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The Organic Farm School
Come learn the skills you need to become an organic farmer!
Becoming a successful organic farmer today takes a wide variety of skills… from crop production and mechanics to marketing and business planning. At the Organic Farm School (OFS), our goal is to give you a strong foundation in the broad range of skills and topics you need to achieve your small-farm goals.
Download the OFS Booklet for Prospective students
Organic Farm School Overview
This full-time, 7.5-month long experiential program is for aspiring farmers seeking to learn and practice the skills needed to run a small-scale organic farm. Through cooperatively managing the Organic Farm School’s eight-acre student farm and attending weekly lectures, discussions and demonstrations on topics including organic crop production, soil science, business planning, and direct marketing, participants acquire a thorough education in organic small farm management. Participants also engage in independent studies including the creation of a personal business plan. Bi-weekly field trips to regional farms allows participants to see a variety of farming styles and talk to experienced producers. Through management of the OFS student farm, participants develop their practical farm skills including planning, tillage, greenhouse propagation, weeding, harvesting, marketing, record keeping and more. Students also learn how to operate and maintain tractors, make compost, manage the farm’s livestock and much more. With the skills and knowledge gained and a business plan in hand, program graduates are ready to start or manage their own small organic farm.
An educational proverb states,“Hear and Forget, See and Remember, Do and Understand”. In this spirit, our program is focused on providing a hands-on experience that allows the concurrent academic studies to come to life.
For 30+ hours each week, participants are in the fields of the OFS student farm learning about, and working on, producing organic vegetables that will be eaten by our community – accessed either through our CSA program, farm stand, local grocers, restaurants and/or farmers market. The farm also grows a variety of seed crops, berries, vegetable research plots and cover crops. The Farm Manager trains and guides participants in group sessions and/or individually as needed and participants work both cooperatively and individually to accomplish the farm work. This work includes bed preparation, plant propagation, weeding, harvesting, running the market stand, cover cropping, making compost, trellising, and much more. Farm responsibilities are rotated within the group to ensure that each participant has an opportunity to experience all aspects of the farm. Once a foundation of skills and concepts has been established, participants further develop their skills by taking leadership over a portion of the farm and make farm management decisions with feedback and assistance from the Farm Manager. (Please note: Accomplishing farm work is a physical activity that requires participants to be physically active and outdoors on a daily basis for seven months. Before applying, please consider your ability to perform this level of activity.)
For 10 hours each week, participants take part in classes and discussions on the production, business, ecological and social concepts that lie behind the practical work. On Monday mornings, everyone heads out for a ‘Farm Walk’ where the class does a thorough observation of the whole farm and discusses changes in the crops while strategizing management options and planning the upcoming week’s work. On Wednesday and Thursday mornings we meet in the classroom for lectures and discussions based on our farming and business curricula and we review and refine the farm’s business, marketing and record keeping aspects. We also check-in regularly to discuss and develop our communication skills and foster a group dynamic that is positive and productive. With a small class size of 8-10 students, our program fosters a friendly atmosphere that makes farming and learning fun!
In addition to time spent on the farm and in the classroom, participants work on independent reading and research projects including a personal business plan and a farm-based research project. After initial group discussions on the projects, participants work independently in their own time and meet separately with the Training Director every two weeks to review the progress made and determine the next steps. When completed, participants share and present their reports to the group. Our goal for the business plan project is to support participants in thoroughly analyzing their personal farming goals and to help them create a realistic plan towards accomplishing them. The farm-based research projects will be focused on developing or improving aspects of the farm and may include crop variety trials, soil management alternatives, pest management strategies, resource conservation strategies or other participant initiatives approved by the staff. Each project lasts 12 weeks and generally takes 50 — 60 hours to complete.
The 2014 program runs from March 10th through October 24th. While we try to be as consistent as possible in our weekly schedule, due to the nature of farming, total hours may occasionally vary up or down slightly as the crop’s needs require. Most programming occurs Monday through Friday, although participants are required to help with weekend chores and farmers markets on a rotational basis (generally one of every 4 weekends) as well as attend seasonal festivals and fundraisers.
Our mission is to “Cultivate farmers, food and community“. We see small-scale organic farming experiencing a renaissance as society realizes the cultural and ecological consequences of industrial farming and recognizes the benefits of a regional food system that fosters ecological and social health. And with our U.S. farming community aging (the average farmer is now over 57), there is an urgent need to encourage a new generation of farmers. Our goal is to help train this new generation of farmers, teaching a triple bottom line approach that will allow them to quickly establish successful small farms that will become the foundation of our growing regionally-based food system. Farming is a challenging endeavor and we strive to offer our students the skills and concepts they need to maximize their success while minimizing their risk… such as how to create sustainable fertility systems, how to plan for profit, how to conduct on-farm research and how to build community support for the farm. If you are truly considering entering the world of sustainable farming, we hope you will invest in your understanding of holistic farm management and get a head-start on creating a successful farm!
