Field School

At Joe Couch's Farm/Nursery/Hydroponics, December 2015

At Joe Couch’s Farm/Nursery/Hydroponics, December 2015


The Field School 2017-2018 has reached full capacity and we are no longer accepting applications!

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Due to overwhelming demand, we’re closing the application for the Field School for this year.  We do offer a number of other workshop opportunities throughout the year, so please consider signing up for our Email Notifications in the link above.  You’ll be kept informed of opportunities and will also be the first to know when our application for Field School opens again in 2018!  September 2018 we will announce open applications and the program begins early November 2018. If you have any questions, please email Lexy Close, Farmer Services Coordinator at

The Field School: A Beginning Farmer Training Program

Field School students sitting in the bed of a pick up truck

Students on a Truck Tour of Myers Family Farm in 2017

The Field School is a monthly series of workshops (November 2017 through August 2018) that provides you with an overview of small-scale farming in East Tennessee’s mountains and valleys, taught by 20+ farmers and agricultural professionals. It is arranged by the Appalachian RC&D Council, Green Earth Connection, and many area partners with major support from USDA. Pre-Registration is required.

Field School students attend classroom and on-farm sessions to build the knowledge, networks, and confidence for planning out a farm operation to fit their land and business needs.

After two successful years of running the Field School, we are pleased to announce that we are expanding the session options to include two Tracks!  Students can choose from either Produce or Small Livestock and deep dive into specific farm operations and production methods!  Can’t decide which track to take or want to attend them all?  You can sign up for the Dual Track option and attend all 13 sessions being offered!

Field School Students Can:

  • Tap into the knowledge of seasoned farmers and Ag professionals from across the region.
  • Meet like minded people who also want to take their passion for farming to the next level.
  • Learn how to connect with the local food scene, with government resources, with new ideas, with markets for farm products, with proper laws and legal guidance.
  • Experience different farming styles and see behind the scenes on area farms through field visits and classroom presentations taught by “real” (this makes us smile) farmers, including several full-time farmers.

Want to read first hand account of a Field School student? Field School students blogged about last year’s courses, read them here.

Farmer Phil Ottenger discusses orchard production with students

On-farm visit at Buffalo Trail Orchard in July 2017

 What Students Say About the Field School:

“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.” – Susan McKinney (Small Batch Farm)

“I was so inspired after the first session that I filled out my business plan objectives that night. But things changed a lot during the year. My plan is now more realistic for what we are able to do” – Steven Mallory (Hope Farms)

“The field visit to Myers Farm was a game changer for me. I built a stage platform on my farm and we’ve already had two concerts with 100+ people at our first event. It’s really helped me get our name out in the community.” – Richard Calkins (Harbin Hills Farm)

“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.” – Jay Heselschwerdt (Sweet Life Farm)

Field School Calendar 2017-2018

About half the classroom sessions are out in the field. Dotson Farms March 2017

NOVEMBER Session 1: A Vision for Your Farm. Do you have a clear image in your mind of you out standing in your field? This session provides an opportunity for self reflection of your personal mission and values as the first step towards assessing your farm goals. Includes an introduction to Farm Planning with Tamara McNaughton of Appalachian Sustainable Development and farmer at TnT Farm; an overview of how to set up a farm business in TN with Dana York of Green Earth Connection and Grand Oak Farm; Introduction of the One-Page Business Plan with Dana York. November 9th 6-9 PM, Jonesborough Farm Bureau Building

DECEMBER Session 2A Produce: Crop Planning for Year Round Production. A detailed crop plan is an essential part of a successful growing year, especially for farmers selling through farmers markets and CSAs!  Learn from one of the best: Pam Dawling, author of Sustainable Market Farming and grower of 38 years at Twin Oaks Community in Central VA.  December 7th 6-9 PM, Jonesborough Farm Bureau Building

Session 2B Livestock: Poultry 101. Americans are big consumers of chicken, but can you make a profit raising them on a small scale?  Learn about poultry breed options, care and feeding, and laws concerning on-farm processing in Tennessee.  Taught by Adam Hopkins, Area Farm Management Specialist for UT Extension, and Hal Pepper, Value Added Financial Analysis Specialist for the Center for Profitable Agriculture.  December 14th 6-9 PM, Jonesborough Farm Bureau Building


Group shot at Harbin Hill Farm in Mountain City, December 2016

JANUARY Session 3: Farm Finances. You may be growing the best tasting tomatoes in East TN, but are you making any money doing it?  This class provides an introduction on how to calculate the true cost of various production systems, access to land, debt levels, determining break-even costs, and other financial tools for making a financial plan for your farm business.  Taught by Adam Hopkins, Area Farm Management Specialist at UT Extension, who manages to make finances fun and engaging!  This session will also include representatives from USDA and TDA to present on grant, low-interest loan, and cost-share programs available to help beginning farmers get started.  January 11th 6-9 PM, Jonesborough Farm Bureau Building

FEBRUARY Session 4: Markets for Your Products. Production knowledge is important, but where are you planning to sell your products?  This session exposes students to various avenues for marketing small farm products in the region, the cost, risk and opportunities to expand into various markets like farmers market, CSA, restaurants, and wholesale opportunities.  A panel of experienced farmers will discuss their approaches to various sales outlets and how to balance retail with wholesale pricing and production.  A panel of buyers from wholesale distributors, restaurants and retail groceries will discuss what they are looking for from growers. February 8th 6-9PM, Jonesborough Farm Bureau Building.

MARCH Session 5A Produce: Season Extension & Year Round Production.  While the traditional growing season runs from March through October, it is very possible to grow year round in our region.  A great cost-share program from NRCS allows beginning farmers to install protective high tunnels for a small fraction of their full cost.  This session will be held on Harbin Hill Farm with former Field School student Richard Calkins who has installed 3 high tunnels thanks to NRCS.  Also presenting is Jason Hughes, NRCS District Conservationist for Carter and Johnson Counties, to explain how to access the EQIP cost-share program.  March 10 9AM – 12PM, Harbin Hill Farm, Mountain City, TN

MARCH Session 5B Livestock: Small Ruminants 101. While not as popular as beef and pork, there are thriving niche markets for lamb and goat products.  They are also well suited for small scale farming on mountainous land.  This session will cover the basics of raising small ruminants, care and feeding, necessary equipment and infrastructure, potential markets, and resources and cost-share programs through USDA and TDA.  Taught by Chris Wilson, owner of Clover Creek Hair Sheep, and Anthony Shelton, Extension Agent for UT Extension.  March 17 9AM-12PM, Clover Creek Farm, Jonesborough, TN.

APRIL Session 6A Produce: Sustainable Farming Practices. The Field School supports both conventional and organic growers, but there are many practices that both types can use to increase soil fertility, conserve water, and protect the environment.  This session will cover no-till methods, cover cropping, pest & weed management, and irrigation systems.  Instructors include Mike Hubbs of the TN Association of Conservation Districts; Camille Cody, the farm manager of Grand Oak Farm; and Brian Leib, Irrigation and Water Management Specialist for UT Extension. April 14 9AM-12PM, Grand Oak Farm in Jonesborough, TN

APRIL Session 6B Livestock: Sustainable Livestock Management. Simply put, rotational grazing systems produce higher quality and higher quantity forage on pasture lands, decrease parasite loads, reduce compaction, increase drought resistance and overall save ranchers lots of money when implemented properly!  This session will be led by Mike McElroy, NRCS District Conservationist for Greene County, and one of the state’s leading experts on rotational grazing systems.  Mike will cover the ins and outs of grazing systems, forage, fencing needs, and NRCS cost-share programs that will defray the costs of setting up a rotational system. April 21 9AM-12PM, Location TBA.

MAY Session 7: Value Added Products & Marketing. While some winter squash varieties might be shelf stable for close to a year, most produce and even frozen meat have limited shelf-lives.  Value added products like jams, salsas, breads and other products allow farmers to sell their products year round and increase incomes.  However, VAP are more regulated than fresh products and need to be made in a certified comercial kitchen.  Luckily, the Town of Unicoi recently opened the Mountain Harvest Kitchen, a 4,000 square foot kitchen facility that can be rented out 24/7.  This session will be led by Lee Manning, Director of MHK, and Mike Brown, Outreach Coordinator for TDA.  May 10th 6-9PM, Mountain Harvest Kitchen, Unicoi, TN

JUNE Session 8A Produce: Orchards and Berry Production. East TN offers a great climate for the production of a variety of orchard fruits and berries.  However, the variability of spring frosts, insects and other pests, and product perishability mean that earning a profit can sometimes be difficult.  This session will cover the basics of fruit production for both conventional and organic farms.  Taught by Phil Ottenger, owner of Buffalo Trail Orchard, and Duane Gibson, Gibson Berry Farm.  June 14th 6-9PM, On-farm in two locations in Greene County. 

JUNE Session 8B Livestock: Beekeeping for Profit 101. Honey bees are important pollinators and honey always garners a premium price at local markets.  This session will cover the basics of setting up a small apiary on your farm, with start-up equipment and costs, where to purchase bees, and basic care for your hives.  Taught by Jay Heselschwerdt, owner of Sweet Life Farm, avid beekeeper, and former Field School student!  June 21 6-9PM, Location TBA.

JULY Session 10: Agritourism and Ag Advocacy. While many people get into farming so they don’t have to talk to the public, there are those who do everything they can to bring the public onto their farm!  This session will cover Agritourism, how to make your farm a destination for the (paying) public, and some of the laws and regulations surrounding on-farm activities in TN.  Led by Vera Ann Myers of Myers Farm and Pumpkin Patch and Rhedona Rose, Executive Vice President of TN Farm Bureau.  Former students have remarked that this is their favorite session of the year!  July 12th 6-9PM, Myers Farm and Pumpkin Patch, Bulls Gap, TN

AUGUST Session 10: Graduation Family Potluck/Social and Farm Plan Presentations. Every student has the option of presenting briefly to the class about a portion of their plan for their farm business. All family members are invited to this potluck.  August 9th 6-9PM, Grand Oak Farm, Jonesborough, TN

Plus we think all growers should mark their calendars for these area conferences, put on by other organizations:

Jan 17-20: SSAWG, Lexington KY

Feb 15-17:Pick Tennessee” Tennessee State Conference, Franklin TN

Feb 24: Business of Farming, Asheville, NC

Cost & Registration

Due to overwhelming response, the Field School is Full and we are closing the application!  

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Produce Track – 9 Monthly Sessions: $75

Small Livestock Track – 9 Monthly Sessions: $75

Dual Track – Attend all 13 Sessions: $100

The deadline to apply is October 31st.  There are limited spots in the ’17/’18 Field School.  To reserve yours, you must fill out the online application AND send in payment.  The fee includes curriculum materials and a meal at each session.  Please send a check payable to “Appalachian RC&D Council” to the address:

Appalachian RC&D Council
3211 N Roan St
Johnson City, TN 37601

We offer full Scholarships for Veterans.  We have 3 available this year, so please contact us if you qualify! We’ve filled our scholarship spots!  However, if you are a veteran who otherwise cannot afford the tuition fee, please get in touch with us!

For any questions, please call 423-979-2581 or email  The cost of the Field School is subsidized by grants from USDA, Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Appalachian Regional Commission, and local Business Sponsors.


Pictures from Recent Field School Sessions


We are so grateful to the partners who have already committed support, either through teaching or through financial sponsorship. Thanks to all UT Extension teachers, NRCS, FSA, TDA, to all farmers, and the 20+ professionals who will teach at the Field School over the course of the year.

Tennessee’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has awarded the Field School a grant for 2016-2017  to support beginning farmer education, specifically in Soil Health and natural resources management.

Farm Bureau, provides classroom and kitchen space for us for free at their Jonesborough location.

Boone Street Market (101 Boone Street, Jonesborough) is an all-local, year-round Farm Store, and it caters the majority of the meals, using ingredients from some of our past Field School students, and teachers. Just like the products on its shelves, all main ingredients in the meals are sourced from within 100 miles of the store.  BSM in a 501(C)(3) nonprofit founded in 2015, thanks to the Town of Jonesborough, donations from the community and store members (any one can support the store by being a paid annual member, and you get discounts). In its first year the store brought in $250,000 in sales for local farmers.

Dana York, retired 2014 Associate Chief USDA-NRCS, has moved back home to northeast Tennessee with ambitions to spend the next phase of her career training new beginning farmers in our region. Dana is the Field School’s Lead Facilitator and Curriculum Consultant. Having worked in the Chesapeake Bay watershed where nutrient management is lifeblood, her strength is coaching you to plow a straight row between cost-effective and conservation farming that leads to better soil, water quality, and profits.

Washington County Community Foundation (then the Harris Fund) sponsored our Friends of Ag breakfasts for 2 years, allowing us to research community needs and evolve a Field School program.

Future Harvest, based out of Maryland, graciously allowed us to borrow their beginning farmer program title of Field School and has advised us on materials. For more information on their great work in the Chesapeake food-shed: