Farmer-led program supports careers in agriculture

July 24, 2013

Online Staff Report

CALEDONIA, Ill. — As many career farmers face retirement without children who are willing to take up the family plow, many farms are swallowed up by industrial agriculture or development. In fact, U.S. farmers older than 65 outnumber those younger than 35 by 3-1. Yet, even as family farms diminish, there is a growing interest from both young college grads and mid-life career-changers to take up the art of farming. However, these folks are approaching it differently than the conventional farm models. Many, concerned with the health of their customers and the planet, are turning to starting up small, organic farms. These farms are helping to meet the growing consumer demand for local, sustainably-grown food.

Starting farming is no easy task, however. That is why Angelic Organics Learning Center coordinates the Stateline Farm Beginnings program to help beginning farmers plan and launch sustainable farm businesses. The application period for the year-long program starting in October opened July 1. For people who are not ready to make the year-long investment, Angelic Organics Learning Center also offers a one-day Farm Dreams: Assessing Risks & Resources to Start a Small Farm or Market Garden class to help people determine if they want to pursue farmer training.

Stateline Farm Beginnings is a training program that helps new farmers plan for success. Offered by Angelic Organics Learning Center and the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT), a coalition of organic, Biodynamic, and other sustainable farmers in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, the program helps people evaluate and plan their farm enterprise. Farm Beginnings participants learn directly from a variety of successful, innovative farmers; attend practical high-quality classroom sessions, field day workshops and exchanges; and engage in internship, employment, or mentorship with an experienced farmer.

Jen and Jeff Miller had high-powered careers in Chicago, but they decided to make a change when they had their first son.

We wanted flexibility to be with our family and wanted to start a business that we could believe in and teach our children about,” said Jen.

The Millers started a farm called Dea Dia Organics after attending the first Stateline Farm Beginnings class in 2006. Since then, they have partnered with another farming family at Sandhill Family Farm.

The Millers’ farm at Prairie Crossing in Grayslake, Ill., and their partners, Peg and Matt Sheaffer, farm in Brodhead, Wis. Together, they are able to offer a larger variety to their customers. Both the Sheaffers and the Millers mentor other beginning farmers. Jen Miller explains why mentorship is so crucial to success:

We believe beginning farmers are crucial to organic, sustainable agricultural growth as an industry, and we mentor each day with this in mind. That said, we think it’s ever more crucial to ensure that those beginning farmers are successful mentored with the really hard challenges that you face a few years into farming like scaling up, balancing farming and your family and maintaining an economically sustainable business.”

Farming may not be for everyone, but for those willing to work hard, farming can offer a gratifying career that contributes to a healthier community. To learn more about the program, visit www.learngrowconnect.org/farmer or e-mail Sheri Doyel, program facilitator, Farmer Training Initiative, at sheri@learngrowconnect.org. Attendance is limited.

Posted July 24, 2013

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