Sign up for News & Updates

The Demand for Farmer Training is Growing! ~ A talk with Sheri Doyel, Program Director, Farmer Training Initiative

Along with the expanding awareness of the benefits of local and organic produce, interest in sustainable, organic farming is growing in our region.  This fall, the Learning Center’s Stateline Farm Beginnings program experienced a rapid spike in demand, when 29 farm families applied for the 15 available slots.

Farm Beginnings is a business training course that helps new and emerging farmers develop a strategic farm business plan.

AOLC Farmer Training Program Director Sheri Doyel believes the increase in demand is a result of the growing awareness of the health and environmental ramifications of our nation’s food system.

“People are learning about the issues of food safety and the environmental ramifications of commercial, industrial agriculture, and it’s influencing their decisions,” Doyel says. “All of the Farm Beginnings applicants have a desire to know their own food, and they want to provide that for people in their communities, too. We are seeing the result of the food conversation reaching a wider audience.”

The Learning Center ultimately accepted 20 families into the 2009-10 Farm Beginnings program. Doyel says the group is a diverse one.

“We have people in their twenties who are beginning their careers and are focused on environmental justice,” Doyel says. “We have mid-career professionals looking to change courses in their career. We also have applicants who are looking to their retirement and would like to earn income from a small farm.”

The program has proved to be a successful model— 70 percent of the program’s graduates since 2005 are now farming.  The vast majority of graduates are using organic and sustainable farming practices— resulting in a greater supply of local, organic, delicious produce for distribution in the Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin.

For more information on the Learning Center’s Farmer Training programs, visit our website.