OEFFA's Next Farm Team: Stories From The Field

Welcome to OEFFA's Begin Farming Program blog! Check back often for more beginning farmer profiles, stories from our farmers and about farmland access opportunities, and information about upcoming programs and events.

OEFFA's Begin Farming Program provides aspiring and early career farmers the support they need to understand what it takes to get into farming and grow their businesses, with the goal of increasing the number of successful sustainable and organic farmers in Ohio.

If you are interested in participating in these programs, or if you'd like to contribute to this blog, please contact Kelly Henderson, Begin Farming Program Coordinator.

Posts in category: "Organic farming"

In the Field: Connect and Get To Work

by Kelly Henderson
Photo: Farmer Ed Snavley of Curly Tail Organics with 2017 Apprentice Cohort

What happens when you mix young and beginning farmers with experienced farmers? Beautiful things! Take, for example, a recent field day visiting local farms in Fredericktown, Ohio with the Begin Farming Apprentice cohort. Long-time farmer, Ed Snavley of Curly Tail Organics met with us this hot summer morning to talk grain farming, soil fertility, and crop rotations.

While not all of the apprentices have a particular interest in becoming grain farmers, the wealth of knowledge that Ed was able to share can't be found in a book. When we consider the impending number and age of retiring farmers in this country and the need to get new farmers on the land, we often do not acknowledge the importance of retaining the deep agricultural knowledge ingrained in experienced farmers and ensuring transfer of skills and knowledge.

Photo: Farmer Ed Snavley of Curly Tail Organics with 2017 Apprentice Cohort

Through apprenticeship and mentorship programs, we can start to crack this very tough nut in more formal ways. But through additional field days, skill-sharing opportunities, and informal networking events, we can start to truly build community relationships and support around budding farmers.

Our second stop of the day was at Fox Hollow Farm, visiting farmers Chelsea Gandy and Jesse Rickard. These young, but quite experienced farmers, shared knowledge about multi-species intensive grazing management on their 180 acre farm. They also shared insights about utilizing resources available on farm to lower input requirements and maximize efficiencies.
Photo: Farmers Chelsea Gandy and Jesse Rickard of Fox Hollow Farm with 2017 Apprentice Cohort

 With the help of interns from Kenyon College, we also learned about the solar micro-dairy that is managed on farm. While these new interns didn't have a lot of experience in farming, they were able to demonstrate some of their experiences in milking cows this summer. We are finding that peer-to-peer learning can also play an important role in training beginning farmers.

Photo: Kenyon College Interns with 2017 Apprentice Cohort

Our last stop of the day was at Sweet Grass Dairy, owned and managed by Jacob and Elizabeth Coleman. Sweet Grass Dairy is a grass-based farm that raises a variety of livestock. As we toured the pastures, Jacob talked about the natural cycles on the farm and how they impact the nutrients in the grass and forage that the animals consume. As we walked out into the herd, there was an overwhelming sense of quietness that swept over the group. If you have ever stood out in a field with such large and magestic creatures, you may understand the need for such humbleness. After spending their days working in vegetable fields, and my days in the office, it was a welcomed change to witness the grace and calm nature of Jacob's herd.

Photo: Farmer Jacob Coleman of Sweet Grass Dairy with 2017 Apprentice Cohort

The apprentices learned about alternative marketing models and after visiting the animals in the field, they had the opportunity to tour the farm store and see the food products made from the animals.
As we work to train the next generation of farmers, it is important to recognize the wealth of knowledge existing within our farm communities, among both experienced and budding farmers. Farmers are known for growing food, but they are also knowledge keepers and educators. We have so much gratitude for the farmers who train, support, and share with new farmers! So, as you head to get started with your field work, remember the importance of connecting with other farmers and think about how it could improve your own business and social capital. Or maybe you're an experienced farmer willing to share some farming insights with a rookie. As Phil Collins once said, "In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn."

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Learning by Doing: Developing Resiliency Through Farming

by Claire Saunders

Pho: Apprentices Paige Saho (left) and Claire Saunders (right) at Sunbeam Family Farm

Having no previous experience with farming I knew that I would be wildly unprepared for the Begin Farming Apprenticeship. Still, I was confident enough in my physical capabilities, and knew that this was something that I was eager to learn about, and I held on to hope that although it would certainly be challenging, the rewards would be just as great. There was no way of preparing myself for exactly how challenging, and how rewarding, the program would end up being.

