HONESDALE -- For more than 40 years, Wayne County Ag Day marked a highpoint in the farm community’s calendar, and, as it turned out, it was one of the last large-scale events to take place before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold last spring.
A long-standing President’s Day tradition, the annual gathering brings so many people together at a time when the often frenetic pace of life on the farm lulls. Once dubbed Dairy Day, the event transitioned to all sectors of the agricultural community in recent years, says organizer and Penn State Extension Educator Chelsea Hill.
Not only is it a chance for these small business owners to talk with vendors offering the latest products and technologies, she said, “Many farmers get a chance to network and start business relationships with other farmers.” She also said it has been drawing more backyard producers and those interested in local agriculture.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions make it impossible to host a 400-person event safely and with the same familiar sense of fellowship and community. “I don’t want to sacrifice the experience, but rather come back even stronger next year,” Hill said.
A significant portion of the Ag Day agenda focused on education, with speakers and experts addressing the hot topics of the day, but also providing certification opportunities and more. Although a virtual event is always is an option, Hill said Penn State has an enormous array of high-quality online resources, and the Extension Service presents the Starting and Improving Farms Conference, online from March 6 to 9.
Hill highlights some of the bright spots in the situation.Rather than the handful of topics she could address with speakers at Ag Day, the Starting & Improving Farms Conference offers nearly 50 individual programs in two tracks – new farmers and existing farmers. The $25 registration fee provides access to programs from How to Get Started in Agritourism and Land Access Options to sessions on pest control and diseases, financing and budgeting, and management and marketing.
Participants also have the option of attending the conference sessions live or watching the recordings later. “I’ve done it myself,” she said, noting in light of the current demands of virtual learning and work from home, this may present a particularly useful option.
Penn State Extension also supports a regular offering of 700 different online learning opportunities from workshops to online course to mail-in pesticide certification programs.
The COVID-19 Pandemic emphasized the importance of a strong and resilient local food system and Penn State Cooperative Extension functions as a key partner in the Wayne Tomorrow! Agriculture Task Force and its effort to strengthen and. support the agricultural community as a means of Economic Development.