Farming is a tough business, and beginning farmers need hands-on experience and mentoring before they can successfully take on a commercial operation. Finding that experience and mentoring can be a significant challenge, and it’s at the heart of why Rogue Farm Corps (RFC) was created. The Oregon-based nonprofit was founded in 2003 by first generation organic farmers in their twenties and thirties who themselves had been mentored and considered it critical to their success. They noticed that many older farmers were retiring without anyone to take over their businesses, while young, inexperienced farmers didn’t know how to get started in commercial farming. RFC’s Executive Director Stu O’Neill says the organization was born from the desire to give beginning farmers access to mentors and in-field training. (more…)
It’s the height of conference season, and I was delighted to travel this week to Oregon for the Organicology Conference, a three-day gathering of folks from all across the organic food chain in Portland, OR. The event seeks to bring all stakeholder groups to the table to not only develop skills in their own areas of activity but to gain exposure to the challenges and accomplishments of those in other areas of the organic movement. The great takeaway? There are many different opinions on what organic should look like, but the more united we become, the stronger our movement will be. And without supporting the next generation of organic farmers, the organic movement cannot continue!
Excited to meet the brilliant and innovative young farmers of the beaver state, I rented a car and started touring. I met with Leah and Nellie of Oregon’s FarmON!, a one-year old coalition of young and beginning farmers in the state and a proud affiliate of NYFC. I had a drink with Megan Fehrman of the Rogue Farm Corps which has a beginning farmer training program down in Ashland, OR and Dan Bravin from the Beginning Urban Farmer Apprenticeship (BUFA.) BUFA is a partnership between Multnomah County and Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Service and trains 20 urban farmers each year.
Rowan Steele, who co-owns Fiddlehead Farm with his wife Katie Coppoletta, is starting a brand new incubator program- Headwaters Farm Incubator- on land leased by the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. I joined in for a tour of the land, and was inspired by the excitement of the potential incubatees.
Danny Percich and his 16-month old daughter Ramona showed me around Full Plate Farm, their Winter CSA farm 30 min. north of Portland in Ridgefield, Wa. I was thrilled to eat delicious, fresh carrots in February. Danny is hoping to expand his operation by renting parcels of neighbors’ land.
Evan and Rachel of Boondockers Farm in Beavercreek, OR are pioneers in breeding rare heritage poultry. The breeds they focus on raising are listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. The couple told me about how conventional hatcheries often kill male babies when they’re not needed. They believe anyone raising pasture-based birds shouldn’t ignore the inhumane practices of the commercial hatchery! They also grow and sell heirloom seeds, breed heritage turkeys, and raise Great Pyrenees dogs to protect their flocks.
My last stop was Lonesome Whistle Farm down in Junction City, OR where Jeff and Kasey are working to preserve and promote rare and unique dry bean and grain varieties through a bean and grain CSA. Starting out as veggie farmers, Jeff and Kasey quickly taught themselves bean and grain growing, and are happy to be producing quality product not easily found locally. They grow: Dakota Black Popcorn, Red Fife Wheat Flour, Purple Harless Barley, Emmer Berries, a diverse array of heirloom beans, polenta, and more!
Farmers in Oregon are busy fighting plantings of Roundup Ready GM Canola in the Willamette Valley which threatens its lively organic seed industry. And GM sugarbeets are grown just up the road from Lonesome Whistle Farm. There’s certainly plenty to organize around here, but the state’s supportive policies and markets for local food make Oregon a great place to be a young farmer.
Only two slots remaining for the 2013 cohort of the Organic Farmer Training Program at the Michigan State University Student Organic Farm!
The Organic Farmer Training Program offers nine months of intensive instruction in year-round organic farming. The program focuses on diversified production of vegetables, livestock, flowers, fruits and herbs for local markets. Participants manage all aspects of a 14.5-acre certified organic farm, including passive solar greenhouses used for year-round production in cold climates. Participants also manage the Student Organic Farm’s (SOF) field and hoophouse production. Produce is grown for the farm’s primary markets, including a 48-week CSA, seven-month on-campus farm stand, and sales to campus dining services.
Participants develop competencies in farm skills and business planning through trainings and engagement in the daily operation of the farm. Hands-on training is combined with workshops, lectures, readings and assignments that build participants’ knowledge and understanding of organic farming principles and practices. The program is designed to give participants a strong background in production skills as well as the knowledge, management, and decision-making skills necessary to operate a diversified small farming business. Program participants who complete the program will earn a Certificate from MSU Student Organic Farm and MSU Department of Horticulture. Program tuition is $8600 for the year, but scholarships are available.
