Designed for prospective, new or veteran farmers, the Georgia Multicultural Sustainable Agriculture Conference has scheduled three stops across the state through spring 2014 with the first taking place at the Clarence Brown Conference Center on March 12.
USDA District Conservationist Jerome Brown was inspired to begin the conference series last year after he noticed a lack of cultural diversity in the clients his office was serving.
“We started the first conference last July here in Gwinnett County and it was very successful. It was so successful we decided to apply for additional funds to go statewide with the multicultural conferences,” Brown said. “Here in Gwinnett, I was looking at the cultural diversity of the counties I cover and what I saw coming through the door asking for assistance didn’t coincide with our cultural diversity. What’s happening is that a lot of the new cultural diversity coming to the metro area wasn’t coming to USDA offices to take advantage of the benefits.
“A lot of the cultures moving into the state are familiar with agriculture because of their background, but when they get here, we want them to be introduced to our conservation efforts. We really want to protect our natural resources, especially our water resources.”
Since the first conference in July, Brown has seen an increase in the diversity of the clients they serve and looks forward to continuing the program with conferences in Cartersville, Duluth and Perry. Topics and issues addressed will vary depending on the location of the conference.
“The one in north Georgia, in Cartersville, is going to reflect on small animal production and management because in that area you have a lot of poultry operation; you also see an increase in goats and sheep and those type animals,” Brown said. “Another area we’ll be talking about in Cartersville is urban and small scale farming as well as how to begin farming, including what you’ll need, financials, economics behind farming and farming business plans.”
Other areas to be covered in the March 12 conference will be basic soil education, organic farming, micro irrigation and a special presentation from Adairsville resident and alpaca farmer Liz Bates of Southern Estate Alpacas.
“Everyone is looking for sustainable farming and livestock alternatives and alpacas are a great choice for so many reasons,” Bates said. “It’s an animal that not only produces good fiber, but they’re easy to maintain, they’re a good size, you don’t have to be a big person to work with these animals, they are somewhat intelligent, they’re fun to be with and there is going to be a lot of uses for them going forward whether it is fiber, breeding stock or down the road there are even discussions of meat.
“There’s a big future here. We’ve been talking about the fiber for a long time and it is finally starting to take off. I think people are beginning to understand what the fiber is and how valuable it is and how different it is from anything out there. It’s finer than cashmere, it’s hypo allergenic and it doesn’t contain lanolin.”
Liz and her husband Jerry Bates began Southern Estate Alpacas in 2008 with two alpacas and have since grown their herd to more than 60 head, now one of the largest alpaca farms in the state. Their intent from the beginning was to start a business venture so that the Bates could one day work together from their home. Last year, Liz was able to leave her job to act as the full-time farm manager and currently sits on the board of directors for the Southeastern Alpaca Association serving as chair of education outreach.
“My goal this year is to educate people inside and outside the industry,” Bates said. “Within the industry, my goal is to help people be profitable whether they have six animals or 600 animals. But at the Cartersville conference, I will be presenting in three sessions what I call Alpaca 101, and this is a presentation I’ve used in schools and small groups to introduce people to alpaca, what they are, where they came from, why they’re here and what we do with them.”
The Georgia Multicultural Sustainable Agriculture Conference will be held Tuesday, March 12, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Clarence Brown Conference Center, 5450 Ga. Highway 20, in coordination with the USDA and the Upper Ocmulgee River Resource Conservation & Development Council. The registration fee is $20. Registration can be made online at www.conta.cc/13iEBoT or by calling the Upper Ocmulgee RC&D at 678-376-9518. A link to the registration form also can be found at www.upperocmulgee.org under the events and projects page.