Future Farmers—or Not?

Strawberries (iStock photo)Folks dreaming of farming can turn to Penn State Cooperative Extension to find out whether farming is really for them. “Exploring the Small Farm Dream,” a 12-hour course offered last fall for would-be farmers on figuring out personal goals and resources, a market, and the best product for it, was developed in New England and is offered by the Southeast Pennsylvania Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program. A $734,000 USDA grant funds the program’s work in 15 Pennsylvania and 6 New Jersey counties.

After thinking through their businesses, new farmers move on to specific courses like sheep shearing and fruit production, or to the Lehigh Ag Incubator, where newbies are paired with a mentor farmer and can use land and equipment at low rental rates, helping to ease initial capital costs.

A second USDA grant of $572,000 supports a project to help beginning women farmers overcome barriers like capital costs. Women, now 30 percent of U.S. farmers, are the fastest-growing demographic in the field. Pairing experienced women farmers with beginning farmers and providing special working-lunch “potluck learning circles” to help build skills are cornerstones of the project, “Beginning Sustainability for New and Beginning Women Farmers through Peer Learning, Mentoring, and Networking.”