Farm Beginnings class helps kickstart new operations

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Farm Forum

Rapid City – After four successful years training new farmers on the eastern side of the state, Dakota Rural Action’s Farm Beginnings course is moving west and will be offered in Rapid City this year. Farm Beginnings is a farmer and rancher-led training and support program that provides participants the opportunity to learn first-hand about low-cost, sustainable methods of farming and ranching and the tools to successfully launch a profitable enterprise.

“We are very excited to be moving the Farm Beginnings course to Rapid City so other aspiring farmers and ranchers may be given a chance to live out their dreams of living off the land,” said course graduate and farmer Aaron Johnson, who also serves on the program’s steering committee. Johnson is now a partner at Johnson Farms, an organic grain operation near Madison, S.D.

Farm Beginnings classes are held November to March and focus on topics such as whole farm planning, financial and business planning, marketing, and connecting with resources and mentors. All classes are led by established farmers and ranchers and agricultural professionals. There are opportunities for students to further their skills by participating in mentorships with local farmers and 4-6 field days are offered through Dakota Rural Action’s Farmer Network in the summer. Over eighty-percent of course graduates participate in these on-farm activities after finishing the course.

A limited number of scholarships are available to help with course tuition. Special funding for veterans may be available and veterans are encouraged to inquire.

“Farm Beginnings was the launching pad we needed to get started,” said Anne Hauglid, farmer and course graduate. “Our success as JHA Farms stemmed from our experience with the class. We went from zero farm income to over $21,000 gross sales last year for our broiler and egg business. We’re looking to increase that this year. If it hadn’t been for Farm Beginnings we wouldn’t be raising chickens successfully today.”

Farm Beginnings participants can be of any age, do not need to currently own land, and come from wide range of experiences and farming and ranching interests. Nearly 40 families have enrolled in the course over the last four years and 83% of graduates are currently engaged in farming activities (only 30% reported involvement in farming activities before taking the class).

Danny Dyck of Worthing, S.D., completed the course and followed up with an internship where he gained the production skills necessary to for him and his wife to launch their own CSA, Deep Root Gardens, which is now in its second season of production. Said Dyck, “I’ve found Farm Beginnings and the Farmer Network to be indispensable tools for connecting to other local farmers, information, and hands-on skill-building workshops. I am always looking to see what kind of valuable info the Network will provide me with next.”

Prospective participants should contact Dakota Rural Action at 605-697-5204 or email Program Coordinator Heidi Kolbeck-Urlacher at heidiku@dakotarural.org. Class size is limited and early application is encouraged. Application deadline for the 2013 Rapid City class is October 18th. Course information and online application can be found at http://www.dakotarural.org/farmbeginnings.

Farm Beginnings is an established curriculum developed over a decade ago by the Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project that is now replicated in several different states, including Ill., Neb., N.D., and N.Y. Dakota Rural Action has adapted the curriculum to meet the needs of South Dakota farmers and ranchers. The project is supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant #2010-03066.