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How to educate yourself while farming your heart out

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 July Issue Newsletter

By Brittany Sidway Overshiner

Photo by beauconsidine, available under a Creative Commons license.

With the Summer Solstice having just passed and the growing season in full swing, it’s pretty likely most beginning farmers out there haven’t had a moment to think about their education. For most, winter is the time of year to attend workshops and conferences, read books and go to gatherings. If you don’t yet manage your own farm, you are probably working tirelessly on someone else’s farm. That work experience is one of the greatest educational benefits you can give yourself as a beginning farmer, but just think about how a little more information and a new perspective could enhance your work experience. Or at least give you something different to think about as you hoe, harvest and hand-weed, inch-by-inch across the fields.

Maybe you are managing a farm. If it’s your first season, you’ve probably been googling away, reading through your favorite resources and calling your mentors day in and day out. There is no greater learning curve that the first year of farm management. Great – you can seed and transplant onions really fast and effectively, but can you plan for appropriate fertility, deal with onion maggot infestation, get the irrigation set up on time during an early dry spell and keep the weeds under control? Can you get your team to work fast and effectively with you?

Yes, you’ve got a lot on your plate, and far be it for me to try and add anything. In fact, I want to come over and help you cultivate right now. I want to tell your family, friends and customers to start making you power snacks and bring them to you.  But, farming can sometimes cause us to lose perspective, which is critical during the inevitable crop failures, fatigue, and unhelpful customer feedback. The following lists are just a few ways you can try to incorporate a little education, and a little perspective, into your incredibly busy summer.

Farm tours and on-farm workshops are one of the best ways to learn, network and expand your view of farming. Yes, getting off the farm is hard, but make it your goal to get to one before October!

The following organizations serve Massachusetts and host and promote farm education events:

The Beginning Farmer Network

Berkshire Grown

CISA (Communities Involved in Sustaining Agriculture)

Emass CRAFT (Eastern Massachusetts CRAFT)

NESFP (New Entry Sustainable Farming Project)


SEMAP (South Eastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership)

UMASS Extension Events

Young Farmer Network


An educational highlight of the summer is the NOFA/Summer Conference. The three-day conference provides opportunity for classroom workshops, as well as hands-on learning, all day intensives, local farm tours and keynote speakers and panel discussions on important agricultural issues. Even if you can’t make all three days, it’s well worth the effort to try and attend at least one.

Beginning Famers can apply for Farming Education Fund Scholarships to receive an $80 discount on admission in exchange for 4 hours of work at the conference. Working at the conference is also a great way to meet other beginning farmers!

If getting off the farm to learn feels like trying to walk on water, there are a lot of ways to fit a little bit of learning into your summer. So many organizations and individuals put together online and print resources that report on relevant issues and skill building. If you don’t already, you should really think about subscribing to a farming periodical, or downloading a few podcasts.

Subscribe to a publication:

Acres U.S.A.

Growing for Market

The Natural Farmer from NOFA

Vegetable Notes from Umass Extention


You Tube, Webinars and Podcasts

NOFA/Mass Webinars and YouTube Channel

The Farmer to Farm Podcast with Chris Blanchard

The Greenhorns Radio Podcast Series

eOrganic Webinars


The last option, listening to podcasts and watching recorded webinars, is a great

way to fit farming education into your very busy schedule. Even when multitasking, like driving a tractor and listening to a podcast, or making dinner and watching a webinar, you are giving yourself the opportunity to experience news ideas that will someday help you and your farm succeed.

The above lists are just a few resources available to you. There is a plethora of other online and print resources out there.  Take a minute to find something that piques your interest, and then subscribe, or download and enjoy.


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