Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Foothills Farm School

The demand for locally grown food continues to grow despite a faltering economy.  Direct sales from farms to consumers grew 215% from 1992-2007. The average farmer in NC is 57 years old and looking forward to retirement. We need new farmers to meet the demand for locally grown food in North Carolina.

More and more families are looking at ways to supplement their incomes and put their land into something productive. Quite often, I’m faced with the question, "I have some land that I want to do something with... but I don't know what.  Can you tell me what I can grow and make some money?"  This is an open-ended question, because the success of an agricultural venture really depends on the market and the operator. A successful business starts with a good plan and lots of research, and agriculture is no different.

In response to this situation, Cooperative Extension Agents from several counties have developed The Foothills Farm School, a training program for beginning and transitioning farmers. The six-month educational program focuses on operating successful small-scale, sustainable farms.

The school offers six seminars taught by agricultural professionals, which give farmers the tools to develop sustainable farming operations.  Session topics include business planning, marketing, and fruit and vegetable production, among others.

The school also includes six field trips to working farms, led by innovative, experienced farmers and agricultural professionals. Participants learn low-cost, sustainable farming methods in a range of production systems, including fruits, vegetables, livestock, and specialty crops.

Classes meet at the Catawba County Extension Center on the first Tuesday of the month beginning in January from 6 to 8:30 pm. Farm field days are typically on the fourth Thursday of the month from 9 am to 3 pm.  Farm field days will take place at various farms throughout the Foothills.

Space is limited. Registration deadline is Friday, December 6, and costs are as follows: one person, $250 and $50 for each additional person. To register go to the following link: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/FFS-brochure-2014-final-new-dates1.pdf  

Also, a limited number of Foothills Farm School scholarships are available to Gaston County participants through Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC funding for a scholarship of $200.  Gaston County residents interested in starting a farm or becoming a more successful sustainable farm, should complete the Farm School application and  contact Lara Worden at lara_worden@ncsu.edu  for a scholarship application. The deadline for the scholarship application is November 30, 2013.

For more information, contact the Gaston County Cooperative Extension Service by calling 704.922.2112.

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