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: This Learning Curve

OEFFA just recently wrapped up a 60 hour whole-farm planning course with its first cohort of beginning farmers. Heartland Farm Beginnings® is a year-long, farmer-led training and support program that is designed to help early career farmers, committed to creating a sustainable farm business, achieve their goals. Participants spent two Saturdays a month in class learning from other farmers and agricultural service providers as they developed a whole-farm plan through values-based goal-setting, financial management, and assessment of resources, skills, and markets. Upon completion of the course and business plan, farmers have now moved into an individualized learning mentorship with a local farmer engaged in a similar enterprise.

In September, our first cohort will graduate from the program and we will welcome our second cohort for another year of shared learning in October. Guest blogger and Heartland Farm Beginnings participant, Caroline McColloch shares some of her experiences in the program and as a new farmer.

What a day. There is something about working with like-minded people that is very motivating! Couple that with an attitude for nosing out opportunity, and now you’re cookin’. Things might just start happening.

One of the energizing things about this Heartland Farm Beginnings class® is the camaraderie of regenerative agriculture. There aren’t too many professions where all is done with such purpose and devotion. Though farming is often a solitary endeavor, as colleagues networking, we collaborate toward the larger goal of building commerce and community around healthy ecosystems and food production. The great benefit of restorative agriculture is the so-called triple bottom line, whereby a gain in one area of life does not come at an exorbitant expense to another: economics and ecology and social factors are all addressed in the way we steward our farms. We’re not in it only to make a living, but also to improve the world we live in, one healthy person and community at a time. It all begins with the soil and the sun.

Nearing the end of sixty classroom hours in the ninth session, we listened to the professionals outline funding and program opportunities and heard about state and national farm policy advocacy. My head was spinning with the proverbial “high bandwidth download.” But the day wasn’t over! One of the panel speakers from a previous class about buyers was expecting my visit at his recently opened butcher shop. And wow! What an amazing selection of artisanal offerings of cheeses, fresh meats, and special pantry items, all conscientiously sourced fresh from nearby producers. I visited a little with Tony Tanner, the proprietor of The Butcher and Grocer, discussing meat goat production. One can really appreciate that personal relationships are the bedrock of his business: another pillar of the new food and farming paradigm is relationships, whereas the industrial model to some extent treats relationships as a hindrance to efficiency.

Pastured goats at Chez Nous Farm

So much packed into eleven hours! I came home with these wonderful posters from the Natural Resources Conservation Service about Monarch butterflies and flowering trees for pollinators. Education itself can be a work of art. My homecoming was made especially enjoyable, having “voted with my food dollars” to partake of a delectable locally brewed IPA, some heavenly goat cheese, and a cured meat resembling prosciutto (“charcuterie”) from The Butcher and Grocer.

Locally made sausages at The Butcher and Grocer in Grandview

As the classroom marathon neared its conclusion, culminating in a written farm business plan...intimidating is one word to describe my feeling. We are swimming in resources: books, periodicals, worksheets, a gazillion websites bookmarked in my browser. But other words come to mind as well: Potential. Creative. Delightful. Challenging. Satisfying. Joyous. A dang lot of hard work (in a good way)! This kind of farming is a quietly honorable profession, a multi-dimensional work of art in space and time, with nature and society as its canvas.

Caroline McColloch is the owner and operator of Chez Nous Farm located in Piqua, Ohio and is working to develop a pasture-based goat meat and diversified fruit, vegetable, and herb operation. Chez Nous farm is twenty five acres of rolling pasture and woodland dedicated to mindful food production that integrates conservation, community, and health. Now in its third generation of a family devoted to stewardship, the fullest potential of its abundant natural resources is being developed not only for nutrient-dense food production, but also as a practical teaching and learning resource for the people of Miami County. Chez Nous Farm’s goal is to become a valuable component of the growing local food commerce in Ohio through wise management of habitat, soil, water, and business acumen that provides adequate income to support sustained profitability and a satisfying quality of life.



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

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