This time of year, I have the privilege to read about so many farmers’ hopes and dreams, and their thirst for education. I read these testimonials as part of the NOFA-NY Winter Conference scholarship application decision-making process. We read each application fully, multiple times with multiple criteria in mind. We hear from people exploring the idea of farming to seasoned farmers who know how much farmer-to-farmer education means to their farm’s success. In light of the approaching scholarship award deadline (Midnight on 12/1/14), I’d like to share a few quotes that remind me of the passion and projects that farmers share willingly, in hopes of receiving one of our scholarships.
When asked what you hoped to get out of attending the conference, you answers were along these lines:
“I have one season of farming under my belt. Most of what I have learned has been by trial and error. I hope to gain as much knowledge as I can from those with far more experience so I can make this upcoming season a success. I also hope to meet other farmers in my same situation to see what steps they have taken to get to where they are and the steps they plan to take to get them to where they want to be. Being a novice, my book is full of blank pages. I would like to start filling up those pages with useful information. There is so much I want to learn but do not know where to start. I thought this would be a good place!” -2013 applicant
“Being able to exchange ideas about different growing practices with other organic farmers. Specifically looking for a better cover crop rotation for my farm. Want to learn more about the expanded marketing venues available to us for local retail and wholesale sales. Want to learn more about saving our own seed. Want to learn more about how our farm can help new farmers become established.” -2014 applicant
It’s so interesting to find out what people identify as their short- and long-term goals in the moment they apply for a scholarship–these goals are in flux each year, so this really shows the mindset of a farmer. These goals range from lifestyle aspirations to technical specifications:
“I would like to expand the farm to six acres and acquire another good market. Eventually I would like to install a commercial kitchen where my sister in law can make prepared meals for value added production. I am planning at least two more acres of fruit trees and small fruit to round out the farm stand. I am very curious about primocane raspberries in combination with movable high tunnels. Eventually, I would like to have a mixed marketing strategy with some direct sales and some wholesale accounts. I see no reason to have a vow of poverty with this life based on the farmers I have been exposed to.” -2013 applicant
“In the short term, I will continue to work on farms with vegetable CSAs, continue to gain machinery skills, attend workshops, CRAFTs, conferences, classes, etc. to learn and to meet other farmers. I am also looking for land to lease and potentially buy. On my future land, I will run a vegetable and herb farm that utilizes sustainable and organic agricultural practices while managing the space that is not cultivated for wildlife conservation.” -2014 applicant
“I want to raise Certified Organic pastured poultry including ducks, and Certified Organic berry crops. I want to work towards the absolute minimal use of fossil fuel inputs. On-farm composting of poultry manure, bedding and ecologically sound composting of poultry carcasses. I want to bring to the customer a healthy, earth-friendly, superior tasting product at a fair price. I want to maintain the natural aesthetic of my property, while moving towards farming as my full-time passion.” -2013 applicant
“[Our farm] is a small family operated fruit and vegetable farm. We sell our products at farmers markets and to farmers market vendors. This year we are leasing land across the road and expanding to offer a CSA harvest share. We are currently Certified Naturally Grown but hope to complete the organic certification process this year or next. We are still only field farming but hope to have infrastructure, such as a high tunnel or greenhouse, in a few years that will facilitate our desire to be year round farmers in upstate New York. We love farming and we love the farming life-growing healthy food for us and for others.” -2014 applicant
And while some things show up in almost every application (and are probably on every farmer’s mind), I love seeing the interesting combinations when we ask farmers what three topics they are most interested in learning about at the conference. For the 2014 conference, that elicited these responses:
- “farm business planning, soil science, compost”
- “Food Safety, Cover Crops, Sustainable Financial Planning for the Farm”
- “Small-scale farming, how to address food insecurity, and value-added production”
- “grains, pigs, and business sense”
No, copying these answers won’t guarantee you a scholarship. But I hope that reading these inspires any potential applicant and ALL our community to evaluate where they are, and where they’re going, and how farmer-to-farmer education can play a role in that. Each attendee at our conference adds to its value, whether an eager learner, a presenter, a trade show participant, or someone involved behind the scenes with NOFA-NY. You each contribute to the greatness of New York (and Northeast) organic agriculture when you open your ears and minds to information during workshops, when you fill pages of notebook paper with ideas and contact information, and when you bring your energy to the larger group for a few days each year.
No matter if you apply for a scholarship, I hope you participate in this year’s conference. Here are a few things to remember:
Apply for a winter conference scholarship by 11:59pm EST on December 1st
You may contribute to our NOFA-NY scholarship funds when you register yourself for the conference!