Writer: Kevin Robinson-Avila
LAS CRUCES - Growers can learn how to earn organic certification and use alternative marketing techniques at a workshop Nov. 15-17 in Las Cruces.
The free event is co-sponsored by New Mexico State University and the New Mexico Organic Commodity Commission.
"Many growers want to try organic farming, but they don't know how to get started," said Connie Falk, an NMSU agricultural economist. "Others already use organic methods but they haven't been certified as organic growers. This is an opportunity to learn how to make the transition into organic production and to meet producers who are already doing it."
On the first day, participants will learn to navigate the certification process.
"The paperwork and requirements to get certification can intimidate growers," Falk said. "We'll try to make it less intimidating by walking people through the steps."
Participants will also learn how to keep records of growing practices and production materials, Falk said. "For certification, growers need to document everything they do, from the seeds they sow to the methods they use to build soil fertility," she said.
Joanie Quinn, education and marketing coordinator with the Organic Commodity Commission, will talk about marketing organic products, including how to work with retailers, build commercial relationships and maintain accounts.
Falk will discuss community supported agriculture (CSA), a direct marketing technique in which consumers pay growers in advance to receive fresh produce throughout the growing season. Falks supervises a student-run CSA on campus that provides produce for 60 people in Las Cruces
The first day concludes with a tour of a biocontrol lab, where NMSU entomologist Joe Ellington will discuss rearing beneficial insects and efforts to develop machines that identify, count and sort insects in fields.
The second day features tours of two organic farms in southern New Mexico, Falk said. In the morning, participants will visit the 750-acre Alvarez Farms in La Union, where Norma and Ramon Alvarez grow organic cotton, chile, alfalfa and pecans.
In the afternoon, participants will tour Del Valle Pecans, an organic farm run by Sally Harper near Las Cruces.
"Harper's pecan operation is so successful that demand exceeded supply this year," Falk said. "Harper had to turn buyers away."
The last day includes a harvest festival organized by students who grow and distribute food for the CSA project that Falk supervises. Students will distribute the final produce of the season to CSA members from 4 to 6 p.m. The festival includes crafts and live music.
The workshops and festival will take place at NMSU's Fabian Garcia Research Center, located on University Blvd. 1.5 miles west of campus. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 15. Workshops run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Farm tours will leave from Fabian Garcia at 8:30 a.m. on Nov. 16.
For more information, or if you are an individual with a disability in need of an auxiliary aid or service to participate, call Falk at (505) 646-4731.
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