We don’t usually post farmer training program listings on the NYFC blog, but the the MSU program is one of the best in the country for beginning farmers to get the skills they need to start their own operations.
For more information: http://msuorganicfarm.org/organic-farmer-training-program
Ken Olson is the extension beef specialist at South Dakota State’s West River Agricultural Center. He came to South Dakota from Montana, where he grew up on a farm that ultimately wasn’t large enough to support both him and his brother. Though he teaches agricultural science for a living at SDSU, the highlight of his career has been his work developing an exciting rancher training program funded by the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers’ Development Program (BFRDP.) The program has allowed him to expand his reach to beginning ranchers with fledgling businesses who need more technical assistance and connections. The program, called BEEFSD, is a partnership between the SDSU extension and the South Dakota Farm Bureau. When the project received funding in 2010, 46 individuals representing 30 operations began a three year training program which includes classroom time, field trips to established ranches, guest speaker lectures, and networking opportunities.
The most satisfying aspect of the program for Ken is the creation of a close community among the cohort. “It’s a bright young bunch of people,” Ken says. “We have helped them establish a network among themselves and we are really promoting networking and learning from each other.” The education they receive is exponentially increased, as each rancher is quick to share new knowledge with the others. Ken explains, “…the time on the bus is almost as valuable as the trip because of all that networking.” The program also introduces participants to mid to late-life successful ranchers who have a lot of wisdom and experience to draw from. Through visits to their ranches and guest lectures, participants are given an opportunity to create a support network of experienced mentors.
Ken and his colleagues would love to continue the program with a new cohort of beginning ranchers, but without BFRDP funding the future of the program is bleak. BEEFSD even has some money left over from their 2010 grant, but because BFRDP funding doesn’t roll over after three years, the team needs to start from scratch. For Ken, it’s essential the program and funding for farmer training programs continue. “It doesn’t seem like a lot of people. But it’s 46 people whose futures have been positively impacted. If we can keep this thing going we can build on what we’ve started here. These 46 people are young, excited and motivated. They are active learners, they really energize me. They are going to be the future leaders of South Dakota.”
If you would like to help programs like BEEFSD succeed in the future, please help advocate for the BFRDP in the next Farm Bill. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, click here to join the call!
For those in the Oklahoma area, Holistic Management International (HMI) is offering this two day workshop on the Holistic Management® Whole Farm/Ranch Planning System. HMI describes the system as one that will help farmers, ranchers and land stewards better manage agricultural resources in order to reap sustainable environmental, economic, and social benefits. Participants will learn how this “triple bottom line” of benefits can be achieved by maximizing the management of current resources.
The program cost is $150 per person, $225 per couple and includes two lunches. Registration ends August 6th at noon EDT, so register now if you are interested.
Visit the event web site for more information and to register.
Rogue Farm Corps Farms Next internship program provides beginning farmers and ranchers entry-level training in sustainable agriculture. Through an innovative cooperative education program, Farms Next combines hands-on training, classroom learning and farm-based education on a diverse network of commercial family farms in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley.
Participants in the Farms Next internship program live and work full time on a host farm for an entire growing season, receiving ongoing instruction and learning in-depth skills unique to the host farmer’s operation. A companion classroom component, farm tours and discussion circles will broaden the experience and expose student interns to the vast array of knowledge and expertise in this farming community.
The Farms Next program is taking education out of the classroom and into the field. For the first time, these on-farm internships are available for credit at the Rogue Community College. This partnership may be the first of its kind in the country, and is providing academic and legal structure to hands-on training and mentorship with experienced farmers. The program maximizes field time, as this is the best way to learn how to farm and run a commercial agricultural enterprise.
In addition to the hands-on education and training, participants in the Farms Next program are offered a sense of community and social networking that is typically not available in many rural areas. Throughout the season, interns from around the Rogue Valley get together for potlucks, outdoor excursions, and other social gatherings, which lead to lasting friendships and a lot of fun. In the end, many view their time with Rogue Farm Corps as a life-changing experience, and not just a summer spent on the farm. For more information, or to fill out an application, visit www.roguefarmcorps.org.