Farming 101: Greatest Resource Is Like-Minded Community


A-photo-of-Colleen-NewquistPart of my desire to farm is fueled by my desire to shed the life that keeps me indoors, sitting on my butt in a sealed up building the majority of my days. So I had to smile at the irony of finding myself indoors on a beautiful October Saturday, sitting on my butt in a sealed up building in Bloomington, Illinois, as my first major step toward farming.

But there I was, along with 13 classmates—many of whom, like me, had driven a couple hours to get there—gathered for our first 6-hour class session of Central Illinois Farm Beginnings, a yearlong program on creating a sustainable, entrepreneurial farm business.

The day turned out to be worth every sunless second.

The classroom setting, the books, the in-class assignments, the guest speakers, the homework, all drove home an important point: I have SO much to learn. It feels a little ridiculous, really, to be thinking about if I want to focus on livestock or crops—and then somebody mentioned perennial crops, and I thought, whoa, now that sounds interesting—like I know what I’m talking about. My farming “experience” consists of having visited a few very small-scale farms, sweeping up after my friend as she sheared sheep, reading a couple books about farming, and dating the son of a pig farmer for about three months in high school. I recall being terrified of the geese, who hissed ferociously as they chased me to my car. 

I’ve grown a few tomatoes and lettuce and herbs—which are as about easy to grow as you can get—and I’ve consumed at least a large barnyard full of chickens, cows, and pigs over my lifetime, but that hardly qualifies me to embark on this adventure. Still, I’m determined. So there I sat, pencil in hand, eager to soak up the wisdom (and wonderful humor, it turns out) of the program coordinator, Micah Bornstein, and the farmers and other experts he will bring in with every class. 

The class focuses on farming as a business—because, despite romantic notions to the contrary—that’s what it is. Although it may be the only business people go into (by “people,” I mean me) without the expectation of making a living, or at least not expecting to make a good living. All along as I’ve mulled over the prospect of farming, I’ve consistently had in the back of my head (and often the front) that I’ve got to do something else in addition to farming because, after all, I’ll never be able to support myself that way.

Nebraska Dave
10/12/2011 7:27:02 PM

Colleen, I'm glad to hear that the passion for the small farm lifestyle is still alive and well. In today's world it would more difficult then ever to make a living strictly from a small farm. I'm quite encouraged that a year long course to teach how to make a living on a small scale farm is available. Our own GRIT blogger named Alison from the SPROUTS - STORIES FROM A YOUNG FARMER blog followed her learning experiences through a year of hands on full time farming from the business planning stage through the harvest and selling stage. It was quite a wonderful reading experience to follow the monthly updates through last year. I hope that all your farming passions come to fruition. Have a great farm class day.

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