This was originally published by The Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc (TOFGA). I have had a lot of questions and requests for this information, so I thought I would post it once again since it is no longer available on the TOFGA website. More coming soon, stay tuned.
- Farmer Brad
The Small Farm: Training and Education
The small farm is more than just a dream. It can be a reality, and your vision and decisions in life must have a focus towards that purpose. Our family has been on that path for over fourteen years. We are mainly self-taught, having the single focus and obsession that we could one day have the independent family farm. Now that we are achieving that goal, we would like to share with others our (not always simple) homesteading lifestyle, and how we have achieved that goal. It is rich and rewarding; to work as a family, but the steps can be a long and bumpy journey, definitely worth the perseverance.
Step 1: Acquiring training and education to prepare for your small farm.
Our education has been explored through many avenues. Early on we pursued the collegiate route, to find major disappointment in the institutional system. Our interests focused early upon organic techniques, nutrition, and more holistic approaches towards health and the environment. This led us towards the pursuit of self-education… reading every book and researching every website we could come across. I will try to list the best resources that we have found useful in our search.
Permaculture: A Designers Manual by Bill Mollison
Family Friendly Farming by Joel Salatin (and any other book by Salatin)
The New Organic Grower by Elliot Coleman
How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons
A Farmer’s Guide to the Bottom Line by Charles Walters
Buying and Setting Up Your Small Farm or Ranch by L.R. Miller
Paddock Shift, Changing Views on Grassland Farming by Allan Nation
The Biological Farmer by Gary F. Zimmer
Acres USA (512) 892-4400 www.acresusa.com
Growing for Market 1(800) 307-8949 www.growingformarket.com
Farming, People, Land, and Community 1(800) 915-0042 www.farmingmagazine.net
Small Farmer’s Journal 1(800) 876-2893 www.smallfarmersjournal.com
The Heirloom Gardener (417) 924-1222 www.rareseed.com
Websites for Research…
Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) www.attra.org
A&M has put together a great list of alternative agriculture resources at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/alternatives/alternativelinks.html.
Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/
There are many other sites to list here for specific topics.
Consider an internship/apprenticeship program with an organic farm. ATTRA has a listing on their website (www.attrainternships.ncat.org). You can also find farms advertising directly in many of the magazines I suggested above. International opportunities are available through MESA (Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture) www.mesaprogram.org and WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) www.wwoof.org. I served as the Farm Operations Director for World Hunger Relief, which offers a 12-month internship program in Elm Mott, TX, and the experience was rich and rewarding for the interns and myself. I recommend maybe a shorter program of 3 to 6 months during the peak of production, but you do get a better idea of the big picture when you can experience every changing season on the farm.
Holistic Resource Management of Texas www.hrm-texas.org
Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG) www.ssawg.org
Ranching for Profit is a highly recommended program exploring a more holistic approach utilizing rotational grazing www.ranchmanagement.com
Texas Organic Farmers and Growers Assoc. (TOFGA) host their annual conference, which is always rich with information specific to our state.
Nothing beats practical experience. Grow a backyard garden, get a job at a nursery or commercial grower, volunteer at a farm, find a skill that is farm related i.e. carpentry, mechanics, welding, horticulture, marketing, etc. My greatest learning experience was owning and operating a retail nursery and having my own garden every year.
The new farmers need to be innovative and highly motivated to educate themselves in sustainable agriculture. It also helps to visit other farms and to see what other folks are doing. I hope these resources can be help in the pursuit of the small farm.