The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is grateful for SARE Partnership Grant funding to administer the Farm Training Project, a slate of on-farm topic-oriented workshops throughout Maine during the 2005 growing season. These workshops were hosted and taught primarily by farmers, with support from other agricultural professionals. They were targeted at the 60 or so apprentices who work on Maine farms every year, as well as other new and beginning farmers, but were open to the public free of charge. Our primary goals for the 2005 FTP series were to improve their educational quality, to compensate farmers for hosting and teaching them, and to increase publicity and therefore turnout at the workshops. Each of these goals was achieved. We were also able to offer scholarships for 12 apprentices to MOFGA’s annual Farmer-to-Farmer conference, thus significantly increasing attendance by young people at the conference.
SARE funding supported the administration of the 2005 series of the MOFGA Farm Training Project. The FTP was a series of 14 educational workshops that took place from mid-June through late August on farms throughout Maine. The workshops were designed for and targeted to participants in MOFGA’s Apprenticeship Program, but were free and open to anyone interested. They were intended to give apprentices and other young, beginning, and aspiring farmers the chance to visit other farms, learn from farmers about their areas of expertise, and socialize with peers. The workshops followed an informal format. They generally began in the late afternoon with a farm tour, followed by a presentation and demonstration by the host farmers on a specific topic or concept. Participants were then invited to stay for a potluck supper and discussion.
The overarching objective of the 2005 Farm Training Project was two-fold:
1. To provide basic-level training in many aspects of small-scale, sustainable agriculture and farm management skills to farm apprentices and other new and beginning farmers in Maine, and
2. To give participants exposure to other farms, other ways of doing things, and other peers, and to begin to establish among the next generation of farmers the close social and economic ties that characterize the Maine organic and sustainable farming community.
In addition, we sought to make several improvements to the FTP with SARE funding:
1. To increase awareness of, and attendance at, FTP workshops through increased advertising and publicity. We hoped to increase the average attendance to 15 per workshop.
2. To be able to offer farmers the compensation they deserve for their involvement. In return, MOFGA expected farmers to spend the preparation time necessary to make their workshops quality educational experiences.
3. To award scholarships for apprentices and other needy applicants to the Farmer-to-Farmer Conference, MOFGA’s largest and most important annual event for farmers. Apprentice turnout had historically been low due to cost –prohibitiveness.
The 2005 FTP schedule and a brief description of each workshop follows:
1. Starting with the Soil: Sustainable Soil Management (and 2005 apprentice orientation)
Tuesday, June 14 at 5 pm
New Leaf Farm, Durham
Healthy, living soil is the foundation of successful organic agriculture. Join Dave Colson of New Leaf Farm, one of New England’s premier organic farms, for an introduction to organic soil fertility management and the use of rotation, composting, green manures, cover crops, and tillage strategies to build organic matter and enhance the health and productivity of farm soil.
2. Herbs for Health and Healing
Monday, June 20 at 5 pm
Stony Brook Farm, Fayette
Discover the wonderful world of herbs with Stony Brook Farm’s Linda Nelson. Wander around her garden with her as she discusses the amazing powers of these wonderful plants. Linda will cover identification, propagation, growth habits and needs, harvesting, processing, storage, and preparation of many of her favorite herbs.
3. Selling what you Grow: Marketing Basics
Tuesday, June 28 at 5 pm
Willow Pond Farm, Sabattus
Small farmers need to be creative and innovative marketers to be successful. The best are those that cultivate community involvement in their farms and nurture face-to-face relationships with their customers. Come meet Jill Agnew of Willow Pond Farm and Richard Rudolph of Rippling Waters Farm, two of Maine’s veteran farm marketers, and hear about their diverse strategies for marketing their products, including Community Supported Agriculture, Farm Stands, Farmers Markets, cooperatives, and supplying the emergency food system.
4. Introduction to Farm Equipment: Operation, Safety, and Basic Maintenance
Wednesday, July 6 at 5pm
MOFGA Headquarters, Unity
Join MOFGA’s staff for an introduction to basic farm equipment anatomy, safe operation, and maintenance. We’ll cover tractor operation and safety; attaching, adjusting, and operating farm implements; and basic preventative lubrication and maintenance – because nobody wants a key piece of equipment to break down when it’s needed most. Folks will get a chance to practice driving tractors of different models and sizes and attaching and operating implements.
5. The Nearing Legacy
Sunday, July 10 from 1-5pm
The Good Life Center, Harborside
Helen and Scott Nearing were eloquent spokespeople for the modern homesteading movement, and did a great deal to fuel the back-to-the-land movement in Maine that spawned MOFGA and seeded the landscape with the corps of curiously committed organic farmers that characterize Maine agriculture. Forest Farm, the Nearings’ last homestead, in Harborside, is now open to the public. Come wander around, meet the Resident Stewards, and get inspired.
6. Livestock in the Farm System
Tuesday, July 12 at 5pm
Nezinscot Farm, Turner
An important principle of sustainable small-scale farming is diversity, and livestock play many key functional roles in a diverse farm system. Gregg and Gloria Varney of Nezinscot Farm have lots of livestock diversity on their farm. Come learn how they manage their critters and the benefits of their system.
7. Off-the-Grid Homesteading
Saturday and Sunday, July 16-17 at 5 pm
Bluebird Hill Farm, Jefferson
While energy costs have continued to rise, and the ecological foundations of our current fossil-fuel-based energy economy have become increasingly unstable, Bluebird Hill Farm has been generating its own energy – with help from the sun and the wind – for 20 years. Come see how we make off-the-grid living work for our family. Join us for a potluck and stay overnight for an apprentice gathering! Meet other apprentices or reconnect.
