2018 beginning farmer scholarship recipients at the OEFFA Conference (Photo: Ed Chen)
As part of our Begin Farming program, we awarded 20 scholarships to early career farmers to attend OEFFA’s 39th annual conference February 15-17, 2018 to learn how to grow their budding farm businesses and network with other farmers.
We asked the scholarship recipients about their farm businesses and how their conference experiences are helping them grow this year.
Jenny Vaughn, co-owner of Pink Elephant Farm & Kitchen traveled from Smithfield, Kentucky. Jenny is coming into her third season as a grower, tending a diverse market garden, an acre of blueberries, a small herd of jersey cows, and an entertaining flock of hens that rotate through the farm. She is also working to plant trees, repair old barns, revive springs, and clean streams on the farm.
She gained a lot out of grazing consultant Sarah Flack’s grazing workshops and picked up more tips for improving grazing routines and new ideas for improvements to hen-mobiles. Jenny also gleaned some very tangible pointers for assessing and tracking the health of her cows, including learning about an app for that!
When asked about her biggest takeaway, Jenny said, “Good grazing management is the best solution to 95 percent of pasture issues. In a diversified farm, it's easy to let lots of things steal your attention away and that was a good reminder of the benefits of focus and intention around that work.”
Josh Stephens of Urban Renaissance Farms in Euclid, Ohio is a new farmer beginning his third season growing berries and raising bees on a piece of rented city-owned land in an eastern suburb of Cleveland.
One of the most useful workshop sessions Josh attended, "Urban High Tunnel Tomato Production" with Annabel Khouri and Eric Stoffer of Bay Branch Farm, will allow him to expand his tomato production this year and launch a value-added ketchup enterprise.
Networking was a key for Josh during the conference stating, “A real highlight for me was meeting the wonderful people from Bay Branch Farm in Lakewood, Ohio. They are local to me and meeting them has put me in touch with local, urban farmers who I can contact for assistance and guidance.”
Dana Workman Stacey is the owner/operator of Grass Powered Poultry & Meats in Hillsboro, Ohio. She grew up a horse girl in the suburbs of Zansville, Ohio, but always had a passion for all things farming. By day, she is a rural property appraiser for Farm Credit Mid-America, and owner of Grass Powered Poultry & Meats by night. The farm business began in 2012 when Dana and her husband Jesse raised a batch of pastured meat chickens for themselves, family, and friends. Along the way, they added laying hens, turkeys, Scottish Highland cattle, and teamed up with another local farmer to raise pastured hogs.
The more they learned about the issues of our current food system, the more committed they became to growing a stronger local food economy and making sure their community has access to wholesome pasture-raised products. They are relearning many of the animal husbandry and cooking skills lost over time and doing their best to encourage others on the same path.
One of the top conference sessions for Dana was "Health Insurance and Risk Management for Farmers," which featured a panel of experts who covered health insurance, farm insurance, and agricultural employment law. Dana said, “We will be hiring our first employee in 2018, so it was perfect timing to learn about legalities and tax issues along with the need for workers compensation coverage with employees.”
Farmers networking at the 2018 OEFFA Conference (Photo: Ed Chen)
The benefits of the OEFFA conference go beyond the direct learning that takes place during workshops. Beginning farmers, like Dana, consistently find and build their network at conference. “Each year I have met new contacts, both beginning and experienced farmers. I love knowing that I have a network of fellow farmers to call when I need advice or support, and that I can also be a resource to others too. Spending time with friends and being surrounded by a group of like-minded farmers is a highlight of conference. It’s empowering and inspiring to feel like I belong.”
Funding for the scholarships and the six-part Begin Farming conference workshop track was made possible through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
Are you a beginning farmer seeking help or resources? Click here or contact Begin Farming Program Coordinator Kelly Henderson at (614) 421-2022 Ext. 213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.