3/30/2013 7:00 AM
By Jane W. Graham Virginia Correspondent
BLACKSBURG, Va. — Young people wanting to enter agriculture in Virginia have two recently developed tools to help them learn about the state’s largest industry and where they might fit in: the Virginia Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project and its Farm Mentor Network.
“According to USDA, beginning farmers and ranchers nationwide face unique challenges to develop and sustain new farming operations,” according to the project’s website. “Gaining access to land, capital, markets and educational opportunities are the leading barriers for successful farm start-up.”
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coalition Project was formed as the result of a survey taken early in 2011 to identify Virginia’s beginning farmer and rancher demographic characteristics, program area needs, and program delivery preferences.
The farm mentor coordinators include Kelli Scott, southwest Virginia; C.J. Isbell, central Virginia; and Jim Hilleary of the Fauquier Education Farm in Warrenton, Va.
Scott said the coalition now has 27 team members from around the state who met quarterly to try to assess the needs of people they sought to serve.
The result is the whole farm planning curriculum that was introduced across the state during the 2012 winter and spring. The program is continuing to grow.
Scott said the curriculum looks at all aspects of farming instead of just one part, as is often the case for people wanting to enter the industry. The program is designed to help the individual see what is possible.
The new farmer program now has 10 beginning farmers who are entering the classroom phase of the project. A mentoring phase will follow. Scott said the program needs more mentors — mature farmers who are willing to share their experiences, knowledge and skills.
“There is no cookie cutter way,’” Scott said.
Would-be farmers say they go to YouTube for a lot of information, she said. They want videos, some events on the farm, socials, farm tours, farm demonstrations and farm workdays. Other needs include internships, apprenticeships and work experience, she said.
A large percentage of beginning farmers say they want to learn from other farmers, Scott said.
The Farm Mentor Network helps make that happen by allowing experienced farmers to exchange knowledge and skills with beginning farmers and ranchers.
“It also provides an opportunity for long-term working relationships for successful farming,” the website states.
Currently there are seven Virginia Whole Farm Planning Programs serving the state. They are:
“Providing Beginning Farmers with Farm Seeker Certification,” Virginia Farm Bureau Young Farmers and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services; several locations. Leaders are Ron Saacke at ron.saacke<\@>vafb.come and Kevin Schmidt at kevin.schmidt<\@>vdacs.virginia.gov.
“ Whole Farm Planning for New Farm Wineries and Vineyards in Virginia,” Attimo Winery, Christiansburg, Va., and other locations. Leaders are Rik and Melissa Obiso at wine<\@>attimowinery.com.
“ Whole Farm Planning for Working Model Farm and Land-Based Learning Center in Floyd County,” SustainFloyd, Floyd County, Va. Leader is Michael Burton at info<\@>sustainfloyd.org.
“ The Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer Program,” Fauquier County Agricultural Development, Fauquier Education Farm and Virginia Cooperative Extension, Fauquier County. Leaders are Ray Pickering at ray.pickering<\@>faquiercounty.gov or Jim Hilleary at coordinator<\@>fauquiereducationfarm.info.
“Implementing Whole Farm Planning Curriculum in Southwest Virginia,” Appalachian Sustainable Development, Abingdon. Leader is Tom Peterson at tpeterson<\@>asdevelop.org.
“Beginning Farmer Community Support on the Blue Ridge Plateau,” Grayson LandCare, Grayson County, Va.. Leader is Danny Boyer at dtdboyer<\@>centurylink.net.
“Mentoring and Training Programming Using Whole Farm Planning,” Virginia Association for Biological Farming, several locations. Leaders are Kathy O’Hara at Kohara1<\@>vbi.vt.edu or Kevin Damian at kdamian877<\@>gmail.com.
Scott can be reached at kescott1<\@>vt.edu.