8. Going for it: from Apprentice to Journeyperson to Farmer
Wednesday, July 20 at 5pm
Turkey Hill Community Farm, Cape Elizabeth
MOFGA estimates that Maine needs about 150 new farmers a year just to maintain the infrastructure we need to support our local food system – so every new farm operation in Maine is a reason to celebrate. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get started in farming. John and Stacy of Turkey Hill Community Farm were apprentices, then journeypersons, and are now in their second season farming independently with a creative leasehold arrangement in Cape Elizabeth. They will share their insights and enthusiasm about how they are making it work for their family. If you are considering farming for a living, please come and contribute to this important discussion.
9. Compost on the Farm
Wednesday, August 3 at 5pm
Happy Town Farm, Orland
Making and using compost is a foundational skill for good organic soil management and a great way to close farm nutrient cycles. Quality compost is essential for building soil biological activity, increasing soil organic matter, and improving soil structure. Learn the basics of on-farm composting from Paul Volckhausen of Happy Town Farm, and tour his composting system.
10. Strawbale Building: Introduction and Home Tour
Sunday, August 7 at 3pm
Joe & Julia Gonsalves’, Sumner
Strawbale buildings are low-tech, energy-efficient, ecologically responsible, and beautiful. Come tour this young family’s self-built strawbale home and learn the basics of how to build your own cozy strawbale dwelling.
11. Irrigation Strategies for Vegetables & Flowers
Wednesday, August 10 at 5pm
Appleton Ridge Farm, Appleton
More and more farms in Maine are using irrigation to more precisely manage the moisture needs of their crops. John Fromer of Appleton Ridge Farm is a wizard of horticultural water delivery systems, from sources to pumps to filters to emitters. Come see his handiwork and get an introduction to when and how to irrigate.
12. Preserving the Harvest: Pickling, Canning, Freezing, etc.
Sunday, August 14 at 1pm
Medicine Hill Farm, Starks
“Putting food by” is a fundamental skill to master if you want to be able to enjoy your garden’s bounty all winter long. Join Linda Whitmore-Smithers of Medicine Hill Farm for a session on the basics of food preservation and all its various strategies – from pickling, to canning, to freezing, to root cellaring.
13. Seed Saving on the Farm
Wednesday, August 17 at 5:30pm
Wolf Pine Farm, Alfred
Saving one’s own seed is really fun, but it’s also an important way of maintaining local biodiversity and declaring independence from the increasing corporate control of plant germplasm. Come participate in an on-farm demonstration of how to process seed from several vegetable crops. We’ll discuss what fruit to choose, seed extraction techniques, washing, drying and seed storage. Mark Hutton, University of Maine Vegetable Specialist, will be on hand to share his expertise.
14. Farm Woodlot Management
Tuesday, August 23 at 5pm
Chewonki Farm, Wiscasset
Woodlots are an important part of a diverse farm system, providing fuel, building materials, and other value-added products such as maple syrup to supplement income. Join Brad Johnson, farm & woodlot manager at Chewonki, for a teaching tour of their woodlot. Brad will talk about why and how they manage their woodlands, with particular emphasis on his specialty, working in the woods with horses.
Attendance: Overall, 221 people attended the FTP series in 2005. Average attendance per the workshop was 17 people, which exceeded our goal of 15 per workshop. 5 of the workshops attracted 20 people or more, and the minimum number of attendees at one workshop was 8. These numbers represent a drastic improvement from years past, when poor turnout was a major frustration for the hosts and organizers.
Educational quality of workshops: Based upon participant evaluations, the quality of the workshops was excellent. Farmers were, as a rule, well-prepared and well-organized; and their presentations were cogent, easy to understand, and content-rich.
Conference scholarships: The availability of scholarships to help defray costs for apprentices attending our Farmer-to-Farmer Conference had a measurable and positive impact on the conference. A much greater number of young people were able to attend. One session, for instance, focusing on Maine’s next generation of farmers, was among the best-attended and liveliest of the conference. Many participants reflected on how inspiring it was to see so many young farmers around.
The Farm Training Project is a highly effective way of introducing new and prospective Maine farmers to the diversity of enterprise and expertise in the local agricultural community. It also complements the experiential, immersive nature of apprenticeship well. Farming can be isolated, difficult, exhausting, all-consuming work, and can leave little time for structured learning unless it is deliberately set aside and scheduled. In addition, apprentices need exposure to other farms, other ways of doing things, and other apprentices. The Farm Training Project concept provides apprentices and others new to agriculture with valuable supplemental structured learning opportunities, exposure to as much expertise and diversity in agricultural systems and techniques as possible during the early stages of their training, and venues in which to socialize with fellow apprentices and farmers. For non-apprentices, the FTP workshops have met a demand in the state for accessible, low-cost education and training in organic farming, and effectively round out and add to MOFGA’s other programming, such as Small Farm Field Day, the Farmer-to-Farmer Conference, the Organic Farming Short Course, and the Common Ground Fair.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
As stated in the funding proposal, outreach is at the core of the Farm Training Project concept. It has no other objective but outreach, and education of the next generation of small-scale, sustainable farmers in Maine. The FTP uses established, tried-and-true formats for this outreach, that MOFGA has had success with. SARE funding enabled us to more effectively perform this outreach.
Areas needing additional study