Why I'm Attending the Growing Farmers Workshops

Reader Contribution by Robert White
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 Having been away from the farm for so long and being an amateur gardener, I thought it important to gear up with some training classes prior to launching this new endeavor to help reduce the learning curve and hopefully get income flowing a little more quickly.

Learning for me is a great means of overcoming self-confidence issues. Over the last 3 years following my separation and divorce, I had to seek gardening ground elsewhere after moving out and I hooked up with a local organization in Lincoln called Community Crops which has an organic and sustainable approach to food production. One of the things they do is manage about 16 community gardens throughout the city. Every year people wanting to use space in one of these community gardens submit an application and pay a nominal fee. They also offer education classes with the biggest one being the Growing Farmers workshop series. It’s a series of 8 workshops over 4 months covering a broad range of topics including business planning, marketing, funding, and farm tours.

The first session was last weekend. This session covered issues such as what to produce and how to market it with a specific focus on farmers markets. In speaking of product I liked the emphasis on the quality of product that a market garden can offer. Various terms were thrown out to drive this home such as certified, open pollinated, heirloom, heritage, chemical free, fresh, local, family farm, organic, biodynamic. This is where the box store has a hard time competing. Due to the year round smorgasbord approach of traditional produce suppliers, items offered are not fresh and the quality is lower due to the distance that it has to travel. It seems that even in summer it’s possible to buy produce that is mealy or rock hard and not ripe at all. There’s a huge quality difference that the market garden can provide to its customers due to being local, and being produced in a sustainable way.

The greater part of the morning session dealt with outlets for marketing or what could be considered “direct” marketing which has its own pros and cons. Someone just sent me a message on Facebook today who does marketing for the chamber of commerce for my hometown said that within 3 hours distance of the farm location I will have access to 4 million people. What a tremendous encouragement, though I doubt I will want to travel 3 hours to sell what I will be producing.

So now it’s just a matter of deciding on the best combination for my area or how far outside of my immediate community I want to go and what techniques to employ in that context. I’m thinking if I raise 100 pastured broilers at a time, how am I going to get that 100 sold before another 100 are ready to butcher 2 weeks later. So here are some options: farmers markets, on farm stand (which is least likely for me since the farm is off the beaten path), food coops (Nebraska has a couple of options here), CSA (community supported agriculture, pre-sold share approach), U-pick (again probably not viable for me), roadside stands (which I may be able to team up with some others to make work), and wholesale marketing to restaurants, grocery stores, and institutions like schools or universities (UNL has a great buying program called Good Fresh Local).

For this post I’ve included some pictures of the presenter from Robinette Farms showing how she sets up for selling at a farmers market. What was really helpful with this part is the list she provided of necessary supplies. Lots to think about with this session.