In-person, on-farm learning for beginning farmers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

The MSU Student Organic Farm is offering a COVID-19 pandemic adapted Organic Farmer Training Program in 2021.

farmers in a greenhouse wearing masks and picking green leafy vegetables
Mask up for the 2020 Organic Farmer Training Program. | photo by MSU Extension

After a year hiatus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the MSU Organic Farmer Training Program (OFTP) is returning in 2021 to offer safe beginning farmer training. A signature program of the MSU Student Organic Farm, the 2021 MSU OFTP will be a 50/50 mix of field and online learning, including 11 hands-on days at the MSU Student Organic Farm, six field trip days to 15+ production & educational farms and 16 interactive online class days. Check out the full schedule to see the plan for safe in-person learning and interactive online activities. The goal of the OFTP is to create a learning community of aspiring and beginning farmers, farmworkers, homesteaders, educational gardeners and OFTP instructors to support each other in learning farm and business planning skills.

“Before OFTP I had a vision, but when I left, I had a plan,” said 2019 graduate Heather Fuson.

Michigan State University Extension has approved OFTP's COVID-19 protocols for on-farm activities that ensure safety through wearing masks, distancing and other precautions. While the full group of 25 can convene at a safe distance outdoors for farm walks or farm implement demonstrations, participants will be split into groups of fewer than 10 people to rotate through hands-on activities in hoophouses or other partially-enclosed spaces. Individual or video options will be offered if participants cannot attend in-person activities.

Interactive online learning will connect beginning farmers directly with each other, with guest speakers and with a proven curriculum for starting farms and moving farm businesses to the next level.

“The give-and-take of comments and discussion I've received in this course have convinced me that I can make my farm match where I am in my life and what I want to accomplish over the next 10-20 years,” said Loretta Crum, who participated in the 100% online course that replaced OFTP in 2020. “It's been fun to watch the rest of the students go through a similar process."

Graduates earn a certificate from MSU and join the network of Michigan farmers & food systems leaders who have graduated from the OFTP in the last decade. To learn more, sign up, or read student testimonials, visit or email

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