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December 30, 2015
Cameron Farlow, Farmer Programs Coordinator
(828) 338-9465

For Immediate Release

Asheville, NC–Organic Growers School launched the WNC Farm Beginnings® Farmer Training, a year-long, comprehensive farmer training program in late October, 2015 to a full house of 14 farms and 24 farmers. The training is designed to offer beginning and expanding farmers the practical skills and knowledge needed to start and grow successful, long-term, farm businesses. WNC Farm Beginnings® is a licensed farmer training model from the Farm Beginnings® Collaborative, a national alliance of independent regional groups of farmers and farmer-training support organizations working together to promote farmer education that is community based, rooted in sustainable principles, and farmer led.

In order to participate in the WNC Farm Beginnings® Farmer Training, Organic Growers School
(OGS) required that each farmer-participant possess some relevant farming experience such as work experience on a farm, farm start-up preparedness, previous training, or actual professional farming work.All farmer applications were reviewed for business-stage appropriateness and some aspiring farmer applicants were asked to get more experience before being accepted into the program.

“We were concerned with the short window for marketing the program,” says Cameron Farlow, the Farmer Programs Director for OGS, “because we announced the program at the end of September for a start date on October 24th, yet program received a lot of press and word traveled fast. We conducted four information sessions for potential student farmers to discuss questions and review the curriculum. The fact that the class filled so quickly and with such a short turn-around, confirmed our assessment that there is a need in our region for this type of comprehensive education.”

The 2015-16 WNC Farm Beginnings® Farmer Training students come from Buncombe, Madison, and Grahamcounties and possess diverse backgrounds in professions such as teaching, business ownership, and engineering. Their farm enterprise interests range from industrial hemp and medicinal herbs, to cut flowers, dairy, annual vegetables, and mushrooms.

One WNC Farm Beginnings® Farmer Training student, Claudia Townsend lives in Black Mountain and plans to start WNC Hemp Farm after completing the course. Townsend said, “We want to tap into local resources that allow us to put into action what we’ve been dreaming. It is a huge step to go from being a teacher to taking on a farm. Without being in the Farm Beginnings® class I wouldn’t have known where to start.”

Each class module in the 120+ hour program is led by a farmer or team of farmers who introduce important business, marketing, and financial planning concepts and tools. Learning from instructors who are also farmers helps the students learn complex ideas through the lens of someone who is actively farming, as a profession, in WNC. “These are real, on-the-ground, farming experts,” says Nicole DelCogliano, Farmer Programs Coordinator for OGS, “not theoretical or academically minded growers. They are able to convey the opportunities and challenges in a realistic and forthright manner, which not only builds trust with students, but introduces a strong dose of practicality into their plans.”

The WNC Farm BeginningsⓇ one-year course consists of 120+ hours of training time, including 49 hours of whole farm business planning sessions to take place October 2015 through March 2016; 55 hours of production training through field days on sustainable farms around WNC April through October, 2016; and 20+ hours of classes at the OGS Annual Spring Conference in March, 2016.

A key component of the training are the principles of
‘Holistic Management,’ best describes as goal setting and whole-farm planning. WNC Farm Beginnings® students are responding positively towards the holistic planning approach. Townsend, the aforementioned student says, “I feel excited to be learning how to make decisions based on ideals that I have for my family and the quality of life that we want to have through our farm. WNC Farm Beginnings® is helping us set up a good foundation for our farm before we even look at the specific technical pieces that need to be in place. It seems so obvious that we need to establish what we want to get out of the farm before we figure out what kind of tractor we will buy, but this is what I’m learning!”

The cost of the WNC Farm Beginnings® Farmer Training was $3,000 per farm, discounted to $1500 per farm for the pilot year of 2015-16. Farmers taking the program in future years will pay the full price. In addition to the pilot year discount on program tuition, OGS gave out $3500 in scholarship funds to participants. “We feel enthusiastic about making the program affordable for our first-year participants of limited means,” says Lee Warren, Executive Director of OGS. “We required financial records from participants in order to determine their need and ended up awarded between $300 to $600 per farm to those students who requested assistance. This was possible due to the support of The Community Foundation of Western NC, Clif Bar Foundation, and the USDA’s Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program.”

Organic Growers School is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.


Cameron Farlow

Author: Cameron Farlow

Cameron Farlow is the Farmer Programs Director. Hailing from Greensboro, NC with dairy farming in her blood, she has now made her home in Western NC. After earning her undergraduate degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, 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. She also brings experience 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. In addition to her work with OGS, Cameron is a beekeeper, dancer, baker and avid adventurer.

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