Starting any small business can be a scary endeavor. The statistics aren’t in favor of startups: While the exact failure rates vary depending on the source, it’s safe to say the numbers aren’t rosy. Knowing that few new farmers — working in arguably one of the most difficult and demanding professions — succeed without assistance, in 2015 the Organic Growers School set out to provide that help. And the school has been refining its Farm Beginnings yearlong training program ever since.
This year, organizers have added a 15-plus-hour mentorship component, pairing novice WNC farmers (some who’ve moved here specifically to launch a farm business) with more experienced growers who farm in a way the beginners admire or wish to emulate.
“This really strengthens our farming training,” says program coordinator Nicole DelCogliano. “The students get to meet a lot of farmers during the winter coursework and, during the season, participate in field days and farm tours, but it’s so helpful to have someone they can count on for guidance and questions as they start to work with their own land (or rented land) and build systems and enterprises.”
Coursework includes whole-farm business planning sessions, as well as classes at the Organic Growers School’s annual conferences and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s Business of Farming conference. Field days are held at the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy Incubator Farm and other sustainable operations throughout the region. In total, the program offers more than 200 hours of training time.
To date, 45 farmers have completed Farm Beginnings. Graduates have gone on to establish businesses selling produce, herbs and more, DelCogliano says.
Applications for the 2017-18 program will be accepted through Sept. 1 (the program kicks off on Oct. 15). The fee is $3,000; an early-bird discount of $100 will be given to those who apply by Aug. 15. Scholarships and payment plans are available, and farmers can apply with their farm partner. Find more information and the application at www.organicgrowersschool.org.