Pictured: Guest blogger, Claire Saunders

There is never a dull moment on Sunbeam Family Farm. Busy, frustrating, exciting, at times nearly overwhelming, but never dull. One Tuesday we were set to plant watermelons in an off-site field. For a while now our host farmer, Ben Dilbone, had been lamenting that these needed to get into the ground, but it had taken a while to prepare the site, so it had gotten pushed further and further back. As we drove down to the site, small drops of rain began to fall, but it didn’t seem like it would be a problem. For a while things were going smoothly, and then the rain got heavier. We stayed out in the field putting the plants in the ground until someone saw lightening. For about 15 minutes we sat in the car, drenched, trying to get enough bars on our phones to look at the radar. Eventually we drove back to the main farm, thinking that the rain was going to continue, when it began to taper off. There were still a good amount of plants that needed to be planted, so we headed back to the field yet again. After we had finished there, we went back to the farm and had lunch.

It wasn’t till we got out into the home fields that we saw the worst of it. There were plants that needed to get into the ground there as well, so we were back out in it. By now the cloud cover and rain were gone, replaced with the bright sun, turning the field into a sauna. The mud was so bad that we kept getting stuck, so we ended up taking off our shoes and socks and wading barefoot through the rows, because it was easier to move that way. We had to plant on plastic mulch, so while the ground beneath our feet was a mudslide, the ground where the plants were headed was dry as could be and needed to be watered. Hauling the hoses through the mud took four people. Planting that should have taken an hour and a half at most instead took about three. By the time it was finished we had water in every crevice, sore muscles where we didn’t know muscles existed, and some of the strangest sunburns we’ve ever seen. The mud had been so thick and the suction so fierce that my boots and the boots of another apprentice came completely apart at the seams, rendering them useless. It was by far the most exhausting day of work I have ever done.

The next week we returned to the off-site field, and I was delighted to see that the plants we had put in during the storm were doing well. Not only were they still alive, but they were thriving. It’s still amazing to me that something so small and delicate could survive such a downpour, but time and time again the plants surprise me with their resilience. It’s a trait that I’m trying to take to heart.

A few days ago I woke to find my hand completely numb. I was unable to bend my fingers, and even once I warmed it up, had very little grip strength. The likely culprit: the two hours of hand hoeing and weeding that we had done in the celery root the day before, combined with making sure the garlic had been tied tight enough that it wouldn’t slip out of the twine once it began to dry.
Two months into the apprenticeship, and still I’m running into challenges that I never would have expected, just like that rainy day with the watermelon. I’m grateful though, because so long as I’m still being challenged it means that there’s still more for me to learn. There are still many more difficulties to come, but along with those are the sweet rewards that are sure to follow if you persist. I plan on being there for all that will come my way, the good and the bad, and try my best to learn and be resilient, just like the plants. I just might need a new pair of boots first.

Claire joins the cohort from Westerville, Ohio. She received a degree in business finance from Kent State University and while she formerly worked in the business sector in Columbus, she knows that her heart is in agriculture. She first became interested in sustainable farming after reading The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymore and has recently spent time volunteering on local farms through WWOOF. As someone with no background in agriculture, she has been excited to apprentice at Sunbeam Family Farm because it is a balance of hands-on experiences and classroom education.

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Farmlink: Land Access Opportunities and Challenges for Beginning Farmers

by Kelly Henderson

All farm photos taken at Sunbeam Family Farm

I recently had the opportunity to attend the national conference on land tenure and land access, Changing Lands, Changing Hands, hosted by Land for Good in the mile high city of Denver, CO. As an agricultural educator who provides services to beginning farmers, this was the place to be! Land access and affordability continues to be among the top challenges beginning farmers face, and increasingly so, as we see more non-heir farmers taking root in the countryside.

Daniel Bigelow, Research Agricultural Economist with the USDA Economic Research Service shared some important, and a bit alarming, statistics with us from the 2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey, which are important in understanding the barrier farmers are up against. For instance, the survey found that of 911 million acres of farmland in the U.S., 39 percent are owned by non-operators. In 2014, more than 2 million landowners rented out 353.8 million acres of land for agricultural use. Of these landowners, 87 percent were non-farm operators, and the remaining 13 percent were farmers and ranchers.

 So, a lot of land that is not owned by farmers, is being rented out to farmers. These numbers suggest two important trends that are important to beginning farmers. First, over half of farm operator renters need to rent from multiple landlords in order to meet their land needs. Second, of the non-operator land rental arrangements with farmers, many of these agreements and leases continue for multiple years (some 10 years or longer).

