From the Southern Appalachians to the Midwest: a Farm Beginnings Training Collaboration!
Written by Cameron Farlow, OGS Farmer Programs Coordinator & Nicole DelCogliano, OGS Farmer Programs Associate
It’s official the Organic Growers School is the newest member of the Farm Beginnings Collaborative (FBC)! Being a member of the collaborative allows us access to all program materials nationally, provides a mentor, and gives facilitator trainings and support throughout the year. With this well established network, OGS is set to be the first organization in the southeast to offer Farm Beginnings!
For four days in July 2015, OGS Farmer Programs staff we able to visit and participate in the Farm Beginnings Facilitator training in Caledonia, Illinois at Angelic Organics Farm and Learning Center (AOLC). Wow, it was amazing!! Not only did we get to meet amazing teachers and farmers from the Farm Beginnings programs across the country, we got to enjoy the farm and hospitality of farmers John and Haidi Peterson and AOLC staff. Expecting hot Midwest temperatures, we were greeted in Chicago by 59 degrees. We explored Chicago for the afternoon, a treat since neither of us had been there before. Lake Michigan was choppy and so blue, and stretched as far as the eye could see – even from the 96th floor of the John Hancock building lounge. We spied a collection of rooftop gardens and green roofs, too! Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza was at the top of our to-do list, and did not disappoint.
After our day of sightseeing in Chicago we jumped right into a full day training on Holistic Financial Planning with Cree Bradley the Farm Beginnings Program Organizer at the Land Stewardship Project (LSP). Cree and her husband also runs a CSA farm in addition to a maple syrup operation in northern Minnesota.
It was jam packed day where we really put pencil to paper to work with the holistic concepts and financial planning template. Cree described Holistic Financial Planning as the beaming headlights of a pickup truck. It illuminates your business as well as quality of life goals and gives you a plan to move forward. The back of the pickup is where you keep all the tools – your record keeping, taxes, accounting, etc. This training was so powerful for Nicole personally as a farmer, who has struggled through the years to feel like she was doing proper financial planning. It is a program so well suited to sustainable farming, which is often born out of values and ideals. Holistic financial planning allows you to explore your values and goals regarding your quality of life and from there develop and implement plans to achieve those goals. It elevates the goal above all and offers tools for management, planning and fiscal tracking to get you there. With many family farms the personal life is not very separate from the farm life. Traditional financial planning doesn’t also capture that as well.
Although, not all members of the Farm Beginnings Collaborative use Holistic Financial Planning as a part of their training as of yet, it’s a new tool LSP & AOLC are trialing to gauge its effectiveness. Cree has been employing it on her own farm for several years and can speak to it’s benefits, and has rapidly seen it improve the farm financial planning for several of the farms in her region. She shared her personal experiences with us and gave a very intimate and touching presentation.
Thursday’s focus shifted to facilitator training for FBC members and we were joined by folks from the Land Stewardship Project, Angelic Organics Learning Center, FoodWorks, Dakota Rural Action, and Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society – traveling from five different states!
This gave us a chance to learn the nuts and bolts of how different members of the FBC implement farmer training programs. Typically Farm Beginnings courses include 9-10 winter sessions paired with farm tours & field days during the growing season, and cover these common themes:
- whole farm planning
- financial planning
- business planning and management
- utilizing resources
- sustainable agricultural production skills
Our sessions covered the FBC facilitator’s handbook, core skill goals for farm beginnings graduates, addressing economies of scale, farm transitions & land access.
Friday, began with a group yoga session before venturing into “Questions We Couldn’t Answer.” This session we brought up questions that farmers we worked with brought up during trainings and we had a hard time answering, then discussed how others address similar issues in their programs. We covered: insurance & farm policies, teaching tangible marketing skills, teaching to a range of skill levels, integrating Holistic Financial Planning into more traditional financial planning, and how do farmers get on land.
The Angelic Organics Farm was a treat unto itself. We had our meeting in the old hay loft of the farm. The first part of the barn was a costume room and the lower floor a pack room for vegetables. Most of the buildings have been renovated, rehabilitated and decorated beautifully.
And, yep its that Farmer John from “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” movie and Farmer John’s Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables. John Peterson (Farmer John) practices biodynamics in addition to being a committed anthroposophist, therefore all the renovations and painting were done artfully and beautifully, with purples, yellows and reds abounding.
We saw the post-harvest washing and packing for 1200 CSA shares (½ of the shares), witnessing the efficient systems they use and while, at a much larger scale than what we see in WNC, still made sense and were applicable to our farms. It was a pleasure seeing the bountiful fields and crops, but also the infrastructure and harvest/wash systems. The farm crew was harvesting huge cabbages, kohlrabi, herbs, mizuna (mechanically), squash, kale, onions and beets.
John, and his wife, Haidi gave us a full farm tour on Thursday afternoon. John shared his love of equipment and implements, in addition to showing the field crops, and compost windrows. The challenges he described with farming and marketing, paralleled with those voiced by our own WNC farmers. We appreciate his frankness and felt our connection nationally as we all struggle to make organic farming successful.
We also got to tour the Learning Center which hosts children and adults for workshops, classes and camps. They have a modest two story straw bale house housing staff and a kitchen/ meeting space for groups. They have a
barn for milking, a two story composting toilet, a pavilion and wood fired oven. For educational purposes, they have a few goats, pigs, a horse, numerous chickens and fowl, in addition to a learning garden.
We came away from our three days at Angelic Organics stocked with new tools, new knowledge base, and exciting ideas for better serving farmers through our Farm Pathways initiative. Over the next few months we will be working diligently to adapt the courses and tools the other Farm Beginnings members are using in their regions to the needs and interests of farmers in WNC, as we learned from our farmer outreach surveys & interviews. We are so excited to be the newest members of the Farm Beginnings Collaborative and are ready to really dig in alongside our fellow farmers and create Farm Pathways to be an amazing farmer training program for 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.