Successfully Navigating the First Ten Years

Author: Garry Stephenson and Lauren Gwin, Small Farms Program, Oregon State University

Publish Date: Spring 2015

As all farmers know, learning to farm and growing a farm business can have steep learning curves. In those first few years, you not only have to learn how to grow things but how to sell them – and everything in between.

The OSU Small Farms Program has long provided education and training for small-scale, organic and sustainable farms and ranches, with specific programs that target the first “beginning” years. Over the years, we have seen first-hand that beginning farmer education is most effective when it meets farmers where they are developmentally on the road from startup to mature farm business.

In December, we launched a project to develop new hands-on and classroom-based educational programs and demonstration projects that support the long-term environmental and financial viability of small-scale, organic and sustainable farms and ranches. The project, which is funded by the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, is part of our ongoing partnership with Oregon Tilth. Since 2009, OSU and Tilth have worked together to advance organic and sustainable farming, with a focus on beginning farmer and rancher training. Our new project takes this work to a whole new level. Our shared goal is not simply to support the launch of new farms but to keep farmers farming, past the beginning years and into the future.

Over the next three years, we will build on our existing programs, adding advanced education focused on business management, small farm profitability, marketing, and sustainable farming methods. This education will be designed to match key developmental stages of farmers and farm businesses. We are identifying these stages by talking to farmers, learning directly from them about their own experiences and insights.

One exciting, innovative element of the project unfolding this spring is our Cost Study Cohort Pilot Project (see article Cracking the Cost Code).