The 2004 Northern Piedmont Specialty Crops School will offer ideas on how growers can market their crops directly to consumers.

The school is set for Feb. 27, 2004 at the Person County Office Building, 304 S. Morgan St., Roxboro, N.C.

John Sedlock of Lynn Center, Ill., will explain how he got started growing asparagus in 1985 and how his farm has evolved into producing 20 acres as a direct-market crop.

Sedlock is the keynote speaker at the annual school, says Carl Cantaluppi, North Carolina State Extension horticulture agent in Granville and Person counties.

Involving the entire family in the operation, Sedlock has built a business that grows, harvests, promotes and processes asparagus.

Each year, Patty Sedlock hosts media, local dignitaries and restaurant chefs to sample different asparagus. The event creates media exposure and promotes the operation.

Daughter Mary Jean supervises the hiring of high school students at harvest. She also runs the farm store.

Son John Jr. is involved in all aspects of harvesting and preparation for sale.

John and his wife, Patty, make cocktail asparagus and asparagus jelly from some of the crop. John completed the USDA Better Process Control School in order to add value to his products.

“Growers in this region will be able to incorporate some of the Sedlock's innovative ideas into their operation,” Cantaluppi says.

John Whitmore is a return speaker from last year's specialty crops school. Located in the heart of suburbia outside Washington, D.C., Whitmore tailors his crops to a niche market.

The program will also feature a topic of growing interest of direct marketers. Growers have had success with Community Supported Agriculture in several states.

Last year, North Carolina launched a pilot project with the North Carolina Center for Environmental Farming Systems. Theresa Nartea is the program director.

Farmers involved in the pilot program this year sold produce to employees of RTI International in the Research Triangle Park.

A CSA is a mutual pledge of commitment between farmers and the community. Community members pay the farmer up front to help cover production costs and receive a weekly share of the harvest during the growing season. CSA members benefit from weekly delivery of seasonal produce and other farm products at a reasonable price. Farmers receive financial support that helps them stay in business.

William Brinkley, a Creedmor, N.C., vegetable grower, participated in the pilot project. He'll discuss the benefits of a CSA and talk about the possibility of on-farm sales in 2004.

The cost of the one-day school is $25 for the first person of the family or business and includes lunch and a copy of the proceedings. Additional members of the family or business can attend for $15.

Pre-registration is required to guarantee a seat and a meal.

For more information, contact Carl Cantaluppi at 919-603-1350 or e-mail at carl_cantaluppi@ncsu.edu.