Project objectives from proposal:
LESSON received a $30,000 grant in 2006 from the Town Creek Foundation, Easton, MD in order to begin creating a network of farmers who use sustainable and organic farming practices, to supply a growing regional (Delmarva Peninsula) market with a safe, nutritious and complete diet. This involves linking customers and producers. Outreach included Delmarva farmers presently utilizing sustainable and organic growing practices, or who wish to explore the potential on their farms. The goal is to increase the number of farmers and acreage on Delmarva dedicated to sustainable agriculture, reducing the toxic effects of conventional agriculture on soil, air, water and people.
By connecting with regional farmers who are interested in sustainable agriculture, we will continue to learn their needs and facilitate sale of their products to an expanding market. In 2007, four trainings were held for this “Network of Farmers” to assist them with their production and marketing (Organic Farming Expansion Meeting, Drip Irrigation Workshop, Variety Trial Twilight Tour, and Organic Certification: One-on-One with Inspector). A survey was sent to all participants to see what additional training they wanted to expand and secure their operation. From the responses, this program of developing a local foodshed was developed.
The situations of the ‘Network of Farmers’ have been wide-ranging, which makes providing technical assistance more complex: A beginning farmer in Whitehaven, a full time refrigeration and air conditioning serviceman with about 8 acres who would like to farm part time, is growing sweet potatoes; A Berlin farmer, currently growing soybeans conventionally, received help in selecting soup beans that could be compatibly grown to make a soup bean mix. He is transitioning 30 acres through the NRCS EQIP program; Another grower is interested in pursuing pastured poultry production; One new farmer is growing a wide variety of crops to market at his farm and at the Princess Anne farmers market; Another farmer intended to transition a portion of his 3.5 acres of his asparagus to organic and contracted out the balance. His sustainably-grown produce was purchased through the Provident Farm CSA and assistance was given to help him sell restaurants and at farmers markets.
Since the first meeting, 3 other potential growers have contacted LESSON. Jay Martin, Owner of Provident Organic Farm and CSA, has been able to market some of the crops for the growers through his CSA, farmers markets, and restaurant contacts. The CSA has contracted with three growers.
One of the biggest initial stumbling blocks for organic farmers and market gardeners is marketing. The market understands organic and non-organic, it does not understand transitional. This is part of the beauty of the CSA model for a start-up. Members are more likely to understand and accept "local, transitional" and support the farmer through the transition. Additionally, in order to allow this network to grow in the most efficient way possible, experts in co-op development will be brought in as consultants.
Other regions have worked successfully at creating farmer to farmer educational trainings (SARE Project Numbers LS07-195, LS88-004, LNE-89-014) using different methods and approaches. As we know this group of farmers and landowners want hands-on, practical training in small groups with intensive follow-up, that is the training approach we are taking.