Beyond Agri-Curious:Training New Farmers in the Business of Farming

Project Overview

Project Type: Education Only
Funds awarded in 2023: $42,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Cumberland River Compact
Region: Southern
State: Tennessee
Principal Investigator:
Mekayle Houghton
Cumberland River Compact
C.J. Sentell
Nashville Food Project

Information Products


Not commodity specific


  • Education and Training: technical assistance
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, business planning, financial management

    Proposal abstract:

    The Cumberland River basin is home to nearly three million people all of whom depend on the river and its tributaries for economic and physical survival. Since 1997, the Cumberland River Compact, a conservation non-profit organization, has worked to improve water quality in the Cumberland River’s 18,000 square mile basin, an area that includes both Kentucky and Tennessee. We take great pride in working cooperatively with a broad spectrum of citizens, businesses, and government agencies. Because the Cumberland River Compact is non-confrontational we have developed a robust network of contacts in rural communities, urban communities, among farmers, natural resource managers, regulators, corporations, environmental NGOs, and citizen groups.

    The Compact has received many awards that demonstrate our ability to work with a diverse group of people including winning the Governor's Environmental Stewardship Award in 2019 and 2021. However, many of us were the proudest when we received the Tennessee Soil and Conservation District award for Conservation Partner of the Year.

    According to the USDA, the number of farmers has been in a decline since its peak in 1935. Since 2007, the number of farmers has declined by nearly 200,000. All the while, the population in the United States has increased by over 20 million in the last decade (US Census). Farms are being lost due to career changes and family farms are being sold to development. It is imperative that we increase the number of farmers and ensure that new farmers learn sustainable agriculture practices from the beginning to protect water and soil health. As land value in Tennessee skyrockets, the struggle to maintain a profitable farm for new generations increases. This program will teach new farmers how to farm sustainably and how to create a business model to increase profits for the farm.

    We see an opportunity in Tennessee to increase the number of farmers and to increase the number of sustainable urban farms with a River Friendly Farms - New Farmer Training Module. Currently, the Cumberland River Compact nearing its completion of the pilot phase of our River Friendly Farms certification program. This certification evaluates farms in five areas of practice, Soil Health and Erosion, Nutrient Management, Pest Management, Farmstead Management, and Waterway Protections. After successful certification, the Cumberland River Compact helps promote and market these farms and their practice to consumers. The New Farmers Training program would teach farmers to practice these BMPs from the beginning, reduce the efforts and cost to retrofit or change ways in later years of the farm. 

    In addition to training the new farmers on sustainable agriculture practices, we will also provide training on financial resources, budgeting, logistics and other business needs determined by our research in the first phase of the proposed project. We will also determine any other barriers to entry for new farmers and incorporate that into the training. We see this opportunity as a way to provide well-rounded certified new farmers that can increase the number of farmers in Tennessee, in turn increasing the local produce available to consumers.


    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Create a training program that will benefit all new farmers. New farmers will  participate in a comprehensive training to prepare themselves to become profitable farmers and better stewards to the land they farm.
    2. Increase knowledge of the business aspects of farming. By providing farmers with the needed business management skills, they will be more profitable in farming.
    3. Increase knowledge of conservation practices on farms. Providing farmers with the needed sustainable agriculture practice knowledge, they will implement conservation practices.
    4. Remove or lessen barriers to entry- Specifically for historically underserved communities. We will research and provide solutions to the barriers new farmers face.
    5. Certify new farmers as River Friendly Farmers. New farmers will complete certifications to allow them to market their products as River friendly.
    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.