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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.


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

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