Written by Nicole DelCogliano, OGS Farmer Programs Associate
As a part of our development of the Farm Pathways initiative, in order to more deeply understand how farmers feel about the barriers and challenges to farming in WNC, OGS hosted a guided discussion with six participants representing five farms. Focus groups offer an environment where individuals can listen to others and form their thoughts and opinions in response to others. This offers deeper insights and more detailed information about the participants opinions. On average the participating farmers had been farming seven years and the concerns and challenges raised reflected that level of establishment. The overall sentiment expressed was a feeling of knowing how to raise their crops & livestock, but a lack of supporting mentorship from experienced farmers who could guide them as they make decisions regarding their farm scale, enterprises and livelihood. While most felt there were resources available to help them, they felt a lack of individualized support as they assessed their own farm operation. Most desired a balanced farm and family life and felt a lack of support or guidance in how to make the right decisions for continued success. The largest barrier discussed during the focus group was marketing. In general they are frustrated with the existing avenues for marketing and see a need to address this issue regionally as more people enter the farming profession.
As a facilitator, I so appreciated the farmer’s honesty and openness. I sensed a real need for farmers to be able to share personal and professional struggles and challenges with each other and offer each other ideas and support. It’s easy to feel disconnected and alone in your struggles if you’re isolated on your farm. While this session was not intended to brainstorm solutions, many did offer ideas about how to address some of their concerns. Our Farm Beginnings training will be a place where farmers can offer real and specific information to new & start-up farmers that hopefully will address some of the gaps that exist in farmer training. This will then increase the likelihood of continued success.
In addition to a great discussion, we also enjoyed some great burgers (Thanks Cameron and Hickory Nut Gap farm!), beer and raffle prizes were given out in appreciation of the time farmers took out of their busy summer season. Thank you all!
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.