Education farm offers land for beginning farmers

Published 10:38 am Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Interested in becoming a farmer but find yourself lacking land or experience? The Fauquier Education Farm is recruiting up to three candidates this winter to run their own small-scale farm plots there.

The education farm’s incubator program is in its second year, and Executive Director Jim Hankins called it “a chance to get your feet wet in farming without the expense and risk of leasing a large plot of land.”

Giving new farmers an opportunity “to have a real-world proving ground, to prove their concept, is important,” Hankins explained. “There’s a tremendous amount of work that has to be done to become a successful farmer, much more than people realize. For instance, one of last year’s participants decided right away that it wasn’t working for them.”

The education farm has been introducing would-be farmers and gardeners to professional farm practices since 2011 and is part of Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher program. Participants pay a small annual fee to lease a quarter-acre of land and are provided with trays of some of the vegetable plants already being raised on the farm.

Irrigation, deer fencing and limited access to farm equipment like a tractor and mower also are part of the deal. The would-be farmers meet with Hankins for agricultural and marketing advice every other week and are expected to complete a beginning farmer education program in their first year.

The incubator program is a three-year commitment and that allows participants to gain experience in many situations, not just a good or bad year, Hankins said.

“We expect folks to have at least the beginning of a marketing plan. And we will revisit that each year. Because you can’t set marketing ahead of production, but you can’t forget about marketing and just focus on production. They go hand in hand,” he explained. “It’s so easy to end up with 40,000 pounds of tomatoes with nowhere to deliver them to, and they’re going to last two to three days at best. And then you’ve got a mess.”

Applications will be taken until March 1. Preference will be given to prior students in the Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer Program and military veterans.