On June 2nd, when Anne was visiting Maryrose and Donn (and Bob the donkey), I (Rachel, Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator) was on my own field visit! I spent a sunny morning with Ben Pino and Courtney Sauer, who moved to the long-established East Hill Farm (where the Rochester Folk Art Guild lives and works) this past winter. As farmers in our Journeyperson Program, Ben and Courtney receive educational and business planning stipends, support of a paid farmer mentor, educational and networking opportunities and a specific commitment by NOFA-NY to ensure that we help them find footing during their first few years of farming independently. This visit is part of that commitment–nothing replaces real-time observation of the farmers on their farm. I witnessed how Ben and Courtney communicate with each other (very well), keep records (okay, I encouraged them to record their evening day-is-done conversations on their phones to listen to later), and how they react to seeing fields (they’re a little concerned about the late timing this year).
Though Ben and Courtney have plenty of farming experience and grab at educational opportunities as often as they can, they’re experiencing what many beginning farmers deal with: how to apply what you know to a new place, with its obvious and subtle tendencies and quirks. Ben and Courtney now know more than they did months ago about the condition of the soil at East Hill Farm, which has a high clay content (so when it’s wet, it’s really wet, and when it’s dry, it’s very dense). They’re discovering that though they have irrigation and tillage tools to use, their preferred method of production might not sync up with those tools; they ask themselves, their peers and their mentor (and me) about what to do to accomplish their goals, and what impacts new methods will have. For instance, they are currently wondering if they should abandon the old Allis Tramers G tractor because it works with a bed setup that seems too wide to manage, in favor of bed spacing that they don’t have equipment for, but would give them a more comfortable hand-labor situation. On top of that sort of thing, they are dealing with the challenges of the floods last month (they’re just a stone’s throw from Penn Yan, which you’ll remember was greatly affected by flooding). I loved seeing how they were thinking about these topics from a practical and idealistic perspective!
While East Hill Farm’s legacy of farmers and gardeners have built up the soil through incorporating plant matter and compost into the ground and utilizing crop rotations to let nutrients and organic matter build up between years of crops, Ben and Courtney are thinking about more ways to encourage healthy, better-textured and nutrient-filled soils. It’s a long process, but since they are planning on building up the farm’s soil and being around for a long time to manage this the long-term vision of soil health. Their mentor, Nathaniel Thompson, has been giving them great advice about producing high-quality greens (you can learn from him at our field day at Remembrance Farm on July 10th). This goes along with their dreams of diversifying the farm to use its large acreage for grazing livestock and growing more grains. Enjoy a few photos, and if you’re visiting the South Wedge or Penfield Farmers Markets this summer, say hi to these farmers!
The Journeyperson Program is so rewarding for me, as the Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator, because I get to witness the passion, pain and personal growth (I had to go for an alliteration there) that these high-potential farmers go through. I get to flex my muscles and work my knowledge to come up with the appropriate training and technical guidance options for these farmers! While their mentors and the classes they take can give them so much technical knowledge, my job is to facilitate connections, and to reflect back to the farmers about what else they might want to learn about, practice, connect with, etc. This program has me learning alongside the farmers, in some cases; at other times, the Journeyperson farmers communicate a need for training or resources that don’t exist, and that’s when NOFA-NY sets something into action (planning a conference workshop, writing a fact sheet, encouraging other service providers to offer a service, etc.)
The NOFA-NY Journeyperson Program is part of a multi-state project to support farmers in their first few years of independent farming, modeled off a highly successful program piloted by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). We take on a few farmers per year for this program, and the applications open in the fall. Read more at www.nofany.org/jp!