Author: Heidi Noordijk, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University

Publish Date: Fall 12

Aspiring farmers, students and small acreage land owners came up the hill to Clackamas Community College on Saturday, September 8, 2012, with notebooks in hand eager to soak up practical small farm knowledge. The sun was shining in Oregon City making for a wonderful day at the first annual Small Farm School.

Individuals came from 13 different counties in Oregon as well as a handful from Washington and California. Just over 200 participants filled the venue with lively discussions during the morning and lunch breaks. “Having time to network and share experiences with other beginning farmers was just as valuable as the classes.” shared farmer Alyssa Kiesel of Corbett.

Small Farm School was composed of 4 concurrent sessions and 26 classes with topics varied from on-farm veterinary care to direct marketing strategies. Descriptions of classes can be found at http:// smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/small-farm-school. Thirty-four instructors, representing experienced farmers, OSU Extension educators, conservationists and other agricultural professionals shared their expertise with participants. Nick Andrews, OSU Extension small farms agent said, “We wanted to create an event with very practical workshops to help growers make improvements on their farms”.

Clairmont Hall, home to Clackamas Community College Horticulture Department was the site of Small Farm School. Orchards, greenhouses, open spaces and gardens provided a great venue for fruit tree pruning, vegetable season extension, organic weed management and tractor operation and safety workshops. Big hits included the chance to drive a tractor and observing up close sheep, goats, llamas and horses in a veterinary class.

Event planners had some unplanned excitement when one of the goats bolted from its pen. Participants could escape the heat with inside classes covering crop and animal production, direct marketing, and soil and water conservation. Beginning farmer classes were very popular and included assessing farm resources, selecting an enterprise, purchasing or leasing farm land and policies affecting small farmers.

Exhibitors from local farm supply stores, conservation programs, farm policy groups and educational institutions supported the event by displaying books, t-shirts, hand tools, fertilizers, soil media, and resource information for participants during break periods. Catering focused on local food and used compostable dinnerware.

Evaluations collected from 114 participants gave us important information about the event. They rated the combination of workshops extremely valuable and 94% plan to implement ideas from multiple sessions they attended. The overall event and venue were rated very highly and there were many constructive comments that will help in planning future Small Farm Schools. Andrews says, “We will repeat more of the popular classes and continue offering classes that equip and inspire small farmers.” Next year’s Small Farm School date will be posted on the website in early 2013. The event was presented by Oregon State University Extension in cooperation with Clackamas County Soil and Water Conservation District and Clackamas Community College.