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November 28, 2017

Fauquier Education Farm plans to grow in new year

Photo/Fauquier Enducation Farm
The farm this year grew and donated more than 30 tons of fresh produce to local food banks. It has a greater goal for 2018 — along with plans to expand support and training for beginning farmers.
By Jim Hankins
Fauquier Education Farm
Executive Director

Our agriculture community has been the living, breathing heart of Fauquier County and the entire Northern Piedmont region. Since its creation in 2010, the Fauquier Education Farm has been working very hard to serve that agriculture community and has played an important role in exposing the rest of our community to some of the realities of how agriculture works.

Because of very strong community support the Fauquier Education Farm has grown in its capacity to serve our region, and the farm’s plans for 2018 are taking shape. There will be new collaborations and whole new programs, while at the same time building on the successful programs that have enabled such a positive impact throughout our community in previous years.

First up, on Saturday, Jan. 20, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., will be the start of the 2018 Workshop Series. This year the first workshop will be held at the Warrenton campus of Lord Fairfax Community College. Appropriately, it will be in The Barn at 6480 College St. This workshop has become a fun tradition for the Education Farm. “It’s Time to Start Planning” will take you through a full calendar year of garden tasks, what to plant in each season, things to look out for, as well as the varieties and techniques that have been working at the farm. This lecture changes every year and includes a rollout of the rest of the 2018 Workshop Series, with dates and topics for each of these free workshops that are always open to anyone interested.

In 2018, the Education Farm will be collaborating with the Virginia State University Small Farm Outreach Program to present our Workshop Series and Demonstration Projects. Partly funded through a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant and a generous PATH Foundation grant, these collaborations will help ensure that we have the resources needed to deliver high-quality programing and help us reach a wider audience.

Next up will be the return of our very successful Northern Piedmont Beginning Farmer Program. This includes two different multi-week courses that are a collaborative effort of the Virginia Cooperative Extension offices of Fauquier, Rappahannock and Culpeper counties, along with the Fauquier Office of Agriculture Development and the Fauquier Education Farm.

The first course, our traditional Northern Piedmont Beginning Farm Program has a focus on “An Introduction to Whole Farm Planning, Agriculture Business Management and Marketing.” This is an eight-week class that meets 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays, with two Saturday labs. It is a nuts and bolts introduction to some of the realities of operating a farming business, with a focus on helping you develop a solid working plan of action to help you move forward. Both Beginning Farmer courses have a fee of $100 for individuals and $150 for couples. These classes meet at the Fauquier Extension Office at 24 Pelham St. in Warrenton. Class orientation take place Wednesday, Jan. 24.

The second Beginning Farmer course is called “An Introduction to Getting Your Hands Dirty.” This is a six-week course with three Saturday labs that will start March 28. This class also meets on Wednesday evenings at the Fauquier Extension Office and has a focus on the fundamentals of crop production. From soil health to crop selection and weed control, this is a careful survey of the key concepts and tools needed to plant and grow a crop in the field.

A very new program for the Education Farm will be started in 2018 as we introduce our Farm Incubator Program. Fauquier County has generously allowed us to expand our footprint and create an opportunity for up to four beginning farmers to have access to a plot to start their own agricultural enterprises. These new farmers will have access to land, equipment and technical support for up to three years. Our goal is to support folks who are ready to take that next step but don’t yet have land of their own. An important part of helping our community be more food secure and able to access local products is to grow more farmers. We are still working out the final details but hope to start accepting applications for this incubator program by mid-January.

As always, the core of the educational programs at the Fauquier Education Farm will be our demonstration projects. These are the crops we plant and tend with the help of hundreds of volunteers each year. We hold classes and workshops galore, but for an awful lot of folks the very best way to learn is to come out and get their hands dirty by volunteering.

School groups, Scouts and families with children have come to value the opportunity to get kids out in the fields to help connect them to how our food is grown. But our volunteer opportunities are not limited to children, and quite a few adults are showing up to volunteer by themselves. They come to learn, they come for healthy outdoor activity with their neighbors, and they come to support the fact that all of the produce grown in our demonstration projects is donated to food banks in Fauquier, Rappahannock and Culpeper counties.

In 2017, the Education Farm set a goal of donating 50,000 pounds of produce to area food banks. Our total for the year ended up being 60,867 pounds, more than 30 tons of high-quality, fresh produce donated to those in need. For 2018, we will start with a goal of donating 65,000 pounds, but with such a strong and supportive community, much more is possible.

There are lots of opportunities to learn through the Fauquier Education Farm and our collaborating partners. Most of these opportunities are free or at a very minimal cost. We hope you will join us soon.

You may contact the writer at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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MinaWall · November 29, 2017 at 8:32 am
I started volunteering at the Ed Farm last season and I can't recommend it enough. My daughter is 4 and has always enjoyed being outdoors. Not every 4-year-old would be so interested or attentive, but mine is like a fish in water there. It is the only activity I have found that we both enjoy equally--and it's free. In July it's a bit too hot for children (and me!) so I am careful to avoid the hottest days. I have been gardening for years, but can only do so much with a small backyard. To me, the Ed Farm is a garden on steroids where I can learn planting techniques first