Penn State Extension announces results from recent project to help aspiring farmers Start Farming.
Posted: December 2, 2012
The Start Farming Project Report 2009-2012 is now available.
“Farm start-up is a complicated process,” says program coordinator Tianna DuPont, “Penn State’s program offers new farmers critical production, marketing, and business training to help new farmers succeed. We also work hard to connect new farmers to a support network in the farming community.” The Start Farming program offers many multi-session and single day workshops on topics such as Small Scale Poultry; Beef, Sheep and Goat Home Study; Introduction to Soils, Fruit Short Course, Introduction to Vegetable Production; ABCs of Beekeeping; Retail Market School; Marketing 101; Exploring the Small Farm Dream, and more. Workshops feature farm visits, farmer speakers, Penn State Extension experts, hands on exercises, and discussions. The program compliments on-farm experience crucial to farm success.
“Who are these beginning farmers?” you might ask. It is interesting to see that these new farmers have diverse interests. About half are interested in vegetables (55%), poultry (49%) or beef, sheep and goats (59%). Others are interested in berries (33%) or field and forage crops (27%). Unlike the typical farming demographic a growing number, about forty-eight percent are women. Many are coming to farming from other careers. About seventy-eight percent did not grow up on a farm.
“We are excited to see this program increasing new farmer success,” says educator Andrew Frankenfield. In order to gauge program impact, workshop coordinators conducted evaluations. Eighty-four percent of participants said they learned a good or a great deal from the course (n=680). This new knowledge really shows up in scores from quizzes before and after classes. For example, the average score before a workshop series was 46% compared to 80% after the series. But the proof is what happens on the farm. “We checked back in with participants a year after they participated in courses. We are really happy to see that folks are using what they learn and it is improving their farms,” says DuPont. More than eighty percent of new farmers had adopted three or more new techniques. More than half saw that these new practices improved their productivity and product quality. Eighty percent felt it increased the farm’s environmental sustainability. “This is really important because we think productivity, profitability, and environmental sustainability are important indicators of long term success,” according to DuPont.
These new farmers are inspiring individuals. Take for example, Will and Kelly Smith. When the conversation came up – who would continue the family farm – Kelly turned to husband, Will, and popped the question: Do you want to start farming?
Two years later, the couple and their three children moved back to the 150 acre home farm, and now have broilers, laying hens, and turkeys, and their first batch of pigs and steers. While Kelly grew up on the farm, Will had no agricultural experience or training. From mentors, courses, and reading, they have learned a great deal about raising poultry and livestock.
Will and Kelly, along with parents Larry and Cathy, attended Penn State Extension’s Grazing School held in March 2012. After attending Grazing School, Will and Kelly took a look at their pastures and decided to make some changes. This spring, Larry seeded a pasture mix with at least seven species of grasses and legumes onto the hillside to bump up the protein and production for their broilers and layers. Will takes time to move the coops once or twice a day, depending on the number of birds and the grass’s height.
Will and Kelly are excited about the new opportunities farming presents for them and their family, and continue to learn every day from the farm and their customers.
To learn more see the recent project report here.