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Cultivating Farm Dreams with the Farmer Training Initiative

It's not every day that you hear, "When I grow up, I want to be a farmer..." but the staff at Angelic Organics Learning Center hears this sentiment often. Some individuals find fulfillment in growing food for themselves in their gardens in an effort to be more self-sustaining, or simply for the satisfaction of undeniably fresh produce. Others are looking for a safe and healthy place to raise a family and are drawn to opportunities for learning through interactions with animals and the natural world. Chicago resident Danny Frohman needed a change of pace...

"This past March I just quit my desk job of many years. I was restless, and had been sitting down in front of a computer for far too long; I needed something active and to be on my feet all day."

Since he was young, Danny had fostered a dream to live self-sufficiently off the land, and his wife was always fond of growing tomatoes and herbs. This spring they took the next step toward their retirement goal of running a farm bed and breakfast. "I already knew about the B&B part but had no idea what the farm part was about," Danny explains. In his search for farm educational opportunities, Danny came across Upper Midwest CRAFT and Stateline Farm Beginnings, two programs coordinated by Angelic Organics Learning Center.

CRAFT (The Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training) is a network of farmers and farming enthusiasts who provide each other with farmer-to-farmer training and share knowledge and resources on sustainable farming, and Stateline Farm Beginnings is a year-long business planning course for beginning farmers. After joining CRAFT, Danny began attending Field Days at CRAFT member-farms to get a feel for how different farms operate. After his first Field Day, Danny decided, "It was too early in our development to take the Farm Beginnings course this year, and I was wondering how I would get some – any – on-farm experience." Having joined CRAFT in mid-April, after many farms had already hired their farm crew for the season, Danny was unsure about how he could find work on a farm.

CRAFT members receive weekly eNewsletters: a collection of resources for farmers that ranges from news articles to grant opportunities to equipment or land for sale. Many CRAFT farmers use the newsletter to find and connect with interns and employees for available positions on their farm. This is exactly what happened to Danny. "On June 21, I saw the job posting for a Wash/Pack Coordinator at Tempel Farms Organics – just 35 minutes up the road from me! I sent in an application and started work July 11 and the rest is history. Thanks to CRAFT, I stumbled into a great bunch of people doing the very things I wanted to learn about... Hey! That is CRAFT! I’m happy as a pig in mud!"

For aspiring farmers that, like Danny, gain some hands-on farming experience and discover the rewards of hard work in the sun, Stateline Farm Beginnings is a great next step for people who are ready to flush out their farm business plan and focus their enterprise goals. The classroom portion of Stateline Farm Beginnings is held on Saturdays throughout the winter months (October-March), and each session features guest speakers from sustainable farms in the region. Other training opportunities include attending Whole Farm workshops at Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, which focus on the production aspects of farming. Classes are offered throughout the year on a wide range of topics such as soil fertility, weed management, tractor safety, beekeeping, soapmaking, and more. For those of you still dreaming about one day managing a farm, the support and resources to help you get started are right here in the Midwest.

Send us an email if you would like more information on farmer training opportunities—we’d love to hear from you!

 

This project was supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant #2009-49400-05943. To find more resources and programs for beginning farmers and ranchers please visit www.Start2Farm.gov, a component of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.