Extension plants the seed for new farmers

Article photo
Katy Milstead, Medford master gardener and small farms program alumna, with one of her flock. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum)

Small farms program offers workshops and online instruction

Small farms have sprouted across Oregon like the seeds they plant. The growth comes as interest in local foods increases, retirees buy small acreages, and ambitious Generation Xers and Yers look for back-to-the-land vocations. But it's not as easy as picking up a hoe and planting a few tomatoes.

That's where the OSU Extension Service's small farms program comes in. Through a series of classroom and hands-on courses, it helps agricultural greenhorns decide if the farming life is for them, what they should do with their land, how to grow fruits and vegetables, and how to market them.

Offerings include an evening class called What can I do With my Small Farm? That's followed by a four-week class called Exploring the Small Farm Dream that helps people identify their goals and resources. In southern Oregon alone, about 80 people have graduated from it in the past five years. Graduates are then eligible for the six-week Growing Farms business class, which is also offered online. About 150 people have completed that course since 2007 in southern Oregon.

Graduates can sign up for mentored, hands-on instruction at one of three Extension teaching farms around the state. At OSU's Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point, for example, participants spend about three hours a week farming an acre of land. They also take classes and tour farms. About 20 people have graduated from the program in southern Oregon. Extension also hosts three farming support networks for women around the state.

Watch this video to see how Extension has helped one small farmer in Medford.

Source: Maud Powell, coordinator for Extension's small farms program in Jackson and Josephine counties

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