Barriers to Farming in WNC

In order to develop our new Farm Beginnings® program, a comprehensive beginning farmer training program, 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 and completed each of these tasks.

  • Conduct a farmer survey to evaluate aspiring and new farmers in the WNC to gain a deeper understanding of their obstacles & needs which will inform an integrated training to start or expand farm businesses.
  • Map regional educational assets of our regional allies in the area of farmer training so that we may work together more effectively to train new farmers.
  • Conduct an assessment of replicable farmer training programs, from across the country, that have strong statistical backing, student references, curriculum data, and success rates. An analysis of the best national programs is crucial to a resourced approach.
  • Use the findings to develop of Farm Pathways in 2015.

With these key steps, we will not just be ‘filling in the gaps’ of what’s missing in farmer training, but creating a new farmer-inspired, collaboratively-driven, and nationally-informed training program of the broadest scope, substance, and merit.

Barriers to Farming in Western North Carolina

In April and May 2015, we developed an online survey in collaboration with OGS staff, board, and farmer-led committee members. The survey was divided into three concentrations; access, knowledge/expertise and lifestyle/community. Even though it was during the busy spring season, we had over 150 farmers respond! Thank you!! We found we successfully reached those newer to farming, with 73% respondents farming 10 years or less, and 48% under the age of 39.

In addition to the on-line survey, we conducted one-on-one interviews with ten emerging & beginning farmers and held a focus group with 6 farmers in their 5th-10th year farming asking what they saw as the primary barriers to farming in WNC.

Executive Summary: Barriers to Farming in WNCexecu_summ_image Published August 2015

Barriers to Farmer in WNC Full Survey Reportsurvey_report_image96 pages — Published August 2015

Barriers to Farming in WNC Survey Report without Appendicessurvey_report_image 31 pages — Published August 2015

Regional Ally Input Meetings & Asset Map

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.

Read a summary of the meetings: Ally Input Meeting Executive Summary

Read our blog post about the meetings: Farm Pathways: Cultivating Regional Allies

National Farmer Training Program Assessment

The final component of our Barriers to Farming research project entailed researching and assessing other beginning farmer training programs across the U.S.A. Our intention was to conduct an assessment of replicable farmer training programs, from across the country, that have strong statistical backing, student references, curriculum data, and success rates. An analysis of the best national programs is crucial to a resourced approach that in turn can inform the team as we developed a comprehensive beginning farmer training program for Western North Carolina (WNC). OGS compiled this concise overview of beginning farmer training programs from across the US and used it to inform not only our training program selection but content and curriculum for the OGS Farm Beginnings® farmer training program. This summary is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to all farmer training programs, but rather serve as a roadmap for programs that influenced our own program decisions. Additionally, it may provide a starting place for other agricultural support agencies as they begin to research farmer training programs.

Read the report on National Farmer Training Programs here.


If you have any questions, please email Sera at

OGS Farmer Programs are made possible by our farmer network and funding in part by Carolina Farm Credit, Community Foundation of WNC, CLIF Bar Family Foundation, French Broad Food Co-op, New Belgium Brewing, Organic Valley - Farmers Advocating for Organic Farming, Simply Organic 1%, Hendersonville Community Co-op, WNCW, and by the USDA-NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Grant #2016-70017-25341. Read more about Farmer Programs' Funding Partners here.

Organic Growers School, a 501c3 nonprofit, has been the premiere provider of practical and affordable organic education in the Southern Appalachians for 25 years.

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(828) 214-7833
PO Box 17804
Asheville, NC 28816