Small farm dream class series helps prospective farmers make realistic choice

Beginning a new small farm operation can be a daunting venture. To help people make better choices about new farming businesses, Oregon State University Extension small farms agents Melissa Fery and Amy Garrett offered a series of classes in 2018 called “Exploring the Small Farm Dream.

As participants progressed through the four-week series, each 2½ hour class sharpened their knowledge and perspective and brought them closer to a decision that felt right to them. Attendees participated in creative exercises, research, and class discussions designed to help them assess skills and resources. They listened to interviews with established farmers, made connections with others considering a farm business, and learned about financing a farm business.

A significant outcome of the Exploring the Small Farm Dream series, offered to residents of the southern Willamette Valley (Benton, Lane and Linn counties), was the participant’s determination to pursue, or not, a farm business based on a personal evaluation and assessment of their land, resources and finances.

Approximately half of the 26 class participants decided not to continue exploring a farm business. Reasons for this decision included: Not having water rights for the land, not interested in pursuing the lifestyle of farming, and economically not feasible.

Those who planned to move forward with a farm business were sent a survey 10 months after completing the class series. The results, based on a 53% response rate, showed that after 10 months:

  • 75% determined how they can match their personal goals to a farm business.
  • 63% researched the physical resources (soil, water, infrastructure, etc.) of a property or farm.
  • 63% finished a S.W.O.T analysis for their farm business.
  • 50% sought knowledge and skills needed for a farm business.
  • 38% completed some market research for their farm business dream.
  • 25% accomplished financial planning for their farm business dream.

In addition, 50% of respondents completed their “next step” in the action plan developed during class, and 50 percent intend to complete that step. Respondents inquired about farm loans and worked on business planning. Others intend to visit and interview established farms, gain on-the-ground experience, seek land for farming, and continue networking.

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