For smaller scale, diversified beginning farmers the existing rental barriers are very real. If you cannot afford to buy farmland yet, or if you prefer to lease land before buying it, you may find yourself negotiating with multiple landlords, or simply having a hard time breaking the existing tenant/landlord relations that are trending towards longer term arrangements. These statistics shed some light on the larger land issue, but not necessarily a bright one.

While all of this may be frustrating to a beginning farmer trying to gain land and start a sustainable business, with a clear vision, a plan in place, and the right guidance and support, there can be a path forward. Nearly every land tenure and land access expert at the table had the same advice to share.

First, what are your goals? Not just your farm goals, but your personal life goals? What matters most to you? What are your income goals? Have you sat down to think about this before? Often, we get so caught up in the dream that we don’t think through the logistics of that dream. Sitting down with your family and business partners, and drafting a clear vision for your life and business are absolute keys to success. Without that lighthouse to guide you, it may be easy to get lost at sea.

Second, once you understand your goals and your vision, you need to understand the financial implications of those goals. Without financial stability, both in your personal and professional farming life, there will be no way to support your ultimate vision. If you are fresh out of college, or entering farming as a second career with no previous experience, no land, and no capital, then buying the 500 acre farm in a rural town, 75 miles from a big city, to start a diversified vegetable operation may not be the best place to start. Know what you can afford, but also know what kind of investment the enterprises you want to have will cost you over the long haul.

You may be saying to yourself, “This all sounds great, but I don’t have the time or knowledge to do any of this.” OEFFA has designed several educational opportunities to help support you in this process, whether you are an aspiring farmer still planning out the dream farm, or whether you are an early career farmer looking to solidify your farm plan.

The Farm Vision workshop, held in Columbus on Sunday, October 15, is a 4 hour course designed to help you clarify your goals and assess your strengths and weaknesses in preparing for your farm business. This workshop is for aspiring farmers in the very early stages of starting or thinking about starting a farm.

The Heartland Farm Beginnings® program, designed for early career farmers with some experience, is a 10 part intensive winter course (October 2017-February 2018), which provides 60 hours of learning to help guide you in whole farm planning from a holistic management perspective. In addition to the 10 classroom sessions, fees include a two day registration to the 2018 OEFFA Conference, business plan development, creation of a Growing Season Learning Plan, and mentoring opportunities with experienced farmers. This is a field-tested, farmer-led training program with proven results: 71 percent of Farm Beginnings® graduates were still farming in 2016.  

For those looking for land, or trying to sell or lease land, OEFFA can also help assist by connecting you to our landowner and land seeker listing. By completing a landowner survey, or land seeker survey, you’ll be connected to dozens of others in your region, and you might find a match. OEFFA also holds a Farmland of Opportunity networking event at our annual conference.

The bottom line is that there are resources and support systems in place to help you succeed in the development or expansion of your farm business, and you simply need to learn where they are and how to use them. If you want to learn more about our Begin Farming offerings, or have questions, please email me or give me a call at (614) 421-2022. We are here for you, farmers!

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In The Field: Farm Tour Season Is Here!

by Kelly Henderson

Photo: Sweet Grass Dairy
The 2017 Ohio Sustainable Farm Tour and Workshop Series information has officially been released and we are so excited about the many learning and networking opportunities for beginning farmers. Among the 43 events that will take place this growing season and beyond, many have been developed specifically to meet the needs of our region's aspiring and early career farmers. Let's take a look at the tours and workshops lined up for the next farm team!

Photo: Homecoming Farm

Diversified Beginning Farm Tour

Homecoming Farm in Amesville, OH - Athens County
Sunday, June 25 1-4 p.m.

John Wood, an Amesville native, started Homecoming Farm with the help of his parents George and Marcia, in 2015. This start-up is managed sustainably and ethically, and John is currently exploring organic certification. On this tour, John will share some of his experiences and lessons as a beginning farmer. John's farm is managed with a whole-farm approach with a focus on diverse, year-round income streams including fruit trees, vegetables, wood products, and non-timber forest products, such as maple syrup. The tour will include the farm's vegetable plots, flower beds, and sugar shack.

This tour is great for anyone interested in learning more about how to diversify a farm and manage both forested and unforested land! The tour is free, but pre-registration is encouraged. You can contact caitie@ruralaction.org and find directions or learn more here.

Young and Beginning Farmers Q & A and Networking Session

Rambling House Soda in Columbus, OH - Franklin County
Tuesday, August 8 6-8 p.m.

