Being an Extension vegetable specialist most of my career, I orchestrated many educational sessions for various winter meetings and trade shows. I organized educational meetings when I was employed at North Carolina State, Kansas State and at Penn State and developed many additional workshops and seminars for professional groups such as the American Society for Horticultural Science and the American Society for Plasticulture, both within and outside the U.S.
I’ve participated as an invited speaker at many of the meetings that I’m going to highlight below. I always enjoyed interacting and engaging with growers and industry folks and learning from them. I still believe that winter commodity meetings/trade shows should be viewed as opportunities for growers to learn about new research, advances in technology, be updated on the latest pest control strategies and the performance of new varieties, innovative marketing strategies and to socialize with fellow growers and learn from each other.
Younger members of the profession use to asked me “What makes a good winter commodity meeting and trade show?” First, you have to offer a top notch and diverse educational program addressing the latest issues impacting the horticultural community with presenters from both inside and outside the region. If you have good grower attendance, then the trade show will certainly flourish because the industry folks will want to be in attendance.
My longtime friend Dr. John Gerber, now at UMass, told me that the quality of the educational sessions and the size of the trade show continually feed off each other and all the great winter commodity meetings and trade shows follow this principle and have been very successful for many years. I know that many of the large regional meetings have a waiting list of companies wanting to participate in the trade show. Another principle is that organizers of the meetings need to allow sufficient time for the growers to visit the trade shows and that will always be greatly appreciated by the vendors.
You’ll see that some trade shows are only oriented to vegetables, or to both vegetable and fruit crops or a more diverse field of topics, including nursery crops, greenhouse flower crops, landscaping and Christmas trees – such the Illinois Specialty Crop Conference, Jan. 10 – 12, taking place in Springfield, IL.
Most of these additional crops mentioned above may have their own standalone meetings to serve the needs of the people growing those crops. Many winter meetings may also have additional activities before the meetings, such as bus tours or workshops on various topics – such as a daylong session on greenhouse production to really cover the topic. Others may be oriented toward a specific production philosophy, such as PASA’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference, virtual Jan. 17 – 19 or in person Feb. 8 – 11, in Lancaster, PA or Marbleseed’s Organic Farming Conference, Feb. 22 – 25 in LaCrosse, WI.
Others may be oriented toward a single crop, such as the North American Strawberry Growers Association Meeting and Conference, March 7 – 10, 2023 in San Luis Obispo, CA, or the National Watermelon Association Meeting, Feb. 22 – 26 in Asheville, NC.
Today, most large winter commodity meetings are regionally focused, whereas in the past each state had its own meeting. Some still do such as the Empire State Producers Expo, Feb. 6 – 7 in Syracuse, NY, and the New Jersey Ag Convention and Trade Show, Feb. 7 – 9 in Atlantic City, NJ.
The predominant winter meetings and trade shows are now regionally oriented, such as the annual Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo each December in Michigan. Three large meetings that I’m very familiar with are the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention, Jan. 31 – Feb. 2 in Hershey, PA, the Great Plains Growers Conference, Jan. 13 -1 4 in St. Joseph, MO, and the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference, which takes place each December in New Hampshire.
Almost all meetings have either printed proceedings available, including downloadable documents, or, more often these days, recorded videos of the sessions online and available for viewing.
You can see the number, diversity and location of winter meetings and trade shows dedicated to growers. In addition to those noted above, there are more statewide meetings available and opportunities to attend regional or even individual county meetings within a state put on by local Extension personnel.
I believe that there are tremendous opportunities for growers throughout the country to continue their education this winter and enjoy the company of fellow growers and vendors – and maybe do so in a warm and welcoming climate.
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