The Organic Farm School follows curriculum created by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) as well as other resources. The CASFS curriculum is split into the two modules; the Organic Farming and Gardening Curriculum and the Direct Marketing and Small Farm Viability Curriculum, where topics covered include soil science, crop production, CSA management, land tenureship and much more. To view the curriculum, click here. Other resources we use include; SARE’s ‘Building Soils for Better Crops‘, SARE’s ‘Building a Sustainable Business‘ and Wiswall’s ‘The organic farmer’s business handbook‘.
Curious to hear how graduates have viewed their experience at the GF Agriculture Training Program? Visit our Student Testimonials page to see student reflections on their time at the program and learn about what they’re doing now.
Our farm is certified organic by the WSDA and participants are taught key certification standards as well as how to certify a farm. Students are involved in all required record keeping and participate in the annual certification inspection.
The Organic Farm School is located at the Greenbank Farm on Whidbey Island in Washington State. The farm’s 151 acres are publicly-owned and include fields, forest and wetlands as well as a 10-acre economic development center. Its maritime climate offers wet mild winters and cool dry summers while views of the waters of the Saratoga Passage and the Cascade Mountains rise from the gardens.
Whidbey Island is the longest island in the United States and hosts a mix of forests, farmland, coastline and small rural communities. It has an active agricultural community growing grain, vegetable seed, vegetables, berries and livestock and hosts five farmers markets. The city of Seattle is 1.5 hours south.
Farm Assistant Program
This program is intended for second-year students as an opportunity to deepen their farming skills and knowledge while developing farm managerial and administrative skills. In addition to being a full participant in all regular educational activities, the Assistant will support the Farm Manager in farm planning, assessing field needs, guiding first-year students in farm activities and administration. The Farm Assistant will also take on the management of a specific farm development project, (ie.orchard development, seed production, construction project, etc) including the planning, implementation and documentation aspects of the project. With guidance from the Farm Manager this project will serve to improve the farm while developing the Assistant’s skills in project management. Participation in regular educational activities such as the Farm School classes, field trainings, farm walks and field trips offer the field assistant an opportunity to review and refine their skills and knowledge of essential farming practices such as soil management, crop production, marketing and small business management.
Most of our participants come from out of the area and require temporary housing during their program stay. We assist our participants by subletting rooms to participants in the circa 1930’s farm house adjacent to the fields. Participants pay $180/month for double occupancy rooms and are responsible for utilities. We strive to facilitate a positive housing experience and towards this end, we assist housemates in setting expectations and guidelines for living cooperatively and maintain a regular schedule of house meetings to ensure that communication is healthy and that the house sharing is working well.
Housing payments are due at the beginning of each month and a security deposit is required upon move-in.
Fees and Payment
The tuition cost for the full time Organic Farm School is $5200. An initial $1000 is due upon acceptance of a position in the program. The balance is due by the first day of training. Payment plans may be arranged based on need. Students are responsible for purchasing several books and hand tools that they keep when the program ends (total costs of around $150). Housing payments are due at the beginning of each month. A security deposit is due upon move-in.
AmeriCorps Education Awards may be applied toward expenses associated with the Organic Farm School.
For more information, please contact:
765 Wonn Rd A-201
Greenbank, WA, 98253
Organic Farm School Partners
The small farms and farmers of Puget Sound
The Organic Seed Alliance (http://www.seedalliance.org/)
WSU Island County Extension (http://county.wsu.edu/island/Pages/default.aspx)
WSU Mount Vernon Research Center (http://mtvernon.wsu.edu)
Tilth Producers of Washington http://www.tilthproducers.org/ & South Whidbey Tilth http://www.southwhidbeytilth.org/
Good Cheer Community Food Bank Garden http://goodcheergarden.wordpress.com/
Deer Lagoon Grange (http://www.deerlagoongrange.com/)
Whidbey Institute http://www.whidbeyinstitute.org/
Support for our Programs and Educational Training
The continued creation of a sustainable agricultural system that includes our land, our food — our health – and our community, will be in the hands of the small but growing group of motivated young farmers that are starting small-scale, organic, direct-market farming operations around the country. These young farmers have the passion, intellect and strength to overcome the hurdles placed before us by the gradual industrialization of agriculture over the past 150 years. To ensure that these farmers succeed, they must have access to opportunities to learn and experience the best management practices of organic farming as well as how to plan and operate financially profitable businesses. The Organic Farm School has taken on this mission and has successfully provided its students with a comprehensive education in how to start and operate a small-scale organic farm.
Our support comes from private and public sources: individuals, foundations, businesses and grants from the United States Department of Agriculture. We are a program of the Greenbank Farm not-for-profit organization.
For the past four years, we have been building the farm infrastructure necessary to support our land stewardship activities and small farm business activities. This includes student housing, workspaces, tools, greenhouses, tractors, implements, fencing and an irrigation system. While a basic and functional system has been put into place, infrastructure is expensive and in farming – most costs are ‘front end’ costs. We have many improvements to better demonstrate best practices planned and a fundraising effort is underway to accomplish them.
Please consider a gift to our program. For more information on giving to the Organic Farm School, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360.678.7710.