Networking events and opportunities to gather informally can play an important role in building community around budding farmers. As new farmers grow, they need a space to share ideas and information about production, business, marketing, and even sometimes policy. In order to facilitate these bridges between farmers, and in coordination with the Central Ohio Young Farmers Coalition chapter, OEFFA will be hosting an evening networking event for young and beginning farmers. 

Rambling House Soda is a casual music venue and soda shop where attendees can mingle to talk all things farming. It will be a great opportunity to bring your business and legal questions for answers from local farm lawyers, Barrett, Easterday, Cunningham & Eselgroth, LLP.

Photo by OEFFA staff: NYFC chapter leaders at the 2017 OEFFA Conference

Vegetable Equipment Systems Farm Tour

Mile Creek Farm in New Lebanon, OH - Montgomery County
Sunday, August 13 4-6 p.m.

Mile Creek Farm is a family run certified organic farm located just outside of Dayton, OH. The farm began in 2007 and is now cultivating 10 acres of vegetables that sell at farmers markets and through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

This beginning farmer focused tour will walk you through the process of equipment systems and the role that machinery can play in making established systems on the farm more efficient. Organic farmer Ben Jackle will provide an overview of the process and equipment used in their greenhouses, fields, and packing shed. Greenhorns will learn about seed bed preparation and cultivation for maximizing efficiency.

This tour will be useful for farmers interested in
learning about how equipment can facilitate effective flow on a mixed vegetable operation and how these systems fit together.
For more information and directions to the farm, click here.
Photo: Mile Creek Farm

Pasture-Raised Livestock Beginning Farm Tour

Moores Heritage Farm in Ashtabula, OH - Ashtabula County
Saturday, October 21 4-7 p.m.

Randall and Connie Moores are beginning farmers, breathing new life into Randall's grandparents' farmstead, which they purchased in 2014, after it had been sold out of the family in the 1990s. When Randall returned home from active duty service in the Army in 2015, they built a mobile chicken coop, raised small flocks of chickens and turkeys, and purchased two freshened dairy goats (pictured left) and Moores Heritage Farm was born. Last year was their first full season selling chicken, eggs, goat milk, fudge, and soap at two weekly farmer' markets. They also raised pastured pigs and grass-fed lamb, which were sold as whole and half animals directly to consumers. The Moores installed more than a mile of fencing around 32 acres and are in the process of reclaiming fields that have not been touched in nearly 30 years! They plan to seek organic certification in 2017.

As green farmers they have learned a lot from making mistakes but also from networking and sharing with other beginning and experienced farmers. The Moores have experience working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), The Ohio State University Extension, their local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), and the Ashtabula Local Food Council (ALFC). If you're a new livestock farmer or considering transitioning to organic production, this tour is for you!

As part of OEFFA's Begin Farming program, there are additional workshops being offered this fall and winter which include the Farm Vision Workshop, Heartland Farm Beginnings® Training Course, and a workshop focused on scaling-up, Grow More Vegetables, Make More Money. You can learn more about these workshops at the links provided, and more information will be released this summer.
Stay tuned readers!

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Learning by Doing: Apprentices Gain On-Farm Experiences

by Kelly Henderson

Photo: Apprentices at Jorgensen Farms
On a rainy April morning, I had a chance to catch up with a few of our newest beginning farmers participating in OEFFA's Begin Farming Apprenticeship Program. This program has enabled nine apprentices to work on one of two central Ohio certified organic, mixed vegetable operations. In addition to on-farm training, the program includes additional learning opportunities, such as classroom education around topics like organic certification and agroecology, and off-farm field days to learn from other farmers. Despite the colder weather, these apprentices were beaming with positivity for the season to come. The apprentices were busy side dressing greens in a hoop house when I arrived at Jorgensen Farms in Westerville. Read on to learn a little bit about each of the 2017 apprentices. We'll be catching up with each of them throughout the season and hearing about their learning experiences in the program, so be sure to follow along!

Pictured (right to left): Joanna Tilton, Rowan Patton, Katie Barr

Meet the Sunbeam Family Farm Team

Claire Saunders

Claire joins the cohort from Westerville, Ohio. She received a degree in business finance from Kent State College and while she formerly worked in the business sector in Columbus, she knows that her heart is in agriculture. She first became interested in sustainable farming after reading The Self Sufficient Life and How to Live It by John Seymore and has recently spent time volunteering on local farms through WWOOF.

