Field School Session Descriptions

On this page, read detailed descriptions of the Summer Field School and Winter Business Intensive sessions.  Registration for the Winter Business Intensive will be opening soon!

Winter Business Intensive 2020-21 Schedule

Due to Covid-19, WBI Classes will be held virtually via Zoom, with a phone in option for folks without a stable internet connection.  Recordings of each session will be shared with registered students.  Classes are held on Thursdays from 6-8pm on each date listed below.  Tuition cost for the WBI is $299 per farm and includes the book, Whole Farm Management, and a set of digital handouts.  We have an Early Bird discount of $50 for registrations received before Oct. 15th, 2020.  Use Discount Code EarlyBird2020 at checkout.

Click Here to Register for the Winter Business Intensive

Session 1: Introductions & Getting Started. November 12th. During our first session, we will introduce the program, support staff, coursework and expectations.  There will be time for everyone to speak for 1-2 min about their farms or farm dreams.  Though these workshops will be conducted virtually, we hope to foster as much peer-to-peer learning and connection as we can.

Session 2: Visioning & Assessing Your Resources. December 3. Do you have a clear image in your mind of your successful farm operation?  This session will provide opportunity for self-reflection of your personal mission and values as the first step towards creating your business plan.  Students will be given resources to assess personal and family lifestyle needs, in order to form a basis for understanding your farm operation’s financial goals.

Session 3: Farm Infrastructure & Natural Resources. December 17. This session will discuss the need to think of your farm as a whole integrated system, and help you understand the environmental, economic, and social resources you need to succeed.  Students will learn 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: Markets & Marketing.  January 14. Before buying your first seeds or breeding stock, it’s important to know who is going to buy the final product.  If you plan 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 that doesn’t mean it needs to be complicated or expensive to reach local buyers.  In this session, you will learn how to identify appropriate sales outlets for your products, target your specific customers, and how to use low-cost platforms to market your products effectively.

Session 5: Business & Financial Management.  January 28Having a solid grasp on the financials can make or break any farm operation.  In this session, students will get an introduction to financial planning, recordkeeping, and filing taxes.  We’ll do an overview of enterprise budgets, cash flow analysis, and profit and loss sheets.  The session will also cover best practices for recordkeeping to make filing your farm’s Schedule F tax form easier.  By going through the exercise of “paper farming” students can determine if their ideas can make money or not, before they invest time or money in the effort.

Session 6: Sustainable Production Planning.  February 11Investing in your farm’s natural resources will pay financial and environmental dividends.  This session will provide an overview of the benefits of a number of sustainable production strategies, including high tunnels for season extension, rotational grazing, and cover crops & soil health.  We’ll also go in depth into NRCS programs that can support the implementation of these practices on your farm.

Session 7: Entrepreneurship & Risk Management.  February 25Any new business venture requires an entrepreneur to overcome a few legal and regulatory hurdles and to have a plan for if things go wrong.  This session breaks down what steps students will need to take to set up their business and manage risk on their farm.  This includes information on getting a Farm Number, business license, insurance considerations, business structures, and estate planning.

Session 8: Loans, Grants & Support Programs.  March 11Students should have a fairly robust farm business plan outlined by this session, which will be very useful when applying for loan or other support programs.  Students will be introduced to a variety of state and federal grant, cost-share, and loan programs available to farmers.  This will include a special focus on the Farm Service Agency’s micro-loan program for beginning farmers.

Graduation Celebration. March 25We normally gather in person at Grand Oak Farm’s party barn but Covid-19 has put this plan on hold.  Regardless if it’s online or in person, we will provide students with the opportunity to present their finished business plans to the class and receive feedback.

Summer Field School 2020 Workshops

These are the sessions from the 2020 Summer Field School.  We will have a similar selection of topics coming May through August 2021.  Updated information will be posted in March 2021, so stay tuned!

Session 1: Sustainable Livestock Management.  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. 

Session 2: Sustainable Vegetables and Food Safety.  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. 

Session 3: Fruit Production + Hemp 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 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. 

Session 5: High Tunnels + Irrigation 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.   

Session 6: Agritourism.  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.  

Session 7: Beekeeping Basics.  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!   

Session 8: Soil Health & No-Till Farming.  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. 

Community Potluck.  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.