Business and education training for farmers includes continuing education programs, courses in marketing and business planning, and other workshops pertaining to relevant topics (e.g., salesmanship and display, food safety, regulations, promotion, targeting new outlets for products, new farmer information, etc.) that may help farms and farmers stay viable and meet local demand for agricultural products.

Why is this important to your community?

Despite a 40% increase in net cash farm income for farmers in the CONNECT region in 2012, many farmers are struggling to make a profit, particularly of the diverse range of small farm businesses. The large difference between the regional average net cash farm income of $35,778 and the net average of $103,900 for profitable farms means that a small number of farms in the region are netting large cash incomes while a larger number of farms are netting small or negative cash incomes.

The current average age of farmers in the US is 57 and rising. We need to find ways to bring more young people into farming. They need training and support in order to be successful which could be provided through our community colleges, obviously through Cooperative Extension Services, and through public private partnerships through programs like the Breeze Farm in Orange County and incubator farms like Lomax Farm n Cabarrus County. Connecting farmers with existing or new programs and working with partners to develop new training programs that focus on the “business” side of farming supports local farms by ensuring that farmers in the region are able to make a good living farming and can satisfy local demand, thus ensuring that farming remains a viable and vital part of the region’s economy.

regional average net cash farm income
regional average net cash profitable farm income

How does it work?

Business and education training programs can vary from one-day workshops or webinars to degree programs at local colleges or universities. Some local colleges and universities throughout the U.S. have Cooperative Extension System Offices that are funded in part by the USDA, and every county in the CONNECT region has a local Cooperative Extension Office. These offices are staffed by local experts who provide practical, research-based information, workshops, and programs to agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, consumers, and others in rural communities. In addition to Cooperative Extension Offices, there are many non-profit, community-based organizations committed to providing resources and training for local farmers (see resources). These organizations, including the Organic Growers School, the Farm School for Women, and others, train farmers to employ new farming techniques (e.g., new technology, sustainable practices), improve salesmanship, display, and marketing, and create effective business plans. Many of these programs rely on farmers teaching other farmers during hand-on workshops and courses held at local farms. Finally, many local food or farm and food councils have programs that support continuing education for experienced and new farmers, as they work to more strongly connect local consumers of healthy foods with the people and places that produce them.

Ready to get started?

Using the Tool

  • Working with the local Cooperative Extension Agent, convene a working group of representatives from local municipalities and counties, farmers, local food councils, school district, colleges and universities, and local residents to discuss business and education training strategies and programs to support farmers’ efforts to satisfy local demand.
    • Utilize existing data such as the County Snapshots developed for the CONNECT Our Future Food System Assessment, and conduct interviews with local farmers and agricultural producers to determine their education/training needs (e.g., marketing, business planning, training in new farming methods, etc.).
    • Determine what agricultural products need to be produced to meet local demand. This could include a survey of local consumers and restaurants or schools, or a review of existing market and consumer studies and reports.
    • Create an inventory of existing business and education training programs in the area. This could be an interactive spreadsheet or a list hosted on the website of a local municipality, county, Cooperative Extension Office, or food council that is updated as new programs emerge.
    • Compare local demand and the needs of farmers with existing businesses and education training programs offered. Identify gaps (e.g., there is a demand for more organic produce, but there are no locally-based training programs specializing in organic farming methods, or farmers who have expressed a desire to reach more consumers, but there are no marketing workshops offered locally).
    • Collaborate with organizations that have the resources and knowledge needed to create new programs to help farmers expand capacity, and/or reach more farmers.
    • Conduct outreach to farmers through local food councils, newsletters, and other outlets to advertise available business and education training programs.
    • Partner with local media and marketing agencies to promote what is being grown in the area and where it is being sold.
  • Support direct marketing of agricultural products and producers by promoting existing outlets or assisting with their expansion.
  • Incorporate into community plans policies that support business and education training for farmers such as collaborating with agricultural and related agencies and organizations that provide training, technical assistance, and capital; sharing data for planning, implementing, and evaluating educational programs; and developing land use planning policies, economic development programs, land taxation, and development regulations that enhance the viability of agriculture in the community and the region.

Where has it worked?

Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training CRAFT - Western NC

Image Source: Organic Growers School.



About the Program

Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) is a program operated by Western North Carolina’s Organic Growers School. CRAFT brings together successful farmers, beginning and new farmers, and students to participate in a comprehensive agricultural training program centered on hands-on learning. The program started in 2008 after the Organic Growers School staff met with farmers in the region to discuss what programs were needed to train future farmers and nurture existing growers. Networking and educational opportunities were highlighted as needs. As a result, the Organic Growers School utilized the CRAFT model (originated in the northeastern U.S.), where farmers lead farm tours to educate each other and new farmers. Each tour, held at different times throughout the year, focuses on a specific aspect of farming (e.g., pest management, irrigation, business planning, harvesting, etc.) at different farms throughout the region. Farmers, apprentices, and students purchase a low-cost, year-long membership that allows them to participate in all of the farm tours and other events held throughout the year.

Why it works

The program is based on the premise that farmers learn best from other farmers and students learn best from a hands-on education. Members can choose what farm tours they want to attend based on the topic covered at the farm. In addition to providing additional training for farmers and students, CRAFT increases networking opportunities, facilitates the exchange of ideas, provides young farmers and students with mentors, gives participating farmers free advertisement, and links farmers and students to helpful resources. One participant said after hosting a farm tour that “Having other farmers and apprentices out to see our farm and our operations created dialogue about opportunities I could not see with my own eye. When you can see your farm through the eyes of farmers you respect and trust, you can gain perspective on your farm’s challenges and assets.”