The University of Tennessee, in cooperation with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, launched a statewide organic agriculture initiative this past January. The Organic and Sustainable Crop Production program is geared to providing more income-producing options for strapped family farmers, along with more locally-grown organic products in a rapidly growing market where demand currently outstrips supply. And small-time growers and home gardeners are also invited to share in the knowledge; the benefits of growing without costly or damaging chemicals and selling produce to an avid market are open to everybody.
Some early successes for the new program:
- The UT Organic Crops Unit has 21 acres under cultivation at a spot off John Sevier Highway, with 14 acres of various organic vegetables and cover crops in plots that will eventually be certified organic. Typically, three years are necessary for an ordinary plot to transition to certified organic under USDA guidelines—the clock starts whenever the most recent forbidden substance was worked into a land parcel.
- The unit has also recently constructed three framed, unheated greenhouse-like structures covered in plastic. Also known as "high tunnels," they're intended to extend the growing season for certain crops.
- Dr. Annette Wszelaki, UT Extension commercial vegetable production specialist, coordinates a team of AgResearch and Extension professionals and graduate students working on the project. Information about ongoing research projects, upcoming workshops, Extension publications, events, and grower resources is at organics.tennessee.edu.
- The eOrganic community is also linked on the website, providing access to a national community of Extension professionals who coordinate information about U.S. organic agriculture production. It includes research and learning modules from land-grant universities and other national and regional experts.
- The 2009 Organic Crop Production Workshop Series, begun in February, still has four once-a-month Monday afternoon sessions left to complete, and booklets and materials from past sessions available for those who missed them. The workshops are also broadcast using ITV technology to Knoxville, Nashville, and Jackson. Remaining sessions include High Tunnel Production, Aug. 10; Identifying & Managing Diseases, Sept. 14; Putting It All Together: Developing an Organic Plan, Oct. 12; and Marketing Organic, Nov. 9. There is no fee for participating in the workshops, but registration is required by contacting Mary Rogers at (865) 974-0710 or mroger30(at)utk(dot)edu.