North Carolina: Farm Schools Aimed at Attracting New Farmers

    The average age of the Richmond County farmer is 58. When people in most professions are thinking about pensions, retirement, babysitting grandchildren and winters in Florida, farmers may not be planning to ever stop farming.

    Some of the most fortunate farm families have younger generations who also love the lifestyle and independence of farming and will take over the family farm. Farm succession remains a difficult family topic and often there is no one willing to continue the farm.

    Producing food is an essential job, but not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. Today, each farmer produces enough food to feed 155 people, increased from 25 people in 1960. They have to own or rent land and equipment. Farmers must go to school or learn from a mentor in order to know production techniques. They must have certifications or licenses in order to spray pesticides or manage animal waste.

    They have to deal with insurance, labor issues, financial concerns, environmental permits and regulations and marketing their product. Farming is a profession that requires intelligence, ingenuity and great personal risk.

    Yet the opportunities for developing direct markets have never been greater, because of the popularity of the local food movement. From the federal initiative Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food to our local farmers’ markets: fresh, high-quality food with a “face” is a hot topic. Direct sales from farms to consumers grew 215 percent from 1990 to 2007.

    To meet this demand, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension is hoping to attract new farmers through N.C. Farm Schools.

    Any good business starts out with a good plan and lots of research. More and more families are looking at ways to supplement their incomes and make their land productive.

    The Sandhills Farm School is a seven-month educational program that provides training to beginning and transitioning farmers with a strong commitment to operate successful small-scale sustainable farms.

    The school offers seven business planning seminars, which will give farmers the tools to create a viable business plan. Each business session will focus on different areas of writing a business plan including financial management and effective marketing strategies. The school also includes seven one-day-long field trips at different working farms led by innovative experienced farmers and agricultural professionals.

    Participants will learn about low-cost sustainable farming methods from fruits, vegetables, cows, pigs, poultry, goats, specialty crops and agritourism. The business classes will meet the third Thursday of the month beginning in February from 6-9 p.m. at the Richmond County Agricultural Services Center, and the farm field days will typically be the fourth Thursday of the month from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

    The farm field days will take place at various farms throughout the Sandhills and will include lunch. Registration deadline is Jan. 1, one person: $250 two people: $400. Register online at or call Susan Kelly at 910-997-8255 for more information.

    Farmers who go through the Farm School program will be part of a network of new farmers, will have learned about all of the available resources and will have personal help with business planning, including a visit to their operation with suggestions and ideas. Through Farm School, hopefully a new generation of farmers will be ready to take Richmond County agriculture to the next level!

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