GLEXPO offerings for small and beginning farmers

The Great Lakes EXPO returns to Grand Rapids, MI in 2021 for three days of educational sessions and workshops for the specialty crop industry.

Vegetables being carried in produce box.
Photo courtesy of

The Great Lakes EXPO (GLEXPO) returns to Grand Rapids, MI December 7-9 in 2021 for three days of educational sessions and workshops for the specialty crop industry. The EXPO draws attendees from all over the United States and Canada and offers networking opportunities to meet and learn from other farmers and industry experts. Michigan State University (MSU) Extension supports the development of a wide range of educational programming at GLEXPO, including  a number of sessions that may be of particular interest to small farmers and beginning farmers, featuring several presentations by Michael Kilpatrick from Growing Farmers, host of the Thriving Farmer Podcast. Below is a curated list of sessions for small and beginning farmers. More information and registration details can be found at:

Tuesday, December 7 Sessions

9:00 - 11:00 AM

Farm Marketing 1

This session will kick off the Farm Marketing track with a welcome and update from the Michigan Agritourism Association, a testimonial from Blake Farms and a keynote presentation by Michael Kilpatrick of Growing Farmers. Michael Kilpatrick will speak on “Thriving with the Farm Market.”

What does it take to make your farm market a success? Three main things: driving the right customers to visit, building the right agritourism events that bring the right customers, and knowing your financial numbers. In this presentation keynote, Michael will share from his own experience with markets, and share principles and techniques to grow your market and build the business you want. You’ll leave inspired to keep going, confident you know what to add next year, and armed with tricks to grow your business.

Beginning Farmer 1

Beginning Farmer Meet and Greet and Trade Show Visit for Beginning Farmers with Vicki Morrone from Michigan State University. Beginning farmers are invited to meet one another and ag resource persons. Meet, talk, discuss then join us for a tour focused on supplies and equipment relevant to many beginning farmers.

MDARD/FSA/Rural Development

Amy Bearss from the MI Dept. of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) will present tips on preparing and applying for grants. David Russ and Savannah Halleaux from USDA Farm Service Agency will cover how to “Put USDA to Work for Your Farm” through grants, cost shares and payments. Lisa Epple, Bobbie Morrison and Donald Mulson from USDA Rural Development will go over USDA Rural Development Guaranteed Loan and Grant Programs for agricultural producers and small businesses.


This roundtable of seven seed companies and two buyers will focus on the future of tomatoes and peppers. 


This session kicks off with a 30 minute “Chestnut Production Basics” talk by Erin Lizotte and Rob Sirrine from MSU Extension.

2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Beginning Organic

New Organic farmers will learn tips for “Getting Started with Enviroweather: Weather Information for Beginning Farmers,” presented by Keith Mason from Michigan State University. Retired MSU Extension Educator Mark Longstroth will cover opportunities for farms and food outreach organizations to partner on food bank produce boxes. And Donna Brandt from the University of Missouri will talk about soil testing for an improved soil health plan. 

Organic Marketing

In this session, David Coveyou from Coveyou Scenic farm will discuss how the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) funding can sell your product and address food insecurity. Aliza Ghaffari from Magnolia Farm will also speak about collaborative marketing options in urban farming.


This session includes a 40-minute talk titled “Vines to Wines: What does it Take,” which will be presented by Gary Pavils from Rutgers University.

4:00 PM - 5:30 PM

How to Market Your Farm Using Web-based Tools to Find Your Ideal Customer

Michael Kilpatrick returns for a workshop highlighting online tools to find customers and grow your business and profits. Discover listing services to list where people are actually searching for you, simple Facebook strategies that get you talking to your ideal customer, how to take great photos and use them to boost your marketing and how to simplify your message and create a one-liner that resonates with your customers.

Wednesday, December 8 Sessions

9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

Beginning Farmer 2

MSU Extension’s Jon LaPorte will present “Farm Budgets - Planning Now For Profits.” Katie Brandt from the MSU Student Organic Farm will discuss a new beginning farmer resource map and mentorship programs for beginning farmers. Andre Cantelmo from Heron Pond farm will cover how to choose vegetable varieties for success. 

Labor 1

Michael Kilpatrick will share tips and best practices for developing and supporting a productive workforce. Carlton Pilger from Fisher/Phillips will discuss health care options for employers and employees. And Craig Anderson from Michigan Farm Bureau will present “Employer Assisted Housing Under Contemporary Views.”

Vine Crops

This session kicks off with Ben Phillips from MSU Extension presenting Vine Crops 101.

2:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Ag Consumer Insights

Michael Kilpatrick will present on how to evaluate the feasibility of direct sales. This will be followed by Trey Malone from MSU’s talk “So You Want to Sell Direct to Consumers.”

Greens and Herbs

This session will include a one hour “how to” type talk on hydroponic specialty greens and herbs from Chris Currey at Iowa State, and another 30 minute presentation that is a crash course for microgreens production from Brian Bates at Bear Creek Organic Farm.

Farm Marketing 4

Unique U-picks will feature a panel of growers sharing fresh ideas for the U-pick mode, including Lonnie Decker from Blake Farms and Terry Hooper from Hooper’s Farm Gardens.

Thursday, December 9 Sessions

9:00 AM - 11:00 AM

Farm Management

MDARD’s Emily Hollingsworth and Joe Smith will address grower concerns around the Food Safety Modernization Act and its enforcement in their presentation “FSMA Produce Safety Rule. Fact or Fiction. Real Questions. Real Answers.”

Mechanical Cultivation

This session will feature a panel of farmers discussing weed control tools for various scales, including small scale. 

Organic Vegetable Production 

Donna Brandt from University of Missouri will help growers understand soil tests in the context of organic farming and Andre Cantelmo from Heron Pond Farm will discuss weed management and “ah-hah” moments for better farm management. 

Managing Fruit Production in a Changing Climate

Jeff Andersen from MSU will present “Short and Long Term Strategies for Climate Resilient Fruit Production (Pests, Diseases, Physiology).” 

This list is just a small sample of the great sessions that will be offered at this year’s Great Lakes Fruit and Vegetable Expo. More information on sessions for farmers of many crops, systems and experience levels can be found at

Did you find this article useful?