Farm Pathways Partnership
Farm Pathways: Access to Land, Livelihood, and Learning, is a whole-farm training and innovative land access program for new and aspiring farmers in the Southern Appalachians. Three partners are collaborating to implement this program: Organic Growers School (OGS), the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC) & WNC FarmLink (WNCFL). Our collaborative partnership will fill the current gaps in regional agricultural services for beginning farmers by providing comprehensive and holistic farmer training, ongoing support & mentorship, and innovative land access opportunities in the Southern Appalachians.
In order to rebuild a path towards agriculture in our region, we need to invest in the next generation of farmers. The Farm Pathways team will partner to provide resources to support beginning farmers to create & run successful farm operations through the following programs:
- OGS offers Farm Beginnings® Farmer Training, a year long course, new to the Southeast, to promote practical, whole-farm business, financial, and marketing planning, leading to a Journeyperson program providing long-term, targeted mentorship & technical assistance; Create, expand on, and improve Organic Farm Finder (OFF) and Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) programs with experiential, peer-to-peer production & farm management training and mentoring.
- SAHC offers three programs: (a) the Beginning Farmer Incubator at the SAHC Community Farm providing land, infrastructure, and equipment to qualified beginning farmers at reduced rates, along with support, training and coaching; (b) farm production workshops series at the Community Farm; and (c) Farmland Access Service Buy-Protect-Farm Strategy to assure access to farmland for beginning farmers.
- WNCFL links farmers with farmland owners through its land matching services, and expand programming to offer personalized one-on-one consultations for both landowners and farm seekers, and group workshops helping beginning farmers negotiate equitable leases and prepare logistically & financially for long-term land access and purchase, a major obstacle for farmers starting out.
The Farm Pathways team are proud and committed allies to our local farmers. We are poised to make a big difference in the lives of regional farmers by creating a cohesive trajectory for ongoing training and support that is missing in our region. Our individual organizations are in strong positions with solid internal capacity, dedicated staff, excellent track records, region-wide support, and ongoing demand from our local farmers. Additionally our programs reinforce and are strategically aligned with one another. The potential for positive collective impact is far greater than what we can individually achieve.
The crucial task of our time and region is to rebuild a path to agriculture and invest in the next generation of farmers. Through the Farm Pathways Team, we are providing a seamless process for new, existing, or expanding growers to move from early interest to successful farming or to integrate farming into their lives in a viable way. Support for beginning farmers is a missing link in our region. Farm Pathways will help fill that gap, thus ensuring success for beginning farmers.
Farm Pathways is designed to support beginning farmers in that critical period in five key ways:
- Membership in a peer network of beginning and established growers to provide group support and one-on-one assistance. Enable beginning farmers to find an experienced producer mentor to assist them.
- Access to apprenticeships on farms similar to the type of farming that the prospective farmer intends to pursue.
- Formal classroom and experiential agricultural education through a year-long Beginning Farmer Training Curriculum, leading to a journeyman farmer certificate as a regional alternative to a four-year agricultural degree.
- Coaching programs for prospective growers to develop viable business plans. Guidance in gaining access to start-up capital.
- Support in negotiating equitable leases or finding affordable farmland under conservation easements.
We’ve all heard the stats that farmers are aging, and the total number of farmers in the US is predicted to keep falling. As Mark Bittman wrote in his recent article, “Let’s Create More Farmers,” in the New York Times, “Just about everyone agrees that we need more farmers.”
At Organic Growers School, that is the very issue that has been the impetus for our farmer programs and continues to be our driving force for Farm Pathways: Access to Land, Livelihood, and Learning partnership with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy & WNC FarmLink. We are working to provide a trajectory in farmer training for WNC that provides whole farm production & business training and innovative land access opportunities. In 2015 OGS was able to developing our capacity for implementing Farm Pathways with funding in part from Clif Bar Foundation and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant #2015-70017-22854.
OGS Farm Beginnings is a year-long, 180+ hour training course designed to help you plan and launch your sustainable farming business. Students gain knowledge from some of the most innovative farmers and industry experts in WNC. They also develop a tailor-made farming/business plans and create lifelong friendships within a new network of farmers. Students learn sustainable farming practices through field days and farm visits during the growing season on active farms across Western North Carolina.
In order to develop our new Farm Pathways program, a comprehensive beginning farmer training program in WNC, OGS needed to understand the barriers to successful farming in Western North Carolina. We embarked on a Barriers to Beginning Farming in WNC research project with support from the Community Foundation of WNC