Training for fledging farmers finds support through USDA grant

A recent grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will enable Michigan State University to continue helping small farmers get their start through a variety of training programs.
 
As part of the $750,000 grant, the MSU Student Organic Farm will expand its Organic Famer Training Program in partnership with the Michigan Food and Farming Systems and the Center for Regional Food Systems.
 
With roots dating back to the early 2000s, the MSU Organic Farm has trained 112 new farmers, with participants ranging in age from 18 to 63 years old.
 
"There's really no typical student anymore," says Denae Friedheim, recruitment coordinator and instructor for the farm. "We have people who have worked on farms and are pretty sure they want a career in agriculture. We also have career shifters who are craving a connection to the land."
 
The 15-acre certified organic farm is home to the first year-round Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program in Michigan, and offers an intensive training program that prepares the next generation of organic farmers. Programs start in March and run through mid-November. Up to around 17 students are accepted each year, with applications still open for the 2015 season.
 
Friedheim says the farm grows produce year-round through hoop houses. The program also added livestock to the mix, allowing students to participate in the lifecycle of pigs, turkeys, geese, chickens and cattle. Some animals, too, "assist" with the annual cropping system, cleaning up residue and rooting the field once a crop is spent.
 
Students in the program learn through hands-on management and decision-making, and are given the opportunity to use and operate farming equipment. Experienced teaching staff and faculty guide students through the creation of a business plan that can be the basis of a real world farm once the student graduates.
 
"Everything we do on this farm serves as a model for our students," says Friedheim. "We try to do things as close to a regular farming business as possible."
 
The MSU Organic Farm has six full-time teaching staff as well as about a dozen part-time staff, primarily students.
 
Source: Denae Friedheim, Recruitment Coordinator and Instructor, MSU Organic Farm
Writer: Ann Kammerer, News Editor
 
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