Who wants to be a farmer?

Brandon Paykamian • Sep 21, 2018 at 10:11 PM

Farmers new to agriculture will get a chance to learn the tools of the trade at the Appalachian Resource Conservation and Development Council Field School, which is now taking applications for its 2018-19 workshops.

This will mark the fourth year of the Field School, held at the Jonesborough Farm Bureau Building, which has had close to 100 students over the past three years.

“In the past three years, we’ve had age ranges from 14 to 73, recent college grads to recent retirees, folks with less than an acre and some with hundreds of acres of family land,” Program Coordinator Alexis Close said in a press release. “Not everyone completes the program still thinking that farming is their preferred career choice, but we have a number of graduates that are now farming at least part-time.”

Past students can continue taking courses with the council to diversify their operations into specialty and direct-to-consumer markets.

Field School graduate and owner of Sweet Life Farm in Tazewell, Tennessee, Jay Heselschwedt said he was able to learn a lot from the courses, despite having 20 years of farming experience under his belt.

“We changed our plans after going through the Field School and doing more research. We plan to go the agritourism route to educate people about honeybees and sell real local honey,” he said.

This year, the school workshops will be split into programs — the Winter Business Intensive and the Summer Field School. As of Wednesday, Close said the council is only recruiting students for the winter courses, which will include nine workshops that aim to teach students more about comprehensive business planning, financial planning and marketing.

The tuition fee for these workshops is $125 and will run from November to March. 

“This portion will be all about business planning, assessing your farm resources and figuring out what types of things you want to produce with your farm, where the markets are and creating enterprise budgets,” Close said. “Each section will have an expert talking about a topic, and then we’ll have a farmer speaking to relate their personal experience. We’ll have a large range of people talking about what they do at their farms.

“We want people who are interested in the business planning to come in with some idea of what they’d want to grow,” she continued. “We can get down to business planning with them on their particular idea.”

The Summer Field School will consist of six to eight on-farm workshops that will run from May through September. Close said these workshops will feature produce and livestock production methods, including season extension, rotational grazing, produce production and more. Each workshop will be led by an experienced farmer or agricultural professional and include a tour of the farm operation.

“The summer portion will be all different kinds of farms. We’ll go see produce growers, livestock, folks doing greenhouses, that kind of stuff,” she said, adding that the summer courses will vary by site and the schedule will be announced by January 2019.

Applications for the Winter Business Intensive courses and more information on the workshops can be found at www.ARCD.org/field-school. The application deadline is Oct. 31.

Farmers of all experience levels can also apply to participate in a 200-hour on-farm mentorship program with an experienced farmer. More information on this program can be found on the Appalachian Sustainable Development website at www.asdevelop.org/farm.

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