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UGA horticulturist among workshop presenters at annual Georgia Organics conference By Sharon Dowdy

University of Georgia horticulturist David Knauft will be among the organic agriculture experts presenting at the 2016 Georgia Organics Conference set for Feb. 26-27 in Columbus, Georgia.

Knauft will present a workshop on edible landscapes on Saturday, the second day of the event. He will teach attendees how to improve the quality of their soil, select the best varieties, the pros and cons of direct seeding and transplanting, and how to manage diseases, insects and weeds.

To be held in the Columbus Georgia Convention and Trade Center, this year’s Grits and Vigor – Georgia Organics conference will focus on the resilience of plants and soil under the care of sustainable farming practices in human communities. The two-day annual conference is one of the largest sustainable agriculture expos in the South.

More than 1,000 farmers, gardeners, health advocates and organic food lovers are expected to attend the annual conference. The conference includes seven farm tours, eight in-depth workshops, 36 educational sessions, a trade expo and a keynote address.

Friday, the first day of the conference, includes a choice of several farm tours in Georgia and Alabama as well as in-depth workshops. Saturday will feature additional workshops, divided into eight tracks of interest: farmer resources, in the field, taking care of business, livestock, farm-to-school tools, homegrown, recipes for resilience and community vigor.

The expo, held both days, will include a host of exhibitors and seed swapping. Attendees are encouraged to bring seeds in envelopes to participate in the seed swap.

Keynote speaker Joan Gussow, who pioneered the “eat local, think global” approach to sustainable food systems, will address conference attendees on Saturday evening.

An environmentalist, professor, food policy expert and gardener, Gussow is the co-author or editor of five books, including This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader.

Former chair of the Columbia University Teachers College, Nutrition Education Program, she lives, writes and grows organic vegetables on the west bank of the Hudson River. Gussow will talk about resilience in the soil and the good food movement.

The conference’s famous Farmers Feast, featuring local organically produced food, will follow Gussow’s talk on Saturday night. The Land Stewardship Award and the Barbara Petit Pollinator Award will also be presented Saturday night.

The Land Stewardship Award is given to a farmer, agricultural professional or researcher who has demonstrated a commitment to the tenets of organic agriculture and the larger community through leadership, education and outreach. Last year’s winner was UGA Cooperative Extension specialist Julia Gaskin, who coordinates and develops sustainable agriculture programs and workshops on topics such as local foods, farm to school, small-farm food safety, grass-fed ruminants, direct marketing of livestock products, soil quality and conservation tillage systems. 

The pollinator award acknowledges exceptional success in advancing Georgia Organics’ mission throughout community life, such as the food industry, faith communities, public agencies, schools and institutions. The award is named in memory of Barbara Petit, who was president of Georgia Organics from 2003-2009. Petit passed away in October of 2015, and this year’s conference is dedicated to her memory.

Conference workshops and sessions will also be presented by experts from Auburn University, Fort Valley State University, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the Georgia-Alabama Land Trust, the Georgia Farmers Market Association, Georgia Organics, North Carolina State University, Oxford College of Emory University, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and numerous organic farmers, chefs and businesses.

For more on the conference and how to register, go to www.conference.georgiaorganics.org.

(Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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