FROM STAFF REPORTS
GRAND RAPIDS — Registration is open for the 2012 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo, coming up Dec. 4-6 in Grand Rapids.
The Expo is one of the largest gatherings of fruit and vegetable producers in the United States, with more than 4,000 people attending in 2011.
"It's probably the Midwest's premier place to learn about specialty crops," said Nikki Rothwell, Michigan State University district horticulturist and coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center. "We get lots of people from the state and we actually pull out of Canada and adjacent Midwest states that grow specialty crops."
Billed as an educational opportunity for fruit and vegetable growers as well as producers interested in direct marketing, the Expo is being held at the DeVos Place Convention Center and the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.
The 2012 agenda features 71 educational sessions relating to fruit and vegetable production, including techniques, greenhouse and other season-extension tools, food safety, farm marketing ideas and issues and organic production tips.
A new session this year will explore how farm-to-school can be a successful business venture from a farmer's perspective. It will cover pricing, packaging and marketing techniques as well as delivery systems.
Rothwell is responsible for planning programming on tart and sweet cherries.
as well as hard cider.
"In the tart cherry sessions, we're going to be talking about Spotted Wing Drosophila, which is a new invasive pest and something growers are concerned about because I think the populations are growing," Rothwell said. "In sweet cherries, we're going to be talking a lot about bacterial canker, which was our number one problem in sweet cherries this year because of the cold wet spring. There will be multiple talks on that."
Interest in hard cider programming continues to grow, she said. This year, Greg Hall of Chicago's Goose Island Beer Company will give a presentation on hard cider at the Expo.
Two separate day-long bus tours are offered in southwest Michigan, too. One is designed for farm marketers with the other focusing on greenhouse management.
Along with a trade show with 380 exhibitors covering four acres of exhibit space, the Expo will also feature a "Meet the Buyers" reception that will connect farmers with institutional food buyers and distribution companies. This is a networking opportunity that gives farmers a chance to sign up as vendors to promote their products as well as for buyers interested in purchasing local food to connect with a wide variety of growers. There is no additional cost for attendees to participate in this reception.
"I think for me and for a lot of farmers, it combines a lot of things — educational sessions, the trade show — and offers growers a way to get together in a different way, out of our region," Rothwell said. "And a lot of the spouses come, so they have dinner and get more to the social side of farming, which growers don't often get to do by themselves.
"We usually get an excellent turnout from Northwest Michigan."
Registration for the Expo is $70 per person if paid before Nov. 15. Visit www.glexpo.com to register online. Call 734-677-0503 or email efontana@ManagedByAMR.com with questions.
For more information on the Meet the Buyers reception, contact Tom Kalchik, associate director of the Michigan State University Product Center, at 517-432-8752.
The Great Lakes Expo is sponsored by the Michigan State Horticultural Society and the Michigan Vegetable Council in cooperation with Michigan State University Extension. Additional supporters include the Michigan Greenhouse Growers, Metro Detroit Flower Growers Association and the Western Michigan Greenhouse Association.