Field School Session Descriptions

On this page, read detailed descriptions of the Summer Field School and Winter Business Intensive sessions.  Registration for the first two sessions of 2020 Summer Field School is now open; Zoom links are below.

Summer Field School 2020 Workshops

**Special note regarding the impact of COVID-19 on 2020 Summer Field School: At this time, the first two workshops will be held virtually. Students will receive all the same material, be able to ask farmers and presenters questions, and will see behind the scenes of farm operations. We will evaluate the possibility of returning to physical farm visits as the situation evolves.

Session 1: Sustainable Livestock ManagementMay 14th at 6pm. Explore a small scale sustainable farm raising Certified Humane hair sheep and pastured layer hens.  Farmer Chris Wilson will take us on a tour of her operation, Clover Creek Farm, discuss her production methods, and provide tips to other beginning farmers.  Jessy Shanks, Small Ruminant Specialist from UT Extension, will discuss state and federal programs available to support livestock producers. Register on Zoom.

Session 2: Sustainable Vegetables and Food Safety. May 28th at 6pm.  With low-cost technology, farmers in East TN can grow produce year round, even through the winter!  Farmer Chris Theis of Opossum Bottom Farm will take us on a tour of his urban vegetable farm, discuss his year round lettuce production, and offer insights on growing on a small scale. Adam Watson, UT Extension Agent in Washington County, will discuss the basics of food safety, GAP & FSMA certification, and information on resources available to beginning farmers. Register on Zoom.

Session 3: Fruit Production + Hemp. June 11th at 6pm.  Farmer Duane Gibson got started with blueberries at age 16 and now maintains several acres of certified organic blueberries, raspberries, elderberries and other small fruits.  In 2018 he planted hemp and plans to expand his acreage on this crop in 2019. Duane will walk attendees around his farm, discussing his production methods, getting certified organic, accessing diversified markets, and his experience with growing hemp for CBD production.  Register on Zoom.

Session 4: Rotational Grazing. June 25th at 6pm.  A good rotational grazing plan can reduce feed costs, improve pasture quality, and increase profits on livestock. This webinar will feature Mike McElroy’s farm where he operates an intensive rotation system for cattle on small acreage. Mike is retired from the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and now farms full time. The NRCS offers a number of programs to help farmers transition to rotational grazing and provide financial support for fencing, watering systems, and more to make it possible. Mike will discuss his farms rotation system and will provide information on how other farmers can implement similar plans on their farms. Register on Zoom.

Session 5: High Tunnels + Irrigation. July 9th at 6pm.  Installing high tunnels and irrigation on your farm can greatly increase your production capabilities.  This webinar will feature farmer Dana York of Grand Oak Farm in Jonesborough. Dana retired from a career at the NRCS and returned to her family’s farm where she is growing 2 acres of Certified Naturally Grown produce, hemp, and cut flowers. Brien Lieb from UT Extension will present on irrigation systems for vegetable production, and Greg Quillen of NRCS will discuss cost-share programs for high tunnels.   Register on Zoom.

Session 6: Agritourism. July 23rd at 6pm.  Agritourism can be a lucrative way to earn income off of your farm by creating a variety of on-farm activities for the public, from pick-your-own fruits to corn mazes. Farmer Vera Ann Myers and her family run a 1,000 acre farm in Bulls Gap, TN that includes greenhouses, cattle and a variety of agritourism activities centered around a corn maze and pumpkin patch, providing her family income year round. Vera Ann was critical in getting laws passed in Tennessee that help farmers get insurance for agritourism operations. This webinar with show a recorded tour of the Myer’s Farm, a live Q&A with Vera Ann, and information on liability and safety for on-farm activities.  Register on Zoom.

Session 7: Beekeeping BasicsAugust 13th at 6pm.  This webinar will be lead by Jay Heselschwerdt, the TN Dept of Agriculture’s Apiary Inspector for the eastern part of TN. Jay is an experienced beekeeper and an enthusiastic teacher. He will discuss the basics of getting started with beekeeping, troubleshooting issues, and legal regulations around the sale of honey in TN. The webinar will include a recorded tour of a working apiary and lots of time for Q&A with Beeman Jay!   Register on Zoom.

Session 8: Soil Health & No-Till FarmingAugust 27th at 6pm.  This webinar will feature Rachel & Dylan of Rain Crow Farm, a urban farm in Johnson City, that practices no-till to raise vegetables and cut flowers.  A recorded tour of the farm will be shown and then a live Q&A with the farmers. Afterwards, Jeremiah Durbin, soil health guru from the TN Association of Conservation Districts, will present on the principles of soil health, the use of cover crops, and the benefits of switching to no-till and rotational grazing for farmers. Register on Zoom.

Graduation & Community Potluck. TBD.  Come celebrate the harvest season with current and former Field School students at Grand Oak Farm’s Party Barn!  A main meat and vegetarian dish will be provided and attendees are welcome to bring a side or dessert.

Winter Business Intensive 2019-20 Schedule

All WBI classes will be held at the Jonesborough Farm Bureau classroom at 1103 Boones Creek Rd. Jonesborough, TN 37659.  Classes are held on Thursdays from 6-9pm on each date listed below.  Tuition costs for the WBI is $150 per person or $250 for two people from the same farm.

Session 1: Visioning Your Farm & Assessing Yourself. November 7th. 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.

Session 2: Setting Up a Legal Farm Business. November 21st. 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.

Session 3: Sustainable Practices & Whole Farm Planning. December 12th. 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).

Session 4: Planning What to Farm.  January 9th. 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.

Session 5: Planning for Profit. January 30th. 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.  Then students will 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.

Session 6: Recordkeeping & Taxes.  February 13th. Keeping good farm records makes filing your Schedule F tax forms much easier.  Filing the Schedule F yearly allows farmers to access important state and federal grant and cost-share programs and receive sales tax exemption from the state.  In this session, we will go through the basics of farm recordkeeping systems and how to track categories for the Schedule F form.

Session 7: Markets & BuyersFebruary 27th. Before 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.

Session 8: Marketing Plans & Strategies.  March 12th. 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.

Session 9: Loan, Grant & Support Programs. March 26th. 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.

Graduation: April 9th at Grand Oak Farm in Jonesborough. Students will have the opportunity to present their finished business plans to the class and receive feedback.