Field School

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

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


The Field School 2018-2019 Registration is Closed.

The 2018-19 Field School will begin again in November.  Applications will go live on Sept 17 and stay open until Oct 31 or all available positions are filled, whichever comes first.  Sign up for email notifications so you can be the first to see information about the upcoming Summer Field School and other workshop opportunities!  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 beginning farmer training program that provides students with an overview of small-scale farming in East Tennessee, taught by 20+ farmers and agricultural professionals. It is hosted by the Appalachian RC&D Council, Green Earth Connection, and many area partners with major support from USDA and TN Dept of Agriculture. Pre-Registration is required.

The Field School is now offering two sessions for beginning and experienced farmers: the Winter Business Intensive and the Summer Field School.  The Winter Business Intensive (Nov-March) has 9 classroom sessions on writing a business, financial and marketing plan for your farm. The Summer Field School (May-Sept) will have 8 on-farm sessions to explore production methods and farm enterprises that are thriving in East Tennessee.  During both sessions, students will build the knowledge, networks, and confidence for planning out a farm operation to fit their land and business needs.

Registration for the Winter Business Intensive begins Sept 17 and will run until Oct 31 or until available positions fill up, whichever comes first.  Summer Field School registration will open in early March 2019.

Who Should Apply for the Winter Business Intensive?

  • Beginning or experienced farmers with at least 1 year experience owning or working on a farm operation of any size.
  • Folks who own, lease, or are actively searching for farm land.
  • Experienced farmers who have not yet written a full business, financial and marketing plan for their operation and who wish to do so.

For the Winter Business Intensive, we encourage applicants to have at least 1 year of farming experience, either on your own operation or as an intern or employee of another farm. This experience will give you a more solid foundation from which to write a business plan.  For folks who do not have any farming experience yet, you may find it useful to start with the Summer Field School to get an idea of what farm operations in East TN are like.

We also encourage beginning farmers of all experience levels to apply to work with the Farmer And Rancher Mentorship (FARM) Program, which will provide a 200 hour on-farm internship with an experienced farmer in the region. Applications for FARM will open in January of 2019.  More information can be viewed here.

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.
  • Workshop their ideas with their peers, experienced farmers, and other Ag experts, getting specific feedback and insights.

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 Winter Business Intensive 2018-2019

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

Location: All sessions for the Winter Business Intensive will be held at the Jonesborough Farm Bureau Classroom at 1103 Boones Creek Rd, Jonesborough, TN.

Session 1: Visioning Your Farm & Assessing Yourself. 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 creating your business plan. Students will also assess personal and family lifestyle needs, to form a basis for understanding your farm operation’s financial goals. November 8th 6-9 PM

Session 2: Setting Up a Legal Farm Business. Any new business venture requires an entrepreneur to overcome a few legal hurdles.  This session covers what steps students need to take to set up their Ag business, including getting a farm number, business license, insurance, and a primer on tax issues for farmers.  November 29th 6-9 PM

Session 3: Sustainable Practices & Whole Farm Planning.  Finances are important, but this session will discuss the need to think of your farm as a whole integrated system, with environmental, economic and social resources that are often intertwined with each other.  Students will learn how to assess their farm’s resources and get an introduction to the conservation and support services offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  December 13th 6-9 PM


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

Session 4: Planning What to Farm.  This session, students begin to hone in on specific core enterprises for their farm operation, with attention paid to the resources identified in the previous session.  Students will learn how to identify which enterprises may be the most profitable for their farm, figuring out start up costs, and identifying marketing opportunities. January 10th 6-9 PM

Session 5: Farm Finances 101.  Having a solid grasp on the financials can make or break any farm operation.  Students will get an introduction to financial planning, including an overview of budgets, cash flow analysis, and profit and loss sheets.  This session will include more on the realities of farm start up costs, how to evaluate enterprises, and planning for profit at all stages. January 24th 6-9PM

Session 6: Farm Finances 102.  With the previous session covering the basics of financial planning, this session will allow students to deep dive into creating enterprise budgets for their farm.  Enterprise budgets help farmers understand their true costs and what kind of profit they can expect to make.  This exercise can help students determine if their ideas can make money or not, before they invest too much time or money in the effort.  February 7th 6-9PM

Session 7: Markets & BuyersBefore buying your first seeds or breeding stock, it’s important to know who is going to buy the final product.  This session, students will hear from a panel of experienced farmers serving diverse markets and a panel of buyers from wholesale, grocery and restaurants.  Students can learn how to access various markets and which products are most in-demand with local buyers.  February 28th 6-9PM

Session 8: Marketing Plans & Strategies.  If you want to sell directly to consumers, it’s not enough to just raise a product.  Today’s farmers need to be good at marketing as well, but it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive to market your products to local consumers.  In this session, students will learn how to identify appropriate customers for your products, emerging markets and trends in local agriculture, and the basics of using social media and other platforms to promote your farm.  March 14 6-9PM

Session 9: Loan & Support Programs. Students should have a fairly robust farm business plan by this session, which will be very useful when applying for loans and support programs.  Students will be introduced to a variety of state and federal grant and cost-share programs available to farmers, as well as the FSA micro-loan program for beginning farmers and a traditional Ag lending program. March 28 6-9PM

Graduation: Students will have the opportunity to present their finished business plans to the class and receive feedback. April 11 6-9PM


Cost & Registration  

Winter Business Intensive Tuition: $125

The deadline to apply is October 31st.  There are limited spots in the ’18/’19 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 have 3 scholarships available for Veterans and are also willing to set up payment plans if needed.  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: