CORVALLIS, Ore. – Over the last three years, 250 new and would-be farmers in Oregon have learned to dream strategically in an Oregon State University Extension workshop series called "Growing Farms: Successful Whole Farm Management."
The Growing Farms workshops are for people who want to start a farm business, are in the first years of owning a farm or want to make major changes to their existing farm. They learn how to make a reality of their dream farm with a strategic plan and how to consider production options, manage finances, produce and sell its products and deal with liability.
The 44-page planning book that goes with the workshops is now available separately and can be purchased for $8, plus shipping and handling. Order "Growing Farms: Successful Whole Farm Management Planning Book," EM 9043, online or call 541-737-2513 or 800-561-6719.
"People can use the book to process information, record their ideas and work through whole-farm planning," said Melissa Fery, small farms instructor with Oregon State University Extension, Benton County. "They can document and reflect and become more definitive in their planning, which makes them better able to access their farming options."
Although the planning book alone can be helpful, Fery also recommends the workshops, in which attendees can share ideas, network with each other and listen to experienced farmers on field trips to working farms.
Many of the people who attend the "Growing Farms" training sessions come with a desire to learn more about starting a farm business, but may have little background or training. "Specialty crops are popular, and many new farmers need to learn direct market strategies to sell organic vegetables and livestock products such as spun wool," Fery said.
Retired veterinarian Robert Bradford took the Growing Farms workshops in 2009 to set goals, clarify his values and measure risks to determine what his niche market plans might be. Now the Bradford Family Farm in Rogue River is the first Oregon Department of Agriculture-licensed chicken and rabbit processing facility in southern Oregon. The license allows the farm to sell the meat at markets, restaurants and grocery stores.
"We also are growing a couple acres of wheat," Bradford said. "We plan to bring the wheat to farmers' markets in the spring to grind on site as it's purchased."
One young farmer, Gary Bernet, used his degree in marketing and what he learned in the Growing Farms workshop to revive his family's farm with an agri-tourism corn maze and pumpkin patch.
"Growing Farms gave me a better grasp of the whole farming picture," Bernet said. "It's easy to focus on the parts you want to see, but the course forced me to look at all aspects of a farm business, not just growing a crop."
OSU Extension's Small Farms program received federal funding to begin Growing Farms in 2009 as a partial solution to the concern that in the United States the average age of farmers is about 57. The series of workshops, offered in four regions of Oregon, teaches what it takes to succeed in whole-farm management.
The next workshop series will be from 5 to 9 p.m. for six Wednesdays in 2012, from March 7 to April 11, in Junction City. For more information about the course and registration, call 541-766-6750. Costs are $275 for individuals and $450 for a farm team of two.