Field School Session Descriptions

On this page, read detailed descriptions of the Summer Field School and Winter Business Intensive sessions.  Registration for the Summer Field School is now open.  Click here to apply online.

Summer Field School

Session 1: Small Livestock Management, May 9th 5-8pm at Cave Ridge Farm in Blountville, TN.  Explore a small scale sustainable farm raising chickens, turkeys, sheep, pigs and cattle on pasture.  Farmer Erek Napora will take us on a tour of his operation, discuss his production methods, and provide tips to other beginning farmers.  A representative from UT Extension will discuss state and federal programs available to support small livestock producers.

Session 2: High Tunnels & Season Extension, May 23rd 5-8pm at Harbin Hill Farm in Mountain City, TN.  With low-cost technology, farmers in East TN can grow produce year round, even through the winters in Mountain City!  Farmer Richard Calkins will take us on a tour of his farm and high tunnels, discuss his year round crop planning, and offer insights on mistakes to avoid when starting to grow year round.  Jason Hughes, District Conservationist from NRCS, will discuss conservation programs available to farmers, including the EQIP cost-share on high tunnels.

Session 3: Fruit Production + Hemp, June 13th 6-9pm at Gibson Berry Farm in Greeneville, TN.  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.

Session 4: Rotational Grazing, June 27th 6-9pm at McElroy Farm in Greeneville, TN.  A good rotational grazing plan can reduce feed costs, improve pasture quality, and increase profits on livestock.  The NRCS offers a number of programs to help farmers transition to rotational grazing and provide financial support for fencing and watering systems to make it possible.

Session 5: Agritourism, July 11th 6-9pm at Myer’s Family Farm in Bulls Gap, TN.  Farmer Vera Ann Myers and her family run a 1,000 acre farm that includes greenhouses, cattle and agritourism, providing her family income year round. Vera Ann was critical in getting laws passed in Tennessee that help farmers get insurance for agritourism operations.  A speaker from TN Farm Bureau will also discuss the state of agricultural advocacy in TN and at the Federal level. A tour of the Myer’s Farm will follow.

Session 6: Organic Vegetable Production and Irrigation, July 25th 6-9pm at Grand Oak Farm in Jonesborough, TN.  Farmer Dana York retired from a career at the NRCS and returned to her family’s farm in Jonesborough where she is growing 2 acres of Certified Naturally Grown produce and cut flowers.  Brien Lieb from UT Extension will present on irrigation systems for vegetable production.

Session 7: Beekeeping Basics, August 8th 6-9pm at Rural Resources in Greeneville, TN.  This workshop will be lead by Jay Heselschwerdt, the 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.  After Jay’s presentation, students will get to view the demonstration hives kept at Rural Resources, an educational farm that focuses on education and training for youth in Greene Co.

Session 8: Soil Health, August 22nd 6-9pm at Glen Tweed Farm in Limestone, TN.  Mike Hubbs, 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.  Afterwards, students will take a tour of the Glen Tweed Farm, a dairy operation that uses cover crops and rotational grazing to boost productivity and their bottom line.

Graduation & Community Potluck, September 12th at Grand Oak Farm in Jonesborough, TN.  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

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

Session 7: Markets & Buyers.  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.  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 & 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.

Graduation: Students will have the opportunity to present their finished business plans to the class and receive feedback.