By STEVE BINDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Just about everything from apples to zucchini will have a place at this year’s Illinois Specialty Crops, Agritourism and Organic Conference in the state’s capital Jan. 9-11, 2013.
“We have so many topics and interests that our groups represent. We’ve got more than 100 speakers this year and about 60 booths reserved at the trade show, so there will be something for just about everyone,” said Diane Handley, manager of the Illinois Specialty Growers Assoc.
Key deadlines to sign up for the conference are quickly approaching, Handley said, including a Dec. 18 deadline to reserve rooms at the event’s site, the Crowne Plaza Hotel & Convention Center, 3000 S. Dirksen Parkway.
“There is a special rate of $89 a night that’s still available, so when anyone calls they need to mention the conference in order to get that rate,” she said.
Pre-registration for the conference is due by Dec. 28 at a discounted rate. On-site registration is available after Dec. 28; lunch is included with fees each day for those who pre-register, but lunch can’t be guaranteed for those who register after Dec. 28.
As usual, the first day’s events are one-day workshops focusing on four key areas: high tunnels, cover crops, orchard establishment and fruit production and sweet corn. The cost for the workshops on Jan. 9 is $35 for association members and $45 for non-members.
The two-day conference and trade show is $65 for members and $75 for non-members by Dec. 28; the rate goes to $80 and $95 after Dec. 28. Handley said anyone interested in registering may do so at www.specialtygrowers.org or call 309-557-2107.
Each day of the conference features speakers addressing specific section topics such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, organics, agritourism and emerging issues such as social media and aquaponics.
“The one thing that is a bit different and new this year is the social media component,” said Handley, noting the hands-on portion of the Friday session is limited to the first 20 people who sign up. Laptops with wireless connectivity are recommended for the “Putting Your Farm on the Web” session, and participants are encouraged to bring digital images of their operation.
This year’s keynote speech, titled “A Family and a Farm,” is by farm wife and Prairie Farmer Associate Editor Holly Spangler, during Thursday night’s banquet, where winners of the 24th Annual Apple Cider Contest and 11th Annual Hard Cider Contest will also be announced.