Sustainable agriculture conference returns to Upstate

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The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) held its annual conference for the second time in Greenville last week at the Hyatt Regency downtown.

Profitability of family farms was among the major concerns voiced at the conference, said Elizabeth Read, CFSA communications and development director.

Proposed changes to the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Policy and Modernization act were also another important topic of conversation. Read said the policy was written with large-scale agricultural producers in mind, and therefore presents challenges for the smaller producers who are CFSA’s constituents. Food policy councils are forming across several states in order to address legislative issues.

CFSA advocates and provides training for organic family farms in the Carolinas. The group returned to Greenville because of food-related activity here and the venue’s ability to meet its requirements.

“Greenville has a lot of good things going in term of the food movement and farm-to-table,” said Read. She added that the conference places a lot of demands on conference staff, such as requiring local food service companies that work with local farms. “Not all conference centers are open to that type of collaboration, but they’ve been really great about it,” Read said of the Hyatt.

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Keynote speaker Mark Shepard, author of “Restoration Agriculture: Real World Permaculture for Farmers,” encouraged farmers to scale up and discussed ways to maximize yield by using all parts of the land.

Such advice could help meet a rapidly growing demand among grocery chains in the Carolinas for organic food, which is mostly trucked in from other parts of the country, Read said. The current supply chain for food has been largely centralized, and so something like an ancillary chain needs to be developed for smaller producers.

Read said the conference was a needed fellowship opportunity for non-conventional farmers. As the average age of American farmers is 58, it also serves to connect aging farmers who might be looking to get out of the business with young farmers in need of land, mentorship or business opportunities.

“We find that farmers that are using sustainable agriculture tend to feel a little bit isolated in their regions,” Read said.

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