Farming is not for everyone, but everyone needs farmers.
In order to build the next generation of motivated and prepared farmers in East Tennessee, area agricultural partners have worked together to create an educational series, called The Field School, which is launching its third year in November.
The Field School is a nine month program that will begin November 9th, with monthly courses tailored to provide farmers with up-to-date information about the latest innovations and aspects of the regional environment like soil, markets, regulations, and resources. Registration is now open: see www.ARCD.org/field-school for program details.
Lead organizations are the Appalachian RC&D Council, Jonesborough Locally Grown, and Green Earth Connection, with technical support from UT Extension, local NRCS-Soil Conservation offices and Appalachian Sustainable Development. Major grant funding is provided by USDA through Appalachian Sustainable Development, Appalachian Regional Commission, and Tennessee Department of Agriculture.
More than 20 mentor farmers and business experts will be involved in the educational series.
“The Field School is the right step towards training knowledgeable and prepared agricultural entrepreneurs for East Tennessee,” said ARC&D Council Executive Director Emily Bidgood. “The average age of a farmer in our region is 60 years old. Who will grow our food and manage our lands 20 years from now?”
“This is the third year for the program,” says Bidgood. “And we are excited to be offering two tracks of workshops for beginning farmers, focused on produce and small livestock.”
Bidgood says that over the last two years, close to 60 students have gone through the program, with around a dozen of them now working as part-time or full-time farmers. The program will be accepting applications for up to 35 new students for the 2017-18 year.
The program is especially seeking growers with one year of experience but those who still work full time away from the farm. It also targets farmers who are ready to take their passion to the next level by completing a business plan at the end of the series. ARC&D is also interested in recruiting veterans and anyone historically underserved by government programs who now qualify for special grants and cost-share incentives.
“I joined the Field School just to research and learn. But I was so inspired that I jumped right in with growing vegetables for the farmers market on a half-acre,” said Field School student, Susan McKinney, owner of Small Batch Farm in Gray, TN.
General class topics include business planning, finances, marketing, wholesale and retail sales, value added products, and agri-tourism. Students can also pick one of two production tracks: produce or small livestock. Each will have four workshops focused on more detailed production methods, like crop planning and season extension or introductions to poultry, small ruminants, and bees.
“I’ve been farming for 20 years and I wasn’t sure I would learn much, but I really did learn a lot. We changed our plans after going through the Field School and doing more research. We plan to go the agritourism route to educate people about honey bees and sell real local honey,” said student Jay Heselschwerdt, owner of Sweet Life Farm in Tazewell, TN.
The workshops will run monthly from November to July, with a detailed schedule to be found on www.arcd.org/field-school. In August, students will work one-on-one finalizing an integrative whole farm financial, production and marketing plan. Graduation is set for Aug. 9.
The tuition is $75 for students taking a single track of 9 workshops. For $100, students can take both tracks for a total of 13 workshops. A limited number of scholarships are available for veterans.