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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 tillage and harvesting 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 receive a thorough education in organic small farm management. Participants also learn to conduct on-farm research through variety trials and group projects while bi-weekly field trips to regional farms allow participants to see a variety of farming styles and talk to experienced producers. Participants are also assisted in creating a personal farm business plan where their farm goals are explored and designed. Through management of the OFS student farm, participants develop their practical farm skills including planning, tillage, greenhouse propagation, weeding, harvesting, marketing and record keeping. Students also learn how to operate 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 know what it will take 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 crops that will serve our community – through our CSA program, farm stand, seed sales, local grocers, restaurants and farmers market. The farm grows a wide variety of vegetables, seed crops, berries, vegetable trials 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 all aspects of running the farm including bed preparation, plant propagation, weeding, harvesting, running the market stand, cover cropping 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 making 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 fields 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 independently on their personal business plan and a group farm-based research project. After initial group discussions on the projects, participants work independently in their own time and meet individually with staff every few 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 student farm.
The 2015 program runs from March 9th through October 23rd. While we try to be as consistent as possible in our weekly schedule, due to the nature of farming where so much depends on proper timing, total weekly 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 several 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 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 uses curriculum created by the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) as well as other resources. The CASFS curriculum is split into 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, MISA’s Building a Sustainable Business and Richard Wiswall’s The organic farmer’s business handbook.
Curious to hear how graduates have viewed their experience at the Organic Farm School? 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, 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. Students generally either live cooperatively on-site in our circa 1930’s farm house or seek off-farm rental housing in the local area.
With only six beds available, room in the farm house is available on a first come-first serve basis and participants pay $180/month plus utilities for double occupancy rooms. 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.
Tuition and Payments
The tuition cost for the 7.5 month Organic Farm School program is $5200. A $1000 deposit is due upon acceptance of a position in the program and the balance is due by March 1st, 2015. Payment plans can be arranged based on need. Several partial scholarships are available and AmeriCorps Education Awards may be used towards Organic Farm School tuition.
For more information, please contact:
765 Wonn Rd A-201
Greenbank, WA, 98253