COLUMBIA — Honking ducks sounded above the chatter of the attendees at the Small Farm Trade Show and Conference.
In its 20th year, visitors mentioned that the show used to have a higher turnout.
"You would look down the aisles, and you couldn't see from one end to the other," event founder Ron Macher said about the first year the event was held.
Macher, who is the publisher and editor of "Small Farm Today" magazine, started the trade show in 1992. Attendance was "huge," Macher said.
He attributed the first show's popularity to the rural crisis of the 1980s — when farmers were forced off their land by the combination of low crop prices and large debt. Farmers were looking for innovations that could help them survive. They wanted to experiment with raising other sorts of livestock such as catfish and growing alternative crops.
Macher said farmers wanted to grow "anything besides corn, wheat and beans."
Since the show began, the small farming movement has picked up. Macher said there are now at least five small farm magazines and multiple trade shows in other states.
Macher's trade show has also evolved. He said the show focuses more on sustainability. This year's keynote address was given by John Ikerd, the author of a new book called "The Essentials of Economic Sustainability."
Liz Graznak, owner of certified-organic Happy Hollow Farm in Jamestown, said this year was the second time she has attended the trade show. Although the interest in sustainability and small farming is increasing, Graznak noted the show's attendance had diminished.
Farmers didn't have as many places to get information when Macher started the show, Mary Hendrickson, an associate professor of rural sociology at MU, said. Now that trade shows are in multiple states and the recession has increased the cost of travel, farmers have less of an incentive to attend.
This year's show features more than 150 vendors and 55 talks The show runs 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday at the Central Missouri Event Center, Home of the Boone County Fair. Daily admission is $10. Short courses cost $35.
Supervising editor is Emilie Stigliani.