Building Resilient and Successful Farm Businesses in the Southern Appalachians

Project Overview

Project Type: Education Only
Funds awarded in 2020: $50,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Organic Growers School
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Cameron Farlow
Organic Growers School

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: decision support system, farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, technical assistance, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, apprentice/intern training, budgets/cost and returns, business planning, community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, farm-to-restaurant, farmers' markets/farm stands, financial management, labor/employment, land access, new enterprise development, risk management, whole farm planning
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture, Regenerative Agriculture, No-Till
  • Sustainable Communities: analysis of personal/family life, ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change, leadership development, local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, quality of life, social capital, social networks

    Proposal abstract:

    “Building Resilient and Successful Farm Businesses in the Southern Appalachians” provides farm businesses support through the start-up years and beyond by serving farmers in the Southern Appalachian mountain region with comprehensive education, training, mentoring, technical assistance and support services. Through our year-round roster of programs, the number of successful beginning and expanding farm enterprises will increase, specifically, more than 150 farm businesses will receive valuable production, business, marketing, finance, and networking training.

    In our 27 years of serving farmers, we regularly hear about their need for specialized, one-on-one support to address their specific challenges and create efficient systems that promote longevity and resilience in their farm business. This ongoing support will prepare farmers to start farming, seize business opportunities, add/change enterprises, secure financing, achieve long-term land tenure, define marketing plans, meet income goals, and become more resilient and adaptable in the face of a changing climate.

    OGS requests $50,000 to add the following components to our already robust farmer programming. These services target Journeyperson farmers, defined as farmers in years 3-10+ of their farming journey. Focused support during these critical years helps small farmers overcome the challenges of scale and burnout that often break farm businesses. 

    Since 2008, OGS Farmer Programs have directly supported over 1000 farmers and farm workers. Our current roster of programs includes:

    1. Farm Dreams: An exploratory workshop for aspiring farmers.
    2. Apprentice Link: Free online resource for aspiring farmers to find on-farm training and farms to find reliable, qualified employees.
    3. Farm Beginnings® Farmer Training: A year-long, 200+ hour whole farm business, financial, and marketing training course. 
    4. Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT): A farmer-led network and a series of on-farm educational tours for farmers.

    Guided by our 3-year plan, OGS will expand our current farmer programs to include:

    1. “Farmer Mentoring Services” open to Southern Appalachian farmers of all stages to receive mentoring and technical assistance. 
    2. “Journeyperson: Advanced-Beginner Farmer Education” for farmers in years 3-10 to build their skill base as farm business owners.
    3. “Recruiting and Serving New Audiences” with coalition building and strategic partnerships that allow us to adapt our services to be accessible for limited resource, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers, and underserved rural communities in the Southern Appalachians.

    All of our programs are farmer-led, and farmer-informed, and designed synergistically to directly address the needs of our regional farming community. This offers a trajectory of training that aligns with SARE’s goal to increase the sustainable production practices and profitability of our local farmers.

    Successful farmers care for the land, generate income for themselves and others, produce food for their region and strengthen their communities. In a traditional economic sense, small farm entrepreneurs bolster rural development through job creation and by keeping a larger percentage of local dollars circulating in the local economy. Entrepreneurs are the backbone of rural development, and a strong small farm industry can catalyze and launch other new entrepreneurial ventures that depend on the profitability and success of the farm sector.

    Project objectives from proposal:


      1. Farm Dreams: 40 total aspiring and apprentice farmers will participate in 4 one-day workshops. They will learn and implement values clarification, skills and resources clarification, resource identification, and complete an educational plan for pursuing a career in farming.
      2. Apprentice Link: 30 organic/sustainable farmers will be profiled on the online Apprentice Link listing. A minimum of 5 farms will hire apprentices/employees through Apprentice Link. OGS staff will Identify, create, and compile resources for training farmers to be efficient mentors & employers. 
      3. Farm Beginnings® Farmer Training: 20 total beginning farmers receive 200+ hrs of comprehensive whole-farm, production, and business training, which includes 12 winter classroom sessions, 8+ CRare matched with an experienced farmer mentor for 15 hrs of one-on-one support and technical assistance, and graduate in September each year.
      4. Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT): A total of 60 farm business members and 80 farm apprentices will participate in a total of 20 on-farm workshops & 6 Farmer Round Tables that allow members to join a farmer-to-farmer mentoring network; learn about innovative methods of sustainable production, business & management models. Each member receives a digital copy of our farmer-written 600+ page Farming Handbook.







    1. Farmer Mentoring Services 


        • A total of 10 farmers are matched with a Farmer Mentor and receive 15 hours of one-on-one coaching, consulting, and mentoring services and supported with technical assistance, development, management, site-planning, and business planning. The program is open to farmers of stages, skill levels, and production models. 
        • Farmer Mentors receive guidance and support to help equip Mentee farmers with:
          • Problem-solving and troubleshooting skills to address project- and site-specific issues.
          • Direct connections for innovative transfer of knowledge.
          • Support for goal setting and action-based next steps.
          • Regional best practices in sustainable/regenerative farming
        • Additional tasks include recruiting mentors, coordination, oversight, troubleshooting, ensuring success.


    • Journeyperson: Advanced-Beginner Farmer Education


        • Assess the feasibility of & design a Journeyperson program to start in Winter 2020. Geared towards beginning farmers in years 3-10 to assist them with enterprise refinement, assessing scale, systems design to increase efficiency, holistic financial planning, etc. 
        • A total of 10 farms are enrolled and participate in the first two years of the program.
          • They receive 15 hrs of one-on-one mentoring with an advanced farmer mentor
          • They receive scholarships to participate in professional development opportunities to increase their knowledge and skill-base.
          • They participate in 2-3 financial risk management-focused intensives that address the challenges of farm enterprises as these farmers evolve their businesses past the start-up phase. Topics may include:
            1. Managing Farm Labor will cover legal and financial considerations, how to choose the labor structure that best fits your farming model, and employee management best practices.
            2. Advanced Enterprise Development will cover what influences farm profitability, recordkeeping, and assist farmers with whole decision-making in regards to enterprise development.
            3. Holistic Financial Planning will cover holistic goal setting, planning for profit, creating an adaptive annual financial plan. 


    • Recruiting and Serving New Audiences:


      • Ensure that staff, board, farmer-instructors, and program participants are trained in racial equity through local trainings, consulting, and curriculum.
      • Spanish language interpretation and childcare are offered during events.
      • Ensure that farmers of color are decision-makers, teachers, mentors, and participants in all OGS farmer programs.
      • Increase partnerships with local allies working with communities of color and veterans' support groups. 
      • Strengthen relationships with partners and workshops offered in GA, SC, TN, VA and/or more rural parts of WNC.

    A total of 200+ farm businesses will receive comprehensive training over the course of this project. OGS Farmer Programs are designed to directly address the needs of the regional farming community, including low-wealth, disadvantaged farmers, and offer a trajectory of farmer-led training. Through participation in our programs, farmers start to farming, seize business opportunities, add/change enterprises, secure financing, achieve long-term land tenure, define marketing plans, meet income goals, and become more resilient and adaptable to climate change.

    Big Picture Goal:

    We want more farmers on the land using organic and sustainable practices and a system in which family farms can flourish. As we inspire, educate and support regional farmers to use organic and regenerative practices, and incorporate holistic farm business planning we expect farmers to survive and thrive in a changing climate.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.