Southern SAWG has been inspiring and empowering farmers, individuals and communities to create more sustainable food and farming systems for nearly 25 years. Since 1991 we have assisted over 10,000 farmers in the South, yet our work goes far beyond the farm gate. Did you know that Southern SAWG also trains farm service providers, strengthens regional food systems, and builds and supports collaborative networks? We also give Southerners a voice in policy decisions that shape public food and agriculture programs. Here are a few of our accomplishments from the past year.
Farmers are the heart and soul of Southern SAWG’s work. In the past year, over 650 farmers directly benefited from Southern SAWG programming; learning about production practices that increased their capacity, marketing strategies that improved their income, and management techniques that made them better stewards of their resources. One example of our programming is our Growing Farm Profits course, an intensive workshop that gives farmers the tools and knowledge to track key information and analyze their farm businesses. This eye-opening course for diversified vegetable producers has been very effective in getting farmers to be smart business decision makers. As one farmer from Kentucky wrote, “I was hesitant to leap into starting a CSA without a better understanding of my farm financials, but I feel confident after taking the Growing Farm Profits course that I have the right tools at my disposal to make smart decisions that will allow me to make it profitable.” Surveys indicate farmers are sharing information and resources gained through Southern SAWG programming with at least 4 other farmers. Thus, at least another 2,600 farmers benefited indirectly from Southern SAWG programing this past year. It’s this kind of multiplier effect that speaks to the strength of our educational programs (and allows our training dollars to go further). Keep on sharing!
Farm Service Providers
Southern SAWG recognizes and appreciates the broad network of farm service providers who are working across the country to provide technical, financial, and other assistance to farmers. In the past year, Southern SAWG assisted 221 farm service providers to better meet the needs of organic and sustainable farmers. We provided education on a range of subjects from high tunnel production systems to regional food hub development. After a workshop on organic and high tunnel vegetable production, one extension agent wrote that the Southern SAWG training was worth a long distance trip: “The practical information was outstanding. I can speak much more fluently in high tunnel production now.”
We all win when these service providers are better equipped to help farmers who are working to become more sustainable. Based on follow-up with professionals who had participated in our recent organic and high tunnel vegetable production courses, we expect them to assist over 1200 farmers in the South over the next three years with information and tools from the training.
Southern SAWG is keen on convening and facilitating collaborative networks that accelerate the exchange of information and hasten the adoption of effective practices across our region. In the past year we were directly responsible for facilitating eight critical networks across the south. For example, Southern SAWG serves as the South Region Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network, providing resources and assistance to strengthen farm to school networks in five southern states. We bring people together who have similar interests, passions and goals to create fruitful partnerships. As one participant said: “All the ingredients are there – we just need to cook with them!”
Community Food Systems
From Farm-to-Institution to Food Hubs, Southern SAWG is working with our partners across the south to better understand and empower efforts to strengthen community food systems. In the past year, we provided forums for over 270 people to increase their understanding of the systems and infrastructure needed to move healthy food from sustainable farmers to local markets. For example, participants in our food hub learning network shared valuable lessons on how to develop regional food value chains and discussed issues that were holding them back from further success.
In addition Southern SAWG developed and delivered practical educational materials to support the priority needs of 214 community food activists and organizers. One food hub learning group participant wrote, “Thank you for leading such an important effort! I so appreciated being a part of this network, and have been using all the resources and info that I learned as we work on our own food hub project here in North Central Florida!” To get a sense of some of the materials we are putting together, click this link to see our Food Hub Starter Kit.
Food and Farm Policy
Public policies can boost efforts to build sustainable food and agriculture systems, or suppress them. That’s why Southern SAWG has always provided education for citizens in the South on key policy issues and strategies for getting grassroots input into decisions at federal, state and local levels. In the past year we re-established a Southern SAWG Policy Working Group as our primary avenue for this work, and facilitated policy workshops and discussions with a core group of people. Through these efforts 70 people developed a better understanding of policy issues and strategies for effective policy change. While this work has been woefully underfunded in recent years, we continue to leverage our resources by multiplying the impacts of others. For instance, we partnered with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to engage southerners in a national campaign to build support for National Farm to School legislation in 2014.