The demand for locally grown produce is increasing, and more farmers are needed to meet the demand.

Growers are invited to attend either of two meetings to learn how they can expand their markets, diversify their crops and increase their profitability with a focus on organic crops for wholesale and direct markets.

The meetings, sponsored by University of Tennessee Extension and Appalachian Sustainable Development, will take place Thursday, Feb. 17, in Johnson City, and again on Thursday, Feb. 24 on the UT agricultural campus in Knoxville. Both meetings begin at 7 p.m. and are co-sponsored by Rural Resources and CAFÉ.

The Feb. 17 meeting in Johnson City is at the First Tennessee Development District office in Johnson City, 2311 North Roan Street. (This is a round, brick building.) The Feb. 24 meeting will be on the UT agricultural campus in the Plant Biotech Building, Room 410. The address is 2505 Chapman Dr., Knoxville, Tenn. More information will soon be available online at http://organics.tennessee.edu.

Whether you are new to farming, transitioning from tobacco or an experienced vegetable grower, you will learn about the UT Organic and Sustainable Crop Production Program and the training and technical assistance it offers. In addition, information on the resources available to growers from Appalachian Harvest, Rural Resources, CAFE and others in the region that provide large, secure markets for a wide range of vegetable and fruit crops, including organic, will be available.

Additional topics to be covered include growing for both wholesale and direct markets, from a farmer’s perspective, and resources available to help growers meet food safety and organic growing requirements.

In 2007, the University of Tennessee, in cooperation with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, launched a statewide organic agriculture initiative. The intent of this initiative is to involve more Tennessee farmers in organic production to increase farm income and to provide an alternative to keep the family farm in the family. Organic production has the potential to increase profits by reducing the use of off-farm inputs and providing consumers with locally-grown, high-quality organic products in a rapidly growing market where the demand is greater than the supply.

Over the past 10 years, Appalachian Harvest has built partnerships with Ingles, Earth Fare and other major supermarkets, while Rural Resources and CAFÉ have developed markets in schools, restaurants and other local institutions. These buyers, along with local farmers markets, want more local foods. Annette Wszelaki, UT Extension vegetable specialist, says more farmers are needed to meet this demand. She invites all interested growers to attend a meeting on either Feb. 17or Feb. 24 to learn more about these opportunities.