Small Farm Dream 101

Future farmers put their dreams to the test

Thinking you want to skip out on your desk job and start working the land for a living? You’re not alone. People from all walks of life are beginning to dream about life on the farm.

But before you switch careers, we suggest checking out Countryside Conservancy’s class “Exploring the Small Farm Dream.” Based on a curriculum developed by the New England Small Farm Institute, Countryside is the sole Ohio sponsor of this national course. The one month workshop brings together a small group of people dreaming of starting or expanding their farm to help them explore their own capacity for achieving their dream.

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This is not a hands-on class (Countryside U has plenty of those), but instead it’s an opportunity to explore the practicalities of starting a small farm and determining whether your dream could become a reality. By the end of the four weeks, students will have a clear sense of whether they have the temperament, resources and support necessary to succeed as a farmer.

“My class is successful if my students can clearly answer the question ‘Is the farm business right for me’” explains Katie Myers, Countryside’s farmland programs manager. “Over the years, most have answered yes, but their timelines vary greatly depending on where they are starting and what they hope to achieve.”

Katie is a family farmer herself. She grew up on a dairy and produce farm in Lorain County and now operates Jackpot Farms in Shreve, Ohio, with her husband and three sons.

Farming isn’t for the faint of heart, but Katie insists that if it is your dream, there is a farm for everyone. The key is making sure you have your eyes wide open from the start and that you’re willing to start small, experiment, learn and grow.

“The men and women who graduate from our course, who we call Explorers, walk away with three key advantages to getting started: a deep understanding of their farming capacity and the start of a realistic plan to bring their dream to life; an instant network of more than 1,100 farmers in Northeast Ohio—including 200 Explorers, many of whom are now running their own successful farms; and access to training and services that help address the biggest obstacles to getting started including land acquisition, skills development and financial resources.”

In addition to providing space for deep exploration of a small farm dream, this class is designed to introduce Explorers to farmers of all stripes through guest speakers, farm field trips and a required interview with a farmer. Katie intentionally pairs students with farmers who share attributes or aspirations, and has found that often the interviewee becomes a mentor to the student. In the case of Heather Grant, who just graduated this spring, she’s now volunteering at Spring Hill Farm & Market where farmer Alan Halko has become an invaluable mentor.

“Our students come from successful professional careers: They are women in their mid-40s ready for a change, backyard gardeners who want to go to market, scientists engaged with the experimentation of farming, families who want to live close to the land. They all have one thing in common: They are ready to get off the porch and begin to build their farm.”

Explorer graduates include Daniel and Michelle Greenfield of Greenfield Berry Farm, Allison Preiss The Orchard at Appolloson Acres and Karmi James Paqarina Farm. Ready to join them? If you think you would like to explore your small-farm dream, getting started is as easy as answering a few questions at http://tinyurl.com/smallfarmdream.