By Melissa Madden with input from Erica Frenay and Maryrose Livingston
As a beginning farmer, I am typically hungry for resources to help my planning and skill development. Before I reached my current stage in the process of Farming as a Career, I was able to bounce around through apprenticeships, manager positions and an incubator farm opportunity. These resources were essential to my personal development as both a farmer and a citizen, and when working with “aspiring” beginning farmers, I often emphasize this path. What is clear to me now is that over the past 5-10 years, resources to support the beginning farmer population have blossomed into a well-rounded set of tools designed for multiple learning styles. While both my partner and I took a very hands-on approach that landed us at our new farm (The Good Life Farm, Interlaken, NY), we barely tapped the current plethora of resources which range from non-profits, like our dear Groundswell’s programs and affiliates (Ithaca Crop Mob, Finger Lakes CRAFT), to increased offerings in sustainable agriculture at universities and colleges (see the Beginning Farmer Project, for one), to more focused apprenticeships and management positions offered through farming associations (see NOFA-NY’s new apprentice matching tool and the BioDynamic Association for examples).
From my perspective as both a farmer and Cornell’s former staff member assigned to the Dilmun Hill Student Farm, public and private resources are providing new farmers-- young and old--with everything from land acquisition advice to accounting to farm safety training and essential technical skills. Trying to encapsulate the variety of things a new farmer needs to know in any one session or resource can be daunting, and that is exactly what a group of Groundswell and Cornell- affiliated farmers and educators did this past January at NOFA-NY’s 2011 Winter Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY. Led by Erica Frenay, Cornell Small Farms Program’s Beginning Farmer Project Coordinator, we guided workshop participants through a day-long session focused on de-mystifying the farm start-up process. The “Nuts and Bolts of Getting Started in Farming” topic was in its second year at the 2011 conference, and presenters Erica Frenay and Jamie Edelstein (Wylie Fox Farm, Cato, NY) brought in extra muscle (literally) with Donn Hewes and Maryrose Livingston (Northland Sheep Dairy, Marathon, NY) and the beginning farmer perspective via my partner Garrett Miller and me. Our focus sweepingly included advising participants about goal setting, getting access to good land, start-up financing and business planning, assessing resources and skills, and marketing and profitability. The way it turned out, we might have addressed many more topics than those specifically, but these were the framework for our day.