Program to help market small-farm products

With more people looking for locally grown, fresh fruits and vegetables, the LSU Agricultural Center has begun a program to help small farms market their products more effectively.

John Barnett, a former county agent and regional director for the AgCenter, has accepted the part-time position as extension family farm specialist.

Barnett said he is getting the program up and running and has ideas to expand gradually to make the service available to all family farms in Louisiana.

“Currently we are covering everything north of Alexandria,” he said. “Our goal is to get more impact and outreach with these family farms.”

The targeted farms are smaller operations that are being run by retirees or others who work other jobs and supplement their incomes through farming, Barnett said.

“Many of these small operations are involved in vegetable and fruit production with crops such as blueberries, mayhaws and some even have small cattle operations,” he said.

Another part of the program looks for avenues to connect these people with consumers. Barnett said he is using the AgCenter’s MarketMaker program to put sellers in touch with buyers.

MarketMaker, an Internet-based direct marketing tool, “serves as a central clearinghouse for commercial seafood products and other specialty crops,” AgCenter economist John Westra said. “So if you’re a buyer and you want blueberries, you can locate those growers.”

MarketMaker is serving buyers and sellers in 18 states and the Washington, D.C.

In addition to providing small farmers with MarketMaker information, Barnett is making them aware of different agritourism opportunities.

“Agritourism is one of the ways that we are able to bring the urban dweller back into the countryside, and there is a lot of interest in that,” Barnett said.

The AgCenter is planning seminars and workshops to provide basic information for people interested in beginning a small-farm enterprise that will provide locally grown products.

Barnett is preparing a fruit, vegetable and nut growers conference for the fall to provide the latest information on production, marketing and other topics affecting these farming operations.

The program is still new, but Barnett said he is looking ahead for the type of programming that will be most helpful for this group of producers.