ORANGE COUNTY – Farming enthusiasts are gearing up for the 16th Annual Orange County Agricultural Summit happening Tuesday, Feb. 25, at the Maple View Agricultural Educational Center.

Gail Hughes, Soil Conservationist of the Orange Soil & Water Conservation District, joined WCHL’s Aaron Keck on the Afternoon News last week to talk about the free event. She explained it was created to raise awareness about the agriculture initiatives happening in our area.

“It’ll be providing information to producers that help make the public and the markets more knowledgeable. [It also gives them a chance] to learn what the restaurants use from the farms, what they sell at the farmers’ markets, and what are the news laws that are affecting agriculture overall,” Hughes said.

Check-in for the Summit begins at 8:00 a.m., and the main activities run from 8:30 a.m. till about 1:00 p.m. Lunch is provided, free of cost.

Attendees can also enjoy a wagon-ride tour of Maple View Farms.

“When encourage agriculture producers, both large and small [to attend],” Hughes said. “Of course consumers can come also. Business owners, such as restaurant owners, who maybe want to connect to local farmers [can attend]. Anyone who is interested in local agricultural products, or just agriculture in general is welcome to come.”

Hughes said typically about a hundred people attend the Summit each year.

She added that there is a misconception that only a small number of agricultural operations are happening locally.

“There are still very large farms here. We have a lot of dairy here. When I say large agricultural producers, I mean ones that produce corn, grain and wheat. Then we have a lot of new producers coming into the County that are growing more locally, things like vegetables, strawberries and other fruit crops. They are selling those at a lot of your local markets. It is a large economic boost to Orange County.”

The main topic this year focuses on agricultural financial assistance, with information provided on cost-share programs, and changes to tax exemption laws, land uses taxes and possible zoning changes proposed for Orange County. Expanding agricultural markets and farm labor laws is also going to be covered.

Experts on these topics are conducting panel discussions, followed by a question and answer sessions.

Pre-registration is required for the 16th Annual Orange County Agricultural Summit by Feb. 18. To do so, you can call the Orange County Cooperative Extension Office at 919.245.2050.