A Northeast TN Resource Feature
Alexis Close, better known to many as “Lexy,” is the Local Food Production Coordinator for the Appalachian Resource Conservation & Development Council (ARC&D). AccelNow recently had the opportunity to sit down with Lexy to chat about how the ARC&D is supporting agricultural education and small businesses in our region.
The ARC&D is a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization serving Carter, Greene, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties in Northeast Tennessee.
Their mission is to conserve natural resources and improve rural economies through community leadership and enhanced educational opportunities. They work tirelessly to preserve the heritage of the region, promote local growers/producers, and protect the lands of past generations so that future generations may be able to enjoy the natural wonders our region has to offer.
What is the Field School and who can participate?
In only it’s second year of existence, the Field School is one of the programs that the ARC&D offers and it has quickly become a popular one. This 10-session farmer training program has been designed to educate beginner farmers, those who have 10 years or less of farming experience as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), on the basics of small-scale farming in the mountains and valleys of Northeast Tennessee.
“Dana York has been a partner and consultant on the Field School since the beginning. She brings decades of experience and wisdom from a career at the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and has been critical to the planning and implementation of the Field School and its curriculum,” explained Close. York runs a consulting company, Green Earth Connection, and is now launching her own farm operation, Grand Oak Farm, on her family’s land in Jonesborough, TN.
Students of the Field School come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have land, while others don’t. Some have experience, while others are brand new to farming. And still others are seeking opportunities to expand upon their farming experience, like one recent student who raised sheep for many years and wanted to learn more about growing vegetable crops.
One of the most wonderful things about the Field School is that all are welcome to join and participate in the program, regardless of experience, availability of land, gender, or even age, with students ranging in age from 14 to 73 over the past two sessions.
2016-2017 Field School Students in December 2016 learning about high tunnels.
How is the program designed and what do students learn?
The Field School is a 10-session, nine-month long program (taking place from November until August each year) where students meet once per month for three hours each time.
Some of the sessions take place in the classroom, where students learn about business planning, budgeting, marketing, liability, wholesaling, financing their farm, and more.
Other sessions take place in the field (literally!), where students have the opportunity to visit local farms and growers to learn first-hand from their experiences.
These field sessions include the chance to learn about rotating crops to facilitate soil health, how to identify common pests and diseases that affect crops, preventative measures a farmer can take to ensure a healthy crop, livestock well-being and health, conventional versus organic farming, product and service expansions, and more.
This year, the Field School introduced two separate tracks for students to participate in – small livestock and produce. Students could opt to take one track or participate in both. If they chose to participate in both, students have the chance to occasionally attend two workshops per month, when the sessions don’t intersect in their educational efforts.
What’s one thing that surprised you most this year?
“More people jumped into growing this year versus last year!” exclaimed Close.
She went on to say, “It was cool hearing one woman say she started the program to do some research and think about starting a small farm business. She had some family land, and when spring rolled around, she planted a half-acre of vegetables. She now sells them at the local markets and she’s doing really well!”
That student is Susan McKinney of Small Batch Farms, who we’ll be showcasing in next week’s blog post!
2016-2017 Field School students at Myers Pumpkin Patch in June 2017.
What should people know who are considering this program?
“Just come with an open mind, curiosity, and a willingness to learn,” urged Close.
One of the great strengths of the program is its breadth and all the farm visits students get to go on. Close explained that students are always surprised at what sessions they enjoy most.
The Myers Pumpkin Patch is one of the farms visited during the program. A lot of students think they’d never operate a pumpkin patch, but that’s not necessarily what this particular trip is all about. It’s more about expanding your business and the products and services you can offer.
People walk away with their creativity sparked and ideas flowing about on-farm activities and agri-business, such as agri-tourism around bees and pollination, hosting charitable activities, developing programs where they can donate and give back to the community, and more.
When does the next session begin and how can people get involved?
The third round of the Field School begins on Thursday, November 9th. Individuals who are interested can apply online beginning in mid-September. To be the first to know when the Field School application is available, follow the ARC&D online at http://arcd.org/field-school/. Cost to participate is $75 for one track and $100 for two tracks, with a meal included in each session.
Interested in joining this list of generous sponsors of the Field School? Reach out today!
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