Southern SAWG Hosts Arkansas Networking Meeting

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By Keith Richards

It isn’t even summer yet, but program planning is already underway for the 2020 Southern SAWG conference that will take place on January 22–25 in Little Rock. Ideas are gathered year round, but June–August is when we actually develop the next year’s program.

One key piece of our conference development is making sure that our event helps support the needs of the host state. This year we held a networking meeting for some of the sustainable agriculture leaders in our host state of Arkansas. On June 17, Southern SAWG board members Liz Young and John Patrick along with staff members Tavia Benjamin and Keith Richards met with some farmers and organizational folks at the Heifer Ranch near Perryville, AR. Besides getting treated to a farm tour and an excellent lunch, the group discussed what is needed to move sustainable agriculture and food systems forward in the state.

 
 

Some immediate ideas for educational sessions were generated that will get incorporated into our 2020 conference. We heard a need for more farm business and finance sessions, as well as more on livestock and consumer education. We also heard that our beginning farmer sessions were hitting the mark, but we need to amp up our offerings for more experienced farmers.

The meeting wasn’t all about the Southern SAWG conference though. There are other barriers and opportunities to sustainable ag in Arkansas that can’t fully be addressed at our event. So, the group also formed some working committees to take steps on issues such as the lack of coherent, supportive health regulations for farmers who add value to their products or just want to give out samples at farmers markets. We also discussed lack of livestock processing facilities that meet the needs of farmers who sell in-state, and how to remedy that.

As we move the conference from state to state, Southern SAWG strives to be the kind of guest that gives back, leaving local initiatives and organizations stronger because of our presence. This isn’t always easy, but we’re working on ways to get better as we spend another year in Arkansas and then look ahead to partnering with another state in 2021.

Thanks to the staff at Heifer Ranch for hosting this networking meeting and to all the leaders who participated.

If anyone in our region has an idea for a conference session, please send it to us through the form on our website.

Shari Hawley