With whole farm planning programs beginning to take shape for this coming winter, we wanted to feature a post about another wonderful program for beginning farmers and ranchers in Virginia. This post was contributed by Jim Hankins with the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program:
One of the most rewarding parts of our on-going work with new farmers in the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program are those frequent moments when all we have to do is step back and let new farmers learn from one another. Each year we have attracted a group of very smart people who have come to the classes with a wealth of experience and knowledge. That knowledge base may not be in agriculture but running a business, dealing with employees and taxes, marketing and research – all skill sets that are necessary to launching a new farming career. The new farmer who will speak up in class and share genuine real world experience is the best educational tool any teacher could hope for.
This farmer to farmer learning does not stop once the Beginning Farmer classes have stopped. The Northern Piedmont program has been serving our region for several years now and so there are several “generations” of prior year’s students who are showing up at workshops and Extension events. This summer at one workshop at the Fauquier Education Farm there individuals from four different sessions of the Northern Piedmont program in attendance. Again the reward happens once I’ve made an introduction and can just step back and see the excitement build as these new farmers share their experience with each other. And believe me, they are not shy about sharing! The value of introducing an aspiring new berry farmer to the gentleman from a previous session of the same program who is several steps ahead and already has 1500 blueberries bushes planted is much richer than anything I could put into a PowerPoint presentation. I have had the good fortune of seeing this happen many times.
We have even had the pleasure of seeing new farmers from the Northern Piedmont program move on and formally become part of our learning process. Chris Pearson signed up for the course years ago to become better informed about how to generate some income off of his land. Chris is also a CPA in Culpeper and has returned each year since he took the course to give a presentation as part of our Whole Farm Business Management and Planning module. His voice as a new farmer and an excellent CPA really gets our students attention and his contribution to the program is huge. John Fant also took the Northern Piedmont program years ago and has since then moved to SW Virginia. However, John has continued to take great interest in the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition and now serves on the Advisory Board for the Coalition. His contributions as a new farmer and veteran will help see our Coalition grow stronger into the future.
The planning has begun for next year’s newest class of the Northern Piedmont program and we look forward to meeting that new group of excited new farmers. We take the course very seriously and put a good deal of effort into presenting valuable information. However, we know that any time you put 25 aspiring farmers together for several weeks that there will be all of that unplanned learning going on as well, and it is a process that will continue for years to come. As I write this I know I will be going to one of our Twilight Veggies Tours this evening in Madison Co. There will be farmers talking to farmers and freely sharing information and excitement. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be part of.
Fauquier Education Farm Website: http://fauquiereducationfarm.org/
Fauquier Education Farm, VSU Small Farm Outreach Program
Fauquier County Ag Development Office
Post Contributed By: Jim Hankins