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Seminar touts strategies to saving the family farm
By NANCY VORIS
Indiana Correspondent

CRAWFORDSVILLE, Ind. — In a time when nearly 75 percent of hog producers went out of business, Jim and LeeAnn Van Der Pol tightened their grip.

They neither wanted to get bigger nor get out.

But the Van Der Pols had an even bigger challenge. Their son and his family wanted to return to the family farm and work with them. Saving the family farm would require a new approach, new ideas and a new way of thinking.

They abandoned the conventional hog confinement method. Instead, the Van Der Pols adopted a farrow-to-finish system that uses a combination of deep-bedded straw in hoop houses and pasturing to produce nearly 2,000 hogs annually, none of which go to big processors.

All of their pork and pork products are sold under their own brand directly to consumers and restaurants.

The 320-acre farm now supports three generations of this Minnesota family, yet it has no conventional hog confinement facility. The Minnesota family will share their story at the Midwest Small Farm Conference on Feb. 11 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Crawfordsville, Ind.

“One family was struggling, and all of a sudden you have two families to support,” said Steve Bonney of Sustainable Earth, a sponsor of the event along with the Purdue University Extension office of Montgomery County. “How the Van Der Pols did it, that’s what we’re advocating.”

With an emphasis on natural or organic production, this conference provides information that prepares livestock and vegetable farmers to access the fastest-growing segment of the food sector.

“Organic and natural farming - that’s where the demand is,” Bonney said. “Anytime a farmer can sell direct to the public, there is a benefit.”

Conference topics include:

•Intensive Grazing, New Zealand Style
•Raising Heritage Turkeys
•Innovative Field-to-Market Processes for Small Produce Farms
•Financing Your New Farm Enterprise
•Selling to Inde-pendent Natural Food stores
•Grass Fed Beef from a Heritage Breed
•Farmers Working Cooperatively

Consumers also regularly attend this conference to become informed about food issues, Bonney said, so it serves as a good opportunity for farmer-consumer networking that can increase direct sales.

Doors open at 7:30 a.m., the conference begins at 8:30 a.m. and concludes at 4:45 p.m. An organic lunch is available, with meat and vegetarian options, for $8.

Registrations postmarked by Feb. 6 are $35 for individuals or $55 for family living in the same household. After Feb. 6, registration is an additional $10.

A brochure with registration form is available at www.sustainableearth.net, by e-mail at sustainableearth.steve@verizon.net or by phone at 765-463-9366. Sustainable Earth is a 501(c)3, not-for-profit organization committed to the development of sustainable farming systems and community food systems that support family farms. Projects include the Small Farm Development Project and the Indiana Directory of Organic and Natural Food.

This will be the 10th annual small farm conference.

This farm news was published in the February 1, 2006 issue of Farm World.

2/1/2006