Across the United States and in Georgia, the number of small and medium–sized farms is declining and the average age of farmers is on the rise. Although we need new farmers, the barriers would-be farmers face when trying to grow new agricultural businesses from the ground up can be formidable.
One of those barriers, Georgia Organics learned recently, involves financial literacy.
When Georgia Organics evaluated its Farmer to Farmer Mentoring Program after 10 years, a disturbing trend revealed itself. The folks who went through the program and eventually stopped farming all gave up around five years into their farming career.
When we reached out to them to find out what happened, we learned that, while they were trained to grow beautiful produce organically, they weren’t trained to run a financially sustainable business. Since that revelation, we knew we couldn’t just train beginning farmers on production practices without providing them with the business training needed to ensure that they’ll thrive as farmers.
Now, in the latest incarnation of beginning farmer training, business comes first.
The Journeyman Farmer Certificate Program (JFCP) – which is led by the University of Georgia (UGA) and includes partnerships with Fort Valley State University’s (FVSU) extension offices, Ag South, the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA), and UGA’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) – begins with a course on Small Business Planning taught by AgSouth and SBDC.
“This area of the course was vital, as many current farmers do not have business plans,” said Tenisio Seanima, Georgia Organics farmer services coordinator. “Gardening is a hobby and farming is a business, so having a business plan is essential to managing a farm.”
From there, students take a seven-week course in either Small Fruit & Vegetable Production or Small Ruminant Production, which provides an itemized profile of life on a farm to the students. Students learns the basics of farming through a curriculum designed by Georgia Organics, GDA, UGA & FVSU Extension and taught by agents from their respective extension offices.
After understanding the basics of growing small crops or raising small ruminants, qualified students will each be paired with an established farmer to gain hands-on experience.
Students will either enter the internship program, where they spend the greater portion of a work week learning onsite at a select farm; the mentorship program, where they receive technical support from experienced farmer while working at their own personal site; or the incubator, where they will begin developing their own farm business at a host site where the farmer host will guide them towards a future of full farming independence.
“Many farmers don’t initially recognize the level of business professionalism one has to have to successfully operate a farm,” said Seanima. “Thus, by guiding them down the path of understanding business first, then farming, we suspect that the attrition rate of young farmers will decrease while simultaneously inspiring others to understand the full spectrum of life on a farm.”
By the end of 2018, 44 students will have gone through the entire program, including the on-farm education.
The Journeyman Program will be offered over the next two years at multiple locations across the state. Interested in participating? Contact Seanima at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 404-481-5008.