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Adventures in agriculture

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FAMU Farm Fest spotlights high-tech tools for food production

By Robert Allen

Florida A&M University’s Cooperative Extension Program hosted the annual Farm Fest and Springtime Agri-Showcase on June 7 at the FAMU research and Extension Center on Bainbridge Highway in Quincy. 

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The event began at 7 a.m. with a 2K walk/run — but activities and exhibitions commenced around 9 a.m. The event included displays concerning crop growth, food processes, climate changes, new technology and more. 

“We like to showcase several of our management practices as they relate to crops,” said Alex Bolques, a county agent with the Gadsden County Extension. “The event is for both small farm producers, homeowners — but basically the general public.”

The county agent’s exhibit demonstrated two different hydroponic production systems along with various high tunnels — a specific type of protective growing structure. Bolques said the high tunnel functions as a type of greenhouse, extending a farmer’s growing season in the fall and accelerating a plant’s production in the spring. 

One of the hydroponic methods positioned plants in vertical towers, a system Bolques said farmers could use to grow a row of crops within about 2 square feet of land.

The other system — displayed on a tabletop—created a network of potted plants connected by a drip-irrigation system, which passed nutrient-supplemented water through the plants’ artificial medium via a closed circuit of pipes. Bolques said this method allowed the crops to grow more efficiently, unimpeded by any weeds. 

Bolques said both systems and structures are readily available for interested growers in Gadsden County. 

On the other side of the extension’s field of turnip greens, a group from the New North Florida Co-op in Marianna set up their mobile production unit for leafy greens while they also provided fresh-cooked samples of the product. 

“The best crop for us — and for the cultural makeup of Gadsden County — is your leafy green,” said Glyen Holmes of NNFC.

To better provide this locally demanded crop, Holmes said the mobile production unit allows the co-op to make more famers’ greens commercially available and allows small farmers to operate with greater on-site efficiency. 

“We grow produce, and we work with small farmers who grow produce to sell to the local school system,” said Holmes. 

Around the noon hour, a grilled lunch was served on the FAMU extension’s front lawn before the festival continued into the afternoon.