Although farming is definitely one of the most important professions in our nation, providing food, fuel and fiber for all, it is also one of the hardest. This is true especially for beginning farmers, who may not have a mentor, or who deal with social disadvantages.
The Virginia State University Extension Small Farm Outreach Program aims to help those beginning farmers build a successful, sustainable business.
“Some farmers don’t know where to get help with financing or marketing. They don’t know where to sell their crops or aren’t sure how to grow a specific crop,” says Mery Caldwell, the Hispanic outreach coordinator for the program.
Caldwell has been with the program for two years, and says that it’s extremely beneficial in helping new farmers learn. There are several education programs and classes offered and they’re all free for farmers.
“This past summer, we had an educational field day and probably had about 600 people attend,” Caldwell says.
The outreach program is currently offered in 64 Virginia counties that have the highest number of minority and small farmers in the state.
Just like Caldwell, Leonel Castillo also works as an agent with Hispanic farmers.
“The few farmers I’ve spoken to are very eager to jump into it, but my advice to them is to take it a step at a time, not to bite off more than they can chew and to do it right,” Castillo says. “We help them with the checklist they need to start farming and with all of the regulations on the property and farm, and in addition, the other services Extension provides.”
Caldwell adds that as agents, she and Castillo are always in the field visiting with farmers.
“We go visit them and help with specifics so we can make them successful,” she says.
To learn more about the Small Farm Outreach Program and all that it offers, visit ext.vsu.edu/ small-farm-outreach-program.