The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at the University of California, Santa Cruz is a nationally renowned training program for organic growers.
In addition to funding their important work, CASFS is also using Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program monies to share their best practices with farmers across the country. Their three year grant “Building a Foundation for New Farmers: Training, Resources, and Networks,” began in September of this year and has big goals. Namely:
• Expanding training opportunities within their Apprenticeship program, including increased access for socially disadvantaged and limited resource applicants;
• Revising and augmenting training materials for agricultural educators as well as providing them free online and at cost in print;
• Creating a Beginning Farmers network for the Central Coast region of California including farm mentoring, peer-to-peer connections, workshops, and social networking tools.
“The central coast is an incredibly rich place for organic farming,” explained Martha Brown, Senior Editor at CASFS. This regional success, however, does present a new set of obstacles for new and beginning farmers that the BFRDP grant hopes to address: opportunity visibility. “You have to sort of corral the opportunities together,” said Brown. Improvements to CASFS’s website, GrowaFarmer.org, will do just that by providing infrastructure such as a calendar of regional events and an online farmer’s forum. By helping CASFS craft the website as an information hub, BFRDP funds will benefit the entire region for years to come.
In addition to these online resources, the Center will be using BFRDP funds to promote interpersonal networks between mentors and new farmers using traditional and 21st century methods. The CASFS training manuals, “Teaching Direct Marketing and Small Farm Viability” and “Teaching Organic Farming and Gardening” which are designed to help others teach organic farming, gardening, and marketing skills, are to be expanded, made available free of charge online, and marketed to a national audience. These marketing techniques will rally social media, peer networks, and the website infrastructure.
Anne Eschenroeder, a CASFS alumna, says that her training there deeply influences her current work managing Phillies Bridge Farm Project, a nonprofit educational farm in the Hudson Valley. “Everything I do at Phillies Bridge is a direct result of my training there,” Eschenroeder stated. “You learn to read crops, read the land, and learn by doing, not just in a classroom.” The mix of hands-on training, classroom time, guest speakers, and peer networking made the training particularly effective, according to Eschenroeder. Of the center itself, Eschenroeder says, “it is an amazing place; the teachers are amazing, and it turns out great farmers.”
With BFRDP funding on the chopping block, now is a crucial time to tell congress to support the program in the new Farm Bill! “It is so little money for so much payback, it would be a tragedy for it to go away,” observed Brown. We can all do a part to ensure that this small portion of the Farm Bill stays designated for young farmers and ranchers. Please join the NYFC campaign to save the BFRDP!