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…)
We’re excited to publish a new Farmer Profile of an inspiring beginning farmer every few weeks on the NYFC blog to help showcase the breadth and vision of the next generation of agricultural leaders.
I’m Courtney Leeds, cofounder & director of Schoolyard Farms, a one acre urban farm in the schoolyard of Candy Lane Elementary in Milwaukie, OR.
Goat Song Farm is an integrated livestock farm that sits on only slightly more than 1 acre of land, but the centerpiece to everything is the dairy. I run a raw milk herdshare program with both dairy cows and dairy goats, and while I have been doing this with the goats for 3 years, this will be my first full year with cows. My herd numbers this year are currently nine goats that will be milking, and at the moment I have one Jersey cow, one Jersey/Guernsey heifer, and the hope of acquiring one more milking cow by summertime.
To some, it may sound like madness to have this many animals on roughly 1 acre of pasture; the secret to success though, is intensive rotational grazing. And while I can make no claim to be an expert on doing this, it has worked so far, and I think this year will be the ultimate test. I currently have 20-25 herdshare members, and hope to increase to 40-50 before the year is over.
I started dairying six years ago, just providing raw milk for my family. Dairying quickly became a passion, and in 2011 I began offering raw goat milk to local consumers. The learning curve has been steep, but the joy of doing this has kept me going and made me want to take the next step in adding cows. In 2012 I became a member of the Oregon Raw Milk Producers Association, and am working on not only building a proper, Grade A dairy parlor, but also beginning to test my raw milk on a monthly basis, and striving to produce the cleanest, healthiest raw milk for people.
In 2012 I had the rare opportunity to visit Joel Salatin’s extremely well known Polyface Farm, and stayed with the Salatin family for four days, experiencing a crash course in how they run their enormously successful farm. My knowledge learned from that trip has fueled a fire in me to farm in a way that heals my land, my animals, and my customers, and I will be heavily implementing many of Joel’s methods on my farm this year to benefit the dairy operation.
Some 2013 goals this year are building the dairy parlor, acquiring a third cow, re-mineralizing the pastures in an organic manner, rotating the grazing grounds in the most intensive manner yet, and I suppose “trying to stay sane” might be considered a goal, seeing as I run the farm by myself… At any rate, it should be a grand year filled with adventures.
You can read more about my farm by visiting my website at: http://goatsongfarm.weebly.com/index.html
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.
Tell me a little bit about your farm.
Sidewalk’s End Farm is located in the city of Portland, Oregon. We farm five city plots and one large rural one, focusing on northwestern hardy, late season, and storage crops. The farm was started by four people–Holly, Jud, Rachel, and Tom–who lived and gardened together for three years until we decided to make our large gardens pay for themselves by selling CSA shares. Things grew quickly, and now, in our second season, we are growing for a 20-member CSA and two farmers’ markets, as well as cultivating barter and work-trade relationships. We borrow backyards and empty lots and trade produce to our generous land-lenders.
What difficulties have you had, or are you overcoming, and how?
In our first season the major challenge was figuring out how to operate as a small business. Even though we all had extensive agricultural experience, the business end of things was a serious seat-of-the-pants endeavor and major learning experience. We would have done well to reach out more to other farmers and small business owners in search of advice and mentorship. But our lack of business savvy has perhaps allowed us to be more creative and include aspects of barter, work-trade, and shared reciprocity into our farm.
Our other primary obstacle–both for getting by and being good farmers–is trying to run a small, economically viable farm in the city, where we pay city rent and cannot live on our land, have city water rates, have limited access to land, and are compromised by jobs, transportation, and the logistics of keeping multiple plots with different conditions and crops in mind.
What are your goals in the next 5-10 years?
We are working hard to find a piece of land where we can expand our growing area and be a community presence beyond just growing and selling produce. We want enough space to have animals, on a small scale, and expand our grain production and dry bean production. We also want to be able to use the piece of land we find to offer space for workshops and education, and host meetings and events for other groups and projects here in town, like Right 2 Survive, a radical houseless group. Ultimately, we are interested in more ways to make the farm part of a fiercer, more resilient force counter to conventional land ownership, inaccessible food, and contemporary capitalism.
What advice do you have for other young farmers who are just starting out?
Work for and learn as much as you can from other people. Do apprenticeships and internships for at least a few years to make sure you actually like it.
Educate yourself about the realities of farming, national and local farm policy, and what people in your area want and need. Decide what you are able to do, what parts of policy you want to comply with and want to ignore. Learn where you live and farm and try to figure out what will make the most sense for where you are.
Consider that unless you are already wealthy, you will certainly be real poor for at least a few years. Get okay with being poor. Save your money.
Figure that you might have to start, quit, start over, try something different before you really get your farm going.
How (if at all) do you see your work as a farmer fitting into the larger movement for social change from the ground up?
Our food economy alone has a long ways to go. As farmers we get our hands dirty every day with these questions, and maybe by continuing to farm we can figure out some answers. Since we’re in the city, I think we can play an interesting part in building stronger bridges between urban and rural areas. We are also really excited about the possibilities of extending our farm beyond specifically agricultural and food-related concerns, which is part of our long-term vision. We can, and have, learned a lot from non-farm organizing, counter-economies, and forms of support, and hopefully this can be huge for our ability to seriously impact the limited availability of wholesome food in our area–not just for us, but other small food producers as well.