systems, including food hubs, in building local economies, Bates said. That is in part why the USDA’s office of Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education is sponsoring the local food systems part of the conference.
On Thursday of the conference, growers interested in learning what it takes to move into a wholesale-scale operation can attend the “Scaling Up Production” workshop, which will feature a small farm specialist from the University of California Cooperative Extension, and farmers from Virginia, Iowa, and Missouri. On Friday, participants may attend an abridged version of the University of Kentucky’s Market Ready program, which helps equip farmers with the postharvest skills needed for wholesale markets.
More information about the conference is available at www.greatplainsgrowersconference.org. To learn more about Fresh Farm HQ, visit its webpage at http://www.freshfarmhq.com/.