Written by Nicole DelCogliano, Farmer Programs Coordinator
Cameron and I headed out early to Asheville to catch our 6am flight to South Dakota for our annual Farm Beginnings Collaborative national annual meeting. There is no easy or quick way to get to Sioux Falls! Traveling through Chicago to Sioux Falls, we slowly headed north, leaving behind our beautiful NC spring, hopeful that the northern winter wouldn’t descend on us. We were not so lucky….(more on the snowstorm later).
Each year the 10 organizations that offer Farm Beginnings classes get together to discuss how we can work together more effectively, to share successes and challenges with farmer training specific to programming and to do some larger scale food systems and agriculture visioning in the complex context of today’s food system.
Day one was spent at the beautiful Design Center in Sioux Falls, a city larger than Asheville with a much quieter feel to it. The population of South Dakota is quite a bit less than North Carolina, lending a small town feel to the city. We spent a large part of the first day discussing our yearly highlights and challenges and then discussing commonalities between the organizations. It was great to hear about similar successes and challenges among the organizations, from Maine to Nebraska. Since it was our first year facilitating Farm Beginnings, we had many lessons learned. A large part of the Monday discussion was also on what the intention of Farm Beginnings is in addition to creating financially viable and sustainable farm businesses. It is also to “grow a critical mass of farmers to be leaders to change the food and farming system.”
Over the course of day 2 and 3, we got to hear from each organization about a specific tool or resource they use in their Farm Beginnings class. Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society presented on their Holistic Management presentation and stressed the importance or value of having a trained and certified Holistic Management teacher. Grow NYC showed us how they have developed a “Pipeline” to farming framework that starts with Explorer, Planner, Start- up, and Enterprise. This is similar to what OGS has developed as the stages of farming , emerging, in-training, start-up, and seasoned. Grow NYC partners with Hawthorne Valley to teach Farm Beginnings. The offer skills workshops similar to our Farm Dreams to help individuals assess if they are ready to farm. They then offer Farm Beginnings, mentorship opportunities and technical assistance. It is exciting to hear about what programs other groups offer as we move forward in developing how to continue to support new farmers and experienced farmers wherever they are in their farming journey.
The third day was spent with just facilitators who lead the classes. A large component of our discussion was focused on who our audience is for Farm Beginnings. We all experience classes with a wide variety of farming experience ranging from none to established, in addition to a diversity of ages and backgrounds, which can make it harder to meet all participants needs and expectations. It was helpful to hear from other groups about classroom dynamics that can help bridge these differences and make the class successful. We also spoke in depth about each program’s mentorship structures, which is particularly interesting to us at OGS as we consider adding a formal mentorship component to our Farm Beginnings class.
Our last day also was spent anticipating the snow storm! Many folks scrambled to change flights or leave early to avoid the snow. It started snowing around 2pm and we ended up with a full blown snowstorm that ended up dumping about 6 inches of snow. We were happy to return Thursday to sunny skies and a warm NC spring. It was a nourishing and thought provoking visit, speaking to the strength of learning from each other and sharing resources and skills that ultimately will make us more successful at changing our food system and supporting the profession of farming. And, many many thanks to our hosts Dakota Rural Action for showing us a good time (despite the snow) in Sioux Falls!
Cameron Farlow is the Farmer Programs Director.She grew up in Greensboro, NC with dairy farming in her blood, and has made her home in Western North Carolina. After earning her undergraduate degrees from UNC – Chapel Hill in Anthropology and Geography in 2006, Cameron dove headfirst into the realm of sustainable agriculture and local food systems, and later completed her Master’s Degree in Appalachian Studies and Sustainable Development from Appalachian State University in May 2011. Gaining as much experience as she could she worked with several other regional nonprofits in the realms of farmland preservation, food security, farm to university, and land access for farmers. She came on board with OGS in April 2012. When she isn’t visiting farms all around this end of the state as Farmer Programs coordinator you can usually find her digging in her garden or adventuring alongside her husband Walker, the farm manager at Hickory Nut Gap Farm.