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Sustainable Agriculture

Organic 101: Sharing Farm-Based Knowledge with Professionals

Several years ago, University of Georgia (UGA) extension horticulturist George Boyhan toured an organic farm as part of a SARE-funded project intended to improve the knowledge of agricultural professionals throughout Georgia. Since then, Boyhan has embraced organic agriculture education, developing a UGA Web page on organic certification, establishing UGA's first certified organic research plot, including the first organic Vidalia onions, and organizing a research roundtable that resulted in an upsurge of interest in organic agriculture. By the time the 2-day roundtable in February 2003 was over, participants from 13 States had not only identified 25 crucial researchable issues for organic farmers, they had also formed research teams to address some of them.

Boyhan even joined the board of Georgia Organics, a nonprofit organization that won the SARE professional development grant to build knowledge and skills in organic agriculture by training information providers.

Jim Formby, a former farm manager, also toured organic farms as part of the Georgia Organics educational project. When he bought 23 acres in Pike County, GA, in 2004, he immediately applied to Georgia Organics' Farmer-to-Farmer Mentor program, but as a student, not a mentor.

“All of my background in college and professionally had been on large farms that depended on high chemical input,” he said. With land prices escalating, Formby had developed a vision of a small, diversified farm with high-value products he could retail directly to the consumer. The tour defined that dream, and the Georgia Organics mentoring program cemented it.

In all, Georgia Organics reached some 250 agricultural professionals over the 3 years of their project through seven workshops and farm tours. Those events were planned with help from four farmers, who ensured they had an in-the-field realism.

By presenting at professional conferences, some of which headlined them as keynote speakers, they reached an additional 500 professionals, including Extension educators, NRCS staff, and environmental health professionals.

The events brought more researchers from land-grant universities and extension specialists to bear on the needs of Georgia's organic growers, said Mary Ann Woodie, Georgia Organics' conference coordinator. “It's all about bringing people together.”

The group continues to build capacity through education. Recently, they received a SARE professional development grant to develop curricula in organic agriculture for high school teachers and a module on organic gardening for extension agents to use in their Master Gardener programs.

 

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