CALEDONIA, Ill. — The Farmer Training Initiative at Angelic Organics Learning Center (AOLC) has announced the successful launch of a new service for sustainable farmers, the Technical Assistance Program (TAP).
TAP pairs beginning farmers with consultants who provide targeted, one-on-one expertise and assistance in the areas of land acquisition, business management, production and marketing.
The goal of TAP is to improve the economic viability of family farms in the Upper Midwest Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) network, which includes southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
TAP is just one of the programs Angelic Organics Learning Center provides through its Farmer Training initiative.
Sustainable farms can provide farm families with a good quality of life; protect our land, air and water; and support the local economy. Yet, in the U.S., farmers older than 65 outnumber those younger than 35 by three to one.
More than 400 million acres of farmland will change hands in the next 20 years. Angelic Organics goal is to prepare the next generation of sustainable farmers to steward this land and launch businesses that increase access to locally-grown food and improve the quality of life throughout the region.
This technical assistance opportunity is based on the fact that farmers know best what expertise they need to improve their enterprises, and TAP applications are as diverse as the farms they intend to serve.
Jill and Ben Beyer of Harrison Market Gardens in Winnebago, Ill., are working with a marketing consultant to create a farm brand and overhaul their website so online signup and enrollment processes are simplified for future farm members.
At Discover Farm in Whitewater, Wis., Renata Bunger is improving her farm design with a permaculturalist by installing living windbreaks and designing a water and soil conservation plan.
At the Prairie Crossing Learning farm in Grayslake, Ill., Liz and Mike of Bailey Creek Farm are in the process of scaling up their corn and bean production. Paired with an experienced farmer, the couple has been taught tractor operation, planting and cultivating techniques, and how to source equipment.
“We were prepared to make the expenditures for large equipment this year in order to grow our business and move toward farming on a larger scale, but we were unsure what to look for in a used tractor and equipment,” Liz explained. “Working with [a knowledgeable farmer] on the pros and cons of different tractors and equipment helped us make an educated decision and avoid costly mistakes. Thanks to the TAP funding, we have received on-site, hands-on training on large-scale farm equipment, which will play a pivotal role in controlling weeds and maximizing crop yields this year and many years to come. This continuing support of farmers after their first year is very much needed and is sincerely appreciated.”
As CRAFT farmers throughout the network continue to seek technical assistance from specialists, the growing group of consultants with small-farm experience will result in a regional resource called the Technical Assistance Pool. This resource will be available to all farmers and will be published on Angelic Organics Learning Center’s website as another service offered by the Farmer Training Initiative. Those interested in sharing their skills with the Technical Assistance Pool can contact Farmer Training Program Assistant Rebecca Haldeman at Rebecca@learngrowconnect.org.
To join the CRAFT network of more than 100 farms and 250 farming enthusiasts in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, visit www.learngrowconnect.org/what/training/craft.
From the Sept. 19-25, 2012, issue