Cooperative Extension’s NC Farm Schools support new and aspiring farmers

— Written By Danelle Cutting and last updated by Janet Mabry

Southern Piedmont Farm School now accepting applications

In an effort to help “grow” new farmers in North Carolina, N.C. Cooperative Extension is offering four NC Farm Schools across the state beginning in January. The Southern Piedmont Farm School will meet at the Cooperative Extension center in Rowan County (2727 Old Concord Rd, Salisbury, NC) and will receive support from Cooperative Extension agents in nine surrounding counties.

New farmers, like husband-wife team Al and Linda Hutchinson, who just recently purchased some farmland after receiving the Farm School as a gift, stated it was “the best Christmas present ever!”; Al and Linda are planning to start their Wild Kitchen Garden farm providing old fashioned herbs, fruit, flowers, and veggies.

Mike and Jenny Tate from Forsyth County is developing Rebecca Knoll Farms in which they are growing high nutritious crops to provide to those less fortunate. Mike stated “after 30 years in business, I had a voice telling me to do something agriculture, and this school helped put us in the right direction”.

Father-daughter team Chip and Kathryn Webb of Vine and Fig Tree, say the farm school provided invaluable help in growing their operations. The Webbs have a test garden in Forsyth County, several acres of fruit trees and muscadine vines near Tyro in Davidson County and a historic farm near Churchland in Davidson County where George Washington ate breakfast in 1791. The experience also helped them get to know the extension agents in each of the three counties.

“Farming is a multi-disciplinary enterprise,” Chip Webb said. “And, we have delighted in learning from some of the brightest and best teachers from North Carolina State University and our extension educators.”

The first Cooperative Extension farm school started in Davidson County in 2012, fueled by growing consumer interest in local foods, increasing sales at farmers market and other direct-to-consumer markets and a desire to grow the next generation of farmers. The average age of North Carolina’s farmers is 57.

Amy-Lynn Albertson, Davidson County agricultural extension agent and a Farm School founder, said extension agents are frequently approached by landowners who want to know how to start a business on their land. More and more families are looking at ways to supplement their incomes and put their land into something productive, she said.

“One of our challenges as agents is getting farmers to talk about business planning,” Albertson said. In starting the first NC Farm School in 2012, Albertson realized the program would be overwhelming for just one extension agent, so she asked others in nearby counties to help. Since the first year, the program has continued to grow across the state.

The Southern Piedmont Farm School is a seven-month educational program that trains beginning and transitioning farmers to operate successful, small-scale sustainable farms. The school offers seven business planning seminars to 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 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 growing fruits and vegetables, to raising cows, pigs, poultry, goats. The schools also will cover specialty crops and agritourism.

The business classes will meet the second Thursday of the month, beginning in January from 6-9 pm at the Rowan County Cooperative Extension office (2727 Old Concord Rd., Salisbury, NC 28147), and the farm field days will typically be the fourth Thursday of the month from 9am-3pm. The farm field days will take place at various farms throughout the area.

Registration deadline is Nov. 14, and the program fees are $250 for one person; $400 for a farm couple. Visit https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/DOC090414.pdf for the brochure and application, or call 704-216-8970 for more information.

Other extension agents involved in the Southern Piedmont Farm School are: David Goforth and Carl Pless – Cabarrus County, Amy-Lynn Albertson – Davidson County, Pam Jones – Davie County, Kristin Davis – Mecklenburg County, Jamie Warner – Montgomery County, Aimee Colf – Anson County, Danelle Cutting and Thomas Cobb – Rowan County, Dustin Adcock – Union, Stanly, and Anson Counties, Teresa Herman – Iredell County, and Gary Bullen from NC State.

In addition to the Southern Piedmont Farm School, other Cooperative Extension farm schools will be offered in the following counties.

Ashe County contact: Travis Birdwell, travis_birdsell@ncsu.edu (School will meet at the Upper Mountain Research Station, outside of West Jefferson). Phone: 336-846-5850.

Rowan County contact: Danelle Cutting, danelle_cutting@ncsu.edu. Phone: 704-216-8970.

Richmond County contact: Susan Kelly, susan_kelly@ncsu.edu. Phone: 910-997-8255

Catawba County contact: Lara Worden, lara_worden@ncsu.edu. Phone: 828-465-8240

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