MSU Organic Farmer Training Program equips next generation of farmers

MSU Organic Farmer Training Program is seeking applicants for 2019 cohort.

The time is ripe to grow a new crop of farmers in the United States. The latest Census of Agriculture, conducted in 2012, revealed that the average age of principal farm operators was 58 and that over 31 percent of principal farm operators were age 65 or older. At the same time, all new farmers don’t necessarily have to be young. In fact, there is a trend of people taking an interest in farming later, with 35 percent of beginning farmers over age 55 and nearly 13 percent age 65 or older. Historically, certain groups of people have been excluded from resources that would support them in starting and managing successful farms, including women, racial and ethnic minorities and veterans. Over 95 percent of principal farm operators identify as white and 88 percent identify as male. Just as biodiversity is critical to agriculture, a diverse community of farmers is key to building sustainability and resilience in our food system.

The MSU Organic Farmer Training Program (OFTP) grows new farmers through a vibrant, diverse and positive learning community where students learn from each other and can share their unique skills, experiences and goals. Each year, a cohort of students is selected to participate in the program which meets in-person every Monday. Upon successful completion of the program, participants earn a certificate from the MSU Student Organic Farm, MSU Department of Horticulture and the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.

The OFTP is currently seeking applicants for the 2019 cohort. Further information about the program and the application is available at the MSU Student Organic Farm website.

The focus of the OFTP is on the technical knowledge and skills for individuals who are committed to owning or managing a farm or agricultural education project. Organic farming skills are taught through hands-on activities, farm walks, classroom activities and discussions, video lectures, readings, guest speakers and visits to over 20 Michigan farms. Skills are reinforced through practical assignments, like writing a farm business plan. Guest speakers include farmers, OFTP graduates, MSU Professors and Staff and MSU Extension Educators. OFTP alumni hold positions as farm owners or operators, farm managers and educators.

In addition to the OFTP, Michigan State University Extension has a number of resources to support new farmers, including:

For a list of other beginning farmer training initiatives in Michigan, refer to pages 33-34 of a publication by the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems and Michigan Food and Farming Systems. For more information, contact your local MSU Extension Community Food Systems Educator by visiting calling 1-888-678-3464.

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