Programs to Help Aspiring Farmers Bring Vision to Fruition

If you’ve ever fantasized about becoming a farmer, you’re certainly not alone. Many of us idealize what it might be like to live off the land, working in concert with nature to grow food that will nourish our families and communities.

Recently, the Chesapeake Foodshed Network, a Fair Farms partner, held a  “Realizing Your Farm Dreams”  webinar to inform serious barnhearts of available tools and training opportunities. They focused heavily on Future Harvest’s Beginner Farmer Training Program, which works to transform new farmers into educated, successful farmers.

So, what do farmer-trainers recommend for the 71% percent of the webinar attendees who have less than one year of experience in farming, and for others who may be considering such a career transition?

Most importantly, they encourage aspirants to identify their motivation for farming. Are you a hopeful, second-career farmer inspired by the idea of spending your days outdoors instead of under fluorescent office lights? Do you want to live a lifestyle that provides tangible services to the community and makes use of entrepreneurial skills?

Next, they recommend clarifying your vision in terms of products, location, and scale, posing the question, “Where do I want to be in farming three years from now?”  They encourage you to positively frame your goals while being realistic about the time, energy, and financial investment that will parallel the size of each farm.

Leaders also emphasize the importance of establishing a clear, personal vision, and note that a farm can serve multiple purposes and encompass many different passions. For instance, A Farm Less Ordinary in Bluemont, Virginia provides “employment and a welcoming community to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, while sustainably growing organic food for the Metropolitan DC area.”

After establishing a clear vision and a conscious understanding of what inspires you to begin farming, it’s time to address barriers to these visions, including the strengths and weaknesses that would either help or hinder you in reaching your goals.

Common strengths among new farmers include previous growing experience, a passion for living holistically and in communion with the land, discipline, physical fitness, and strong communication, financial, and time management skills.

Challenges include lack of access to land, equipment, funds, labor, and proper education to help enter existing markets and avoid making rookie mistakes.

If farming is something you keep toying with, consider learning more about Future Harvest CASA’s Beginner Farmer Training Program (BFTP), which provides three training levels to fit the needs of beginning, intermediate, and advanced farmers. The program is funded through the 2016 USDA Beginning Farmers and Rancher Development grant program, and it has become increasingly popular and competitive. The BFTP began with 25 farmers in 2016, but accepted 70 farmers this year after receiving 110 applications, with over 60 of the applications for the introductory level.

Since funding is tight, one is encouraged to apply early (applications begin August 15!). And if you’re not accepted to the program, the trainers recommend that you find a farm you can volunteer with. This way, you can gain field experience and prioritize what you need to learn to progress. Summer may be winding down, but the growing season extends far into autumn on the Delmarva peninsula!

If you are excited about the prospect of entering a farmer training program, you can learn more about the program here. If you would like more detailed advice from Sarah Sohn and Niam Shortt, the leaders of the webinar, you can watch a recording of the webinar here.

So…are you ready to make your dreams a reality?

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