Johnny Morgan, Barnett, John W.
St. JOSEPH, La. – With more people looking for locally grown, fresh fruits and vegetables, the LSU AgCenter 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 currently 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 is an Internet-based direct marketing tool designed to put buyers and sellers of food items on the same page to help save time and energy, according to LSU AgCenter economist John Westra.
“MarketMaker serves as a central clearinghouse for commercial seafood products and other specialty crops,” Westra said. “So if you’re a buyer and you want blueberries, you can locate those growers.”
MarketMaker is now serving buyers and sellers in 18 states and the District of Columbia.
If you eat, you should be using MarketMaker “because you can find a whole host of different locally produced fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, herbs, honey, you name it,” Westra said.
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 this 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.
Additional information about the LSU AgCenter Small Farmer Program can be obtained by contacting Barnett at 318-323-2251.