ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) – On Thursday, the Sherrod Institute hosted its annual Farm Field Day where the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack gave a key address.

Every year, the event serves as a way to bring educational resources and opportunities to underserved farmers. According to the latest census of agriculture, sales of farm products contribute more than $13.2 billion to Georgia’s economy.

That’s why Vilsack said it’s important to continue providing resources to farmers in need.

“The reality is there’s a lot of ways in which you can be underserved,” Vilsack said. “You can be underserved because of color. You can be underserved because of your financial circumstances and condition. You can be underserved based on what you grow and what you raise in terms of people not being able to understand these specialty crops as well. The idea here is to make sure we’re providing services, programs, basically address the needs of all farmers not just a select few farmers.”

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture gave a keynote address at the Sherrod Institute’s annual Farmer Field Day.(walb)

The 2024 conference theme is Rebuilding Rural America Through Equitable Access to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Resources and is designed to connect underserved farmers and communities with the plethora of resources available within the USDA.

Shon Holsey, a Lee County farmer who got a one-on-one with Vilsack, says he still faces challenges as a farmer every day.

“Just getting the funding and then also getting the arena to actually sell to. We face a lot of those challenges,” Holsey said.

According to the Sherrod Institute’s database, they serve over 200 underserved farmers throughout South Georgia.

Shirley Sherrod, the executive director, said with her annual farm field day, she’s hoping to identify more farmers who may need her help.

“It’s just mind-boggling to me that we still run into farmers that don’t know they can get funding through a conservation plan,” she said. “This is one way to bring farmers together, to share with each other and to learn from each other and then expose them to people from the United States Department of Agriculture.”

Throughout a 14-county service area, the Sherrod Institute says Baker County has the most underserved farmers with 1 out of 10 left with limited resources. But with the help of USDA services like the Inflation Reduction Act, Vilsack said equity in agricultural communities can continue to advance.

The farm Field day also allows vendors to showcase their products.(walb)

“So it’s a combination of factors and a combination of actions that we’ve taken over the last three years, to send a different message and to write a different chapter about USDA,” he said.

More importantly, young farmers like Joshua Smith tell WALB that learning about today’s adversities in agriculture can help future farmers overcome them.

“Because you want to be able to not only sustain well but have it for where you have to get set up for your future too,” he said.

Sherrod said her passion for connecting underserved farmers to resources will continue on in the years to come.

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