Murphysboro, Ill.- Each year, University of Illinois Extension Local Food Systems & Small Farms Educators Bronwyn Aly and Nathan Johanning look for ways to highlight new and innovative grower practices. Over the past five years, they have partnered with area farms to provide evening meetings to showcase and demonstrate diverse farming enterprises across the region.

The 2019 summer twilight series kicked off in May at Farmstead Foods/Double Star Farm in the Benton/Ewing area where participants learned about aggregation and distribution to wholesale markets, intensive vegetable production and managing food safety. The following month, Dixon Springs Agricultural Center played host to the event with Aly and Johanning fielding questions and sharing information on production and management practices for multiple crops in high tunnels. Dr. Wenjing Guan, Assistant Professor of Horticulture from Purdue University, also discussed her research on variety selection and grafting of cucumber transplants. In July, the series continued with a twilight meeting at Mileur Orchard in Murphysboro where participants were able to learn more about production and marketing of tree fruit in southern Illinois.

The final twilight meeting was held at the Jackson County Extension office in Murphysboro where they discussed high tunnel production of vegetables and cut flowers, no-till tomato production and variety selections, pumpkins, asparagus production and cover crops. NRCS Soil Conservationist Bryan Shupe was on hand to answer questions on the high tunnel cost share program, Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP). 

The unseasonably wet spring filled with heavy rains caused delayed planting and prevented planting across the region. As a result, the educators tried to include options for management to help growers work though any issues that may have come about because of delayed planting.

Aly and Johanning both love any applied research that can help improve the production practices or cropping options for the growers in the region. Recently, both Aly and Johanning were awarded Illinois Specialty Crop Block Grants to continue more applied research in the region. Aly’s project, “Utilizing High Tunnels to Maximize Winter Vegetable Production” evaluates different planting dates and production practices for carrot, spinach, lettuce, and kale production over winter utilizing the high tunnels at the Dixon Springs Ag Center. Johanning’s project, “Evaluation of Cover Crops & No-Till Practices for Fresh Market Tomatoes & Peppers,” supports research comparing different production practices in southern Illinois and also on campus farms in Urbana. 

Now that the summer series has come to an end, their main focus has shifted to planning the Illinois Specialty Crops Conference which will be held Jan. 8-10, in Springfield, Illinois. Commercial Agriculture Extension Educator Elizabeth Wahle is the lead coordinator for the event but both Aly and Johanning will lead workshop and program tracts. In February, growers will also have the opportunity to attend the Southern Illinois Fruit & Vegetable School in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.

No matter what time of year, growers can always find more information in the Illinois Fruit and Vegetable Newsletter. This publication, edited by Aly and Johanning, provides timely, research-based information that commercial fruit and vegetable growers can apply to benefit their farming operations. The newsletter can be accessed at:

University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment. If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in programming, contact your local registration office. Early requests are strongly encouraged to allow sufficient time for meeting your needs.

News sources:

Nathan Johanning, 618-687-1727,

Bronwyn Aly, 618-695-6060,

News writer: Heather Willis, 618-357-2126,