As someone with no background in agriculture, she is excited to apprentice at Sunbeam Family Farm because it is a balance of hands-on experiences and classroom education. Claire is looking forward to joining a dynamic team of motivated farmers!

Nicole Hamann
Nicole is from Port Clinton, Ohio. She received her Associates of the Arts degree from Columbus State Community College and spent some time traveling the country and landscaping. She was inspired by the persistance of people living in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, who grew container gardens on their roofs and hosted farmers' markets in churches.
After moving back to Ohio, she worked at the Clintonville Community Market; Oakland Nursery; and Peace, Love, and Freedom Farms, where she cultivated her love of gardening. Nicole joined the apprentice program to gain more hands on experience growing different crops and to learn about business planning for a sustainable farm.

Paige Saho
Paige is from the village of Gnadenhutten in eastern Ohio. She be will graduating from The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business in May 2017. Paige has experience working both on a family member's vegetable farm and on a dairy farm helping milk cows. She also has an extensive background in customer service.
She is participating in the Begin Farming Apprenticeship Program because she hopes to one day own her own farm and wants to learn more about sustainable agriculture.

Meet the Jorgensen Farms Team

Rowan Patton
Rowan hails from Northwest Indiana and received a bachelor's degree in Environmental and Occupational Health Science from Purdue University in 2013. He has voluneered for Heifer International in central Massachusetts, where he fell in love with animal husbandry, and has worked at Crown Point Ecology Center in Ohio trying his hand at growing vegetables.
He hopes to tie everything together at Jorgensen Farms and one day run a successful farm. Rowan has found farming to be the most physically and mentally challenging, but also the most rewarding, work he has ever done.    
Joanna Tilton
Joanna Tilton is a native of southwest Ohio, but has called Michigan home for the past ten years. She has a degree in Sociology from Eastern Michigan University, but has more recently found a passion in food production, policy, and sustainability. Joanna has worked in Ann Arbor at The Lunch Room as a farm manager, and at Seeley Farm as a farm assistant.
Her favorite place is at any farmers' market, and she has never met a fruit or vegetable she doesn't like! After working for two seasons on farms in Ann Arbor, she is excited to embark on this learning opportunity with OEFFA. 
Katie Barr
Katie Barr hails from Long Island, New York, and is a recent graduate of Barnard College with a degree in Environmental Policy. She is very passionate about sustainable food systems, specifically in increasing education around and access to fresh, healthy foods in urban environments. Katie interned at the Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education, and Policy at Teacher’s College of Columbia University; worked a full summer season on a small-scale organic farm in upstate New York; and volunteered for both Slow Food’s New York City chapter, and for a community development organization, Project EATS. She is currently an active contributing writer for FoodTank.com, the online Food Think Tank.
She is incredibly excited to expand her knowledge of sustainable agriculture with OEFFA and Jorgensen Farms, and someday hopes to obtain a masters degree in agroecology.     
Emily Moran
Emily is a junior at Capital University studying Business Management and Entrepreneurship. Originally from Shaker Heights, Ohio, Emily spent four years abroad in Italy and Singapore with her family. Emily first found interest in farming during her time in Italy, the rich agriculture and beautiful landscapes drew Emily into the field where she first learned to garden. Inspired by the advances in farming organic produce, Emily knew this was something she was passionate about.
Emily is excited to learn more about organic farming in Ohio with this hands-on experience and hopes to own her own farm someday.

Tama Ricks
Tama has a passion for all things healthy and sustainable, and especially for healthy, locally sourced foods. Formerly, she worked as a Volunteer Coordinator for the Columbus Growing Collective and has spent time working on WWOOF farms. She currently serves on the board of the Clintonville Farmers Market, and volunteers for Local Matters.
With her strong passion to strengthen communities by increasing food security, she has a strong drive to become a sustainable fruit and vegetable farmer. She is now pursuing her Environmental Science degree to expand her knowledge of environmental health and regulations. When finished she plans to start her own sustainable farming operation to support her community and cultivate a more ecologically sound environment.  
Emily Romain
Emily is currently a student at The Ohio State University pursuing her bachelor's degree in Natural Resource Management with a specialization in Sustainable Agriculture. Emily earned her Associates of Science degree in Sustainable Agriculture in May 2016.
She has worked at the Ohio Agricultral Research and Development Center's Viticulture Department as a Student Research Associate, and more recently at the Ohio Environmental Council as an intern. She aspires to use her education to establish grassroots gardening efforts for people in underserved communities.

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Want to learn more about OEFFA's Begin Farming Program? Email beginfarming@oeffa.org.

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