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Extension > Small Farms News > Newsletter - Dispatch from the National Small Farm Conference

Friday, September 30, 2016

Newsletter - Dispatch from the National Small Farm Conference

Last week, I attended the National Small Farms Conference in Virginia Beach (don’t get jealous, it was raining pretty much the whole time, I blame Poseidon, at right).  The conference is held every four years, this year it was hosted by Virginia State University, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the USDA with support from Virginia Tech.  Three of us from the UMN Extension Small Farms team attended.

The conference is designed for folks like me in Extension, but also farmers, government, and researchers – along with anyone interested in learning how to better support small farms.  Here’s part 1 of what I learned followed by a training opportunity that’s coming soon to SE MN.

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Ideas for online education: Some of you have participated in our “Living on the land” program.  In the past year, our team has been working through a process of moving towards a hybrid in-person/online educational program. 
  •  I was encouraged to learn what Oregon State University (OSU) has done with their “Growing Farms Workshops”
  • We know from our own survey work that our audience is open to learning via online education, but still want an in-person experience to connect with peers and educators
  • This was how they built their program, OSU has had success in reaching audiences by going to a hybrid model

Staging farmers in their first 10 years:  OSU (again, they’re doing good work) has assessed how farmers move through their first 10 years of farming.  In the presentation “Successfully navigating the first ten years: Education targeting farm developmental stages to achieve long-term viability for small farms” from Garry Stephenson and Lauren Gwin shared how they break down the stages;
  • Stage 1:  Proving you can grow and sell
    • First 2-3 seasons, inefficient, learning from mentors, high levels of confidence
  • Stage 2:  More deliberate, less frantic
    • Easing the burden with equipment and hired labor, letting go of perfection, scaling up and saving backs
  • Stage 3:  How can we make money?
    • Systems are in place and time for experimentation, balancing idealism and realism, maybe time for a business plan
  • Stage 4:   I can do it, but should I still?
    • Assessment, reflection on lifestyle, career, future, family

Do these stages ring true for you? If so, what stage are you in?

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Speaking of farmer education…

Living on the Land: Buffalo, MN

Living on the Land will provide you with a solid background in all aspects of land management. The basic agricultural information will help you be a good steward of your land and prepare you for more advanced learning opportunities.  The eight-week course, offered by University of Minnesota Extension, begins on October 19th with goal setting and individual property inventory, then addresses soil, plant, livestock, and water basics. You’ll also have plenty of time for networking and questions. 


New Farmer U

New Farmer U is a weekend training for beginning farmers Oct. 21-23, 2016 in Lanesboro, MN. Experienced organic farmers and ag experts will lead workshops on topics such as soil fertility, pest management, and farm machinery. Land access, certification, and business planning are also on the agenda, along with expert-led roundtables. New Farmer U is hosted by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, Renewing the Countryside, and Land Stewardship Project with support from the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher. 


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That’s all for this week, have a great weekend.

PS:  Feel free to share using the social media icons at the top of the page, or with this link, http://z.umn.edu/18ye

Jake Overgaard
Extension Educator

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