Growing Agripreneurs: Training the Next Generation of Farmers

Author: Maud Powell, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University

Publish Date: Fall 12

The Oregon State University Small Farms program has been working to develop comprehensive beginning farmer education for the past five years. The newest program, Growing Agripreneurs is designed for beginning farmers seeking a hands-on, season-long educational experience. The program has been funded through the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop grant. The program boasts a low student-teacher ratio and consists of weekly field work as well as classes, skill-building sessions and one-on-one mentoring.

Over the course of a season, students are exposed to many aspects of sustainable, small-scale farming including production of annuals, perennials, grains and cover crop. Participants gain extensive field experience working on OSU Extension’s 1 acre Franklin Teaching Farm, as well as by touring other farming operations

The Growing Agripreneurs program consists of classes, skill-building sessions, field work and market training. Eleven classes are offered between April and October on various aspects of small-scale production. Classes are taught both at the Extension and on host farms around the Rogue Valley. Curriculum modules developed for the Growing Agripreneurs program will be available through OSU and the Oregon Department of Agriculture for use on other teaching farms.

On weeks when classes are not held, participants work alongside a farm mentor at OSU’s Franklin Teaching Plot for a minimum of three hours. Activities are seasonally dependent and include all aspects of specialty crop farming including seeding, transplanting, cultivation and harvesting. Field work hours are determined based on the participants’ schedules. Hours spent alongside the farm mentor provide ample opportunities for discussions about farming methods and practices, and well as hands-on instruction and feedback.

Once a month, farm mentors choose a particular skill to demonstrate and practice with the Growing Agripreneurs cohort. Members of the cohort can request sessions based on their interest and level of skill. Examples of skill-building sessions are making soil media, laying out drip irrigation, seed saving, trellising and weed identification.

Participants of the Growing Agripreneurs program also have opportunities to market products grown on the teaching farm. Current venues used for market training are the Jacksonville Sunday Farmers Market and the Rogue Valley Online Market. At the Jacksonville Sunday Farmer’s Market, participants set up the booth, work on market display, learn about pricing and competition, and practice customer service. The on-line market requires skills in packing and inventory management.

Impacts documented from the first year of the program were impressive. Of five program graduates, three went on to start their own farming operations while the other two secured jobs as farm managers. Pre and post-test results, as well as evaluations indicate a significant increase in knowledge and comprehension of basic sustainable agriculture principles.

In 2012, the number of Growing Agripreneur participants doubled. This increase highlights a growing demand for hands-on agricultural education.

In 2013, Growing Agripreneurs will team up with Rogue Farm Corps (RFC) Farms Next on-farm internship program. Rogue Farm Corps is a non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of farm internships in Southern Oregon. The two programs currently emphasize different aspects of agricultural education: OSU focuses on academic, classroom-based learning while RFC highlights various farm operations and their practices.

Also in 2013, OSU Small Farms faculty will work with the Oregon Department of Agriculture to develop a toolkit and teaching manual for other Extension and Research stations interested in hosting similar teaching farms. The toolkit will include sample outreach material, curriculum, tool and equipment lists and farm plans.

We look forward to entering this new phase and supporting other regions in replicating the program.