Published on 02/02/17

Georgia Organics conference includes sessions from the industry's best

By Sharon Dowdy

More than 1,000 farmers, gardeners, health advocates and organic food lovers are expected to attend the 2017 Georgia Organics Conference and Expo. This year’s schedule includes farm tours, 10 in-depth workshops, 32 educational sessions, three daylong intensive workshops, two keynote addresses, one-on-one consulting sessions and a trade show.

Registration ends on Monday, Feb. 6, for this year’s conference. The two-day annual event, one of the largest sustainable agriculture expos in the South, is set for Feb. 17-18 at the Georgia International Convention Center in Atlanta. 

Matthew Raiford, executive chef and owner of The Farmer and The Larder in Brunswick, Georgia, will speak at Friday night’s expo reception. Raiford, known as a “chefarmer,” is a sixth-generation farmer at Gilliard Farms, a family-run organic farm.

New York Times best-selling author Barbara Brown Taylor will serve as the keynote speaker on Saturday night. Taylor and her husband, Ed, run Indian Ridge Organic Farm on the foothills of the Appalachians in Clarkesville, Georgia. She has written three award-winning memoirs about their life on the farm and has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, appeared on Oprah’s “SuperSoul Sunday” and often serves as a featured speaker at Emory, Duke, Princeton and Yale universities.

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

University of Georgia experts will be among the conference presenters. On Friday, the first day of the conference, Suzanne O’Connell will co-lead a workshop on how to use high tunnels to grow lettuce, broccoli and many other cool-season crops. Participants will learn which high-tunnel design works best in Georgia and how to avoid common mistakes. O’Connell, UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences assistant professor, teaches a course on protected- and controlled environment horticulture and conducts research on high-tunnel production.

UGA CAES organics expert Julia Gaskin’s session will focus on selecting and managing cover crops. Participants will learn how to choose the right cover crop combinations to meet specific goals through production-rotation scenarios.

Joan Fischer, director of UGA’s Didactic Program in Dietetics, will co-present a session on healthy eating and nutrition. She will discuss the health benefits a diet with a foundation in fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains. 

On Saturday, UGA specialists will lead educational sessions on organic seed varieties, managing squash diseases and pests, and the food history of the South.

Suzanne Stone, a doctoral student working in the UGA CAES organic breeding program, and Zach Matteen, a graduate student in the CAES plant pathology department, will present a session on the latest organic seed options from UGA researchers. Stone is developing a watermelon cultivar for organic growers. She started with a compact melon variety and has worked to select favorable traits.

UGA CAES plant pathologist Elizabeth Little and UGA graduate student Lindsay Davies will teach a session on how to manage squash bugs, diseases and other pests through variety selection, row covers, cover crops and beneficial insects. 

Terri Carter, a Cobb County UGA Cooperative Extension agent, will take participants on a virtual trip back in time to discover how the South’s past created what is now known as “Southern comfort food” and “soul food.” She’ll explain how the foods of the Native Americans, African-Americans and Europeans melded together to create the dishes for which this region of America is known.

For more on the conference and to register, go to

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

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