Written by Nicole DelCogliano, OGS Farmer Programs Associate
Organic Growers School is committed to working collaboratively with regional organizations also doing farmer training, support, and leadership. In order to offer opportunities for collaboration & input in our Farm Pathways initiative, we held two regional ally input meetings in June 2015. To ensure our training program is not replicating what already exists or trying to recreate something that is already established, we have worked diligently to open our program formation process to regional stakeholders. We reached out to fellow organizational allies and stakeholders providing support in the farming community in WNC for their expertise and to gather input for a Farm Beginnings course. We invited over 20 organizations ranging from non-profits, government agencies and universities to policy groups and lending institutions.
- Asset Mapping: Each organization and an opportunity to list and map what programs, trainings, or support they offer for each stage of farmer development (emerging, in training, startup, 3-10 years, & seasoned). Then, we shared what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how they see our training complementing their work.
- Challenges & Missing Links: We discussed fluidly what the potential roadblocks or challenges could be to implementing a beginning farmer training program, what is missing currently in our region in training, what the most important elements a farmer training program ought to include, and what success will look like in our area.
- Participation ongoing: We invited each organization to be involved in the development and implementation of Farm Pathways in a variety of ways.
We were excited to see the high level of engagement and enthusiasm at these meetings. OGS is committed to working with existing farmer support groups and we know we can’t create more farmers on our own – it takes a village as the saying goes. All the existing programs and support networks that already exist in our region can only complement the objectives of Farm Pathways and ensure its success.
The input sessions were a great place to talk about what the foundation of the Farm Beginnings training will be implementing and to get input into what we specifically need here in WNC. The overall sense from the meeting was that a realistic financial perspective should be developed in the training through business and financial training. This will allow newer farmers more stability as they get started, suggesting off-farm income for multiple years as a part of their start-up plan. The access to land and markets were also discussed as we struggle with this issue regionally.
This discussion led into larger food systems concerns, all of which directly relate to the success of our farmers. These topics will be a part of the Farm Beginnings training, helping newer farmers to understand the resources available to them for access to land and marketing options.
We appreciate each organization participating. So much support exists for farmers in WNC and there is still a need for more. Farm Pathways hopes to support the ongoing work and to deepen the breadth and quality of farmer training available in WNC.
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.