Naturally Rockford: New farmers wanted for agriulture careers

Farmer-led mentorship/educational program supports careers in agriculture

Why start farming at a time of staggering start-up costs, plummeting commodity prices, declining farm numbers and increasing farm consolidation? Well, even in this difficult time, there are farmers who are making a go of it. And they aren’t just surviving—they are thriving. These farms are economically and environmentally viable, and provide their families with a good quality of life.

How can beginners do it? One way is by learning how to use low-cost methods and treat farming as a skill that requires top-notch management and attention to the needs of the land and its people. Another way is setting goals and choosing tools and methods of production based on those goals, rather than vice-versa. This combination provides an important advantage for farmers’ success.

Stateline Farm Beginnings™ is a project of the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT), a coalition of organic, Biodynamic, and other sustainable farmers in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. The educational and training program is designed to help people who want to evaluate and plan their farm enterprise. Farm Beginnings participants learn directly from a variety of successful, innovative farmers; attend practical high quality seminars, field day workshops and exchanges; and engage in internship, employment, or mentorship with an experienced farmer.

Farm Beginnings™ material was developed by the Land Stewardship Project and is based on the experiences of their farmer members. During their first eight years of the program, 222 people took the Farm Beginnings course in southeast and western Minnesota. Sixty percent of those graduates are now farming more than 6,000 acres. Due to this success, Land Stewardship Project received a USDA/SARE grant to help three other states create Farm Beginnings programs of their own. Stateline Farm Beginnings will begin offering their version of the course in October 2005. Groups in Nebraska, Missouri, and central Illinois will also offer the program this fall. Attendance is limited, so inquire early about enrollment.

For more information on the Stateline Farm Beginnings™ program, contact Parker Forsell at or 608-498-0268. For the program in central Illinois, contact Deborah Cavanaugh-Grant at or 217-968-5512.

From the August 17-23, 2005, issue

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