Getting an Agriculture Education at the Farm School
From growing broccoli to developing a business plan, the farm school helped us hatch a plan.
Alison carries a share from the Greenback CSA.
My husband, Alan, and I wanted to become farmers. We wanted to make our livelihood growing food for a community and spend our future working a vegetable garden and tending animals. Overwhelmed and unsatisfied with the current industrial agriculture system, we were looking for a way to do something positive, to become a part of a sustainable future. That future was going to involve growing food. Inspired and passionate, we had only one problem: We didn’t know how to farm.
Perhaps that’s not entirely true. Alan had spent a season working as an intern on a family farm in Vermont, and I had done some work exchanges for produce at a few different farms, but our skills were limited. We knew enough to know that we liked farming, but if there was any way our dream was going to become a reality, a farm-based education would be of paramount importance.
Making the connection
After spending some quality time with the sustainable farm internship database on ATTRA, (the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service website), we discovered the Greenbank Farm Training Center (GFTC) on Whidbey Island in Washington State’s Puget Sound. Its eight-month training program looked perfect, so we applied and were accepted.
The Greenbank Farm Training Center’s description fit our situation to a T. “Our program is designed for participants who, through experience, are committed to pursuing a career in sustainable agriculture and desire a formal and thorough academic and experiential education in the business and production aspects of small-scale sustainable farming.” Alan and I were looking for exactly that. Into the car our work pants went, and thus began the drive west from our home state of Wisconsin.
A large, bare field greeted us upon arrival. No cover crop. No fence. Almost no infrastructure. This field (it was too much of a struggle to call it a farm) was a five-acre parcel of land that the Greenbank Farm Training Center had leased from the publicly owned Greenbank Farm, a 500-acre historic loganberry farm located in the town of Greenbank. The GFTC was beginning its second season, and only a small portion of the field had been cultivated the year before. Our work would create this farm from the ground up. It was the perfect project for a bunch of young people dreaming about starting their own farms someday.
The eight of us in the program hailed from all over the country and had different farming backgrounds and worldviews, brought together by the desire for the same skill – the skill to grow food in a way that benefits the earth, our communities and ourselves. Sebastian Aguilar, program director and a successful farmer who raised his family by working the earth and growing produce, was prepared to lead us down the path under his superior tutelage.
During that first month of the program, we spent a lot of time building – infrastructure, relationships, farming skills. We assembled a greenhouse, constructed a fence around our field using T-posts and an old fishing net, marked the field into sections and rows, secured our water source, and ran electricity out to the field. Our leader demonstrated basic skills, like how to use different hoes correctly and efficiently. We acquired the skill and knowledge needed to germinate seeds in a greenhouse, and then how to water the seedlings correctly so they didn’t damp off or dry out.
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