UConn Extension and 8 statewide agricultural partners have received a grant from USDA-NIFA for their project, “Advancing the Business of Farming in Connecticut in Partnership with Agriculture Learning Centers.” The nearly $600,000 grant integrates the expertise and current training programs of UConn Extension with the Agricultural Learning Centers that provide targeted training, mentoring, and one-on-one technical assistance customized to meet the needs of beginning farmers in Connecticut.
The project is developed by and for beginning farmers across the state, and will strengthen beginning farmer training and foster a self-sustaining community of practice among beginning farmer training program leaders. Instead of duplicating the efforts of great organizations that are already building beginner farmer training programs, this project enriches and aligns beginning farmer training programs via consistent strategies and common metrics.
The Agricultural Learning Centers partnering on the grant are: Common Ground High School in New Haven, the Community Farm of Simsbury, the Green Village Initiative in Bridgeport, Killingly Agriculture Education Program, KNOX in Hartford, WRCC-GROW Windham, and UConn Extension’s Listo Para Inciar urban agriculture program in Danbury and Stamford. Other key partners in the project are the New CT Farmer Alliance (NCTFA) and the Northeast Organic Farming Association of CT.
NCTFA is a statewide network of over 200 beginning farmers and growers. “With this investment supported through the USDA, the alliance will further increase accessibility between agricultural support services, and Connecticut’s budding community of agricultural entrepreneurs,” said Betsy Robson, NCTFA Coordinator.
UConn Extension has a long tradition bringing research-based guidance and training to producers. Dr. German Cutz of the Fairfield County Extension Center leads the Listo Para Inciar (or Ready-to-Start) training program, which delivers a hands-on, cohort based model of beginner farming training for Hispanics.
“It is very exciting to be part of the Advancing the Business of Farming grant because it will ensure that urban residents get an opportunity to learn and practice urban agriculture,” German says. “The Ready to Start Program will train urban adult residents in urban agriculture. The Ready to Start program is a collaborative effort involving UConn Extension, local farmers, and community-based agencies and organizations, and will counter food insecurity and food desert areas in urban cities in Connecticut. Low-income families, especially, will have access to locally produced food while at the same time newly trained urban farmers will engage in food production.”
Core trainings for beginning farmers will emphasize: business planning, financial management and record keeping; farmland access; overcoming marketing uncertainties; and small scale production of vegetables and fruit. Programs will be offered in person, with online tutorials developed for many of the modules, including farm business planning, soil health, safe and effective use of pesticides, and marketing for success.
The long term goal of the collaborative team is for every beginning farmer in Connecticut who wishes to produce food for income – regardless of scale, experience, or language barriers – to have access to fundamental training, know where to find service providers and their resources, and be able to start or continue farming profitably.
UConn Extension Educator Jiff Martin is serving as principal investigator and says,”I am thrilled to embark on this new chapter of work with Connecticut’s beginning farmers. Our newest and aspiring farmers deserve a robust and coordinated investment from all of us who work as agriculture educators. I look forward to working with our partners to meet the needs of a wide variety farmers with various background and experience in agriculture, with a shared focus on the future of agriculture in our cities, suburbs, and rural communities.”