The Organic Farm School

Come learn the skills you need to become an organic farmer!

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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.

Program Instruction

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.

Using the tractor

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.)

classroomFor 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.

Mission

sunrise harvest

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!

Curriculum

2013 crewThe 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‘.

Student Testimonials

S and CCurious 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.

Certified Organic

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.

Setting

field

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

D with chicken

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.

Housing

jdh

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.

Contact Us

For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:
Sebas­t­ian Aguilar
Train­ing Director
trainingcenter@greenbankfarm.com
(360)222‑3171
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/
Goose­foot (http://www.goosefoot.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 gbfarm@greenbankfarm.com or 360.678.7710.

 

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