Alternative Growers Group

Sandy Grove, president of the Alternative Growers Group, used to sell flowers grown on her small acreage at area farmers markets. Now she primarily sells on the Nebraska Food Co-op website.

Residents of big cities like Omaha choose to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and settle down on a small acreage in the wide-open spaces of Washington County.

But then what?

That’s where the Alternative Growers Group (AGG) comes in.

The group, started in 2004 by then-Washington County Extension officer Jim Peterson, offers education to help people that are small acreage owners to know what to do with their land.

“They come out from the city and they get 5 to 10 acres and make it a lawn,” said Sandy Grove, president of the AGG. “It was more of ‘OK. What can you do with it?’”

The group also encourages some of the bigger farmers who grow corn, soybeans and other typical Nebraska crops, to diversify into others such as pumpkins, tomatoes, green peppers or onions.

“A lot of it was also to encourage people to see where your food comes from locally,” Grove said.

Grove and her husband, Jerry, got involved in the group to learn and share with others.

“We had been gardening for years, but we had always gone up to the Extension or called up to the Extension to get help when we had questions,” Grove said. “So when Jim Peterson started talking about this, we thought this would be kind of interesting to really be able to go out — and from what we’ve learned — we can give some of our knowledge to other people who are coming in and helping them.”

AGG now has around 25 members that meet the first Thursday of the month, often at Too Far North in Fort Calhoun. They offer different educational information at each meeting. In March, Grove said, the group will talk about starting your own plants from seeds.

In the summer months, the group will often tour different farms or acreages to see what others are doing.

“You can hear about it, but when you actually get to see it, it makes a difference,” Grove said.

In January, the AGG held its first Small Acreage Conference in Fort Calhoun. More than 90 people attended the first conference. The event featured several speakers including members of the group talking about their various endeavors, including beekeeping, pastured pork and high tunnels.

“We had a panel discussion about ‘OK. I came out here, now what do I do?’ acreage survival,” Grove said. “That panel discussion went over really well. We had several people that were on the panel that some of us have been out here 30 years, some of us have only been out here two to three years.”

Another conference is planned for January.

The Groves grow flowers on their acreage near Fort Calhoun. For years, Sandy sold bouquets of gladiolus and zinnias at the farmers market.

“Whatever blooms at that period of time,” Sandy said, adding she was planting around 1,500 gladiolus in a season.

Now she only sells on the Nebraska Food Co-op, a networking website of producers and consumers. The producers list their products on the site, nebraskafood.org, and customers can order directly from the producers.

Many of the members of the AGG also sell on the site. The AGG allows members to try the Nebraska Food Co-op through its membership rather than buying their own.

Anyone interested in joining the AGG can contact Grove at 402-4268-5598 or the group’s treasurer, Al Bilau, at 402-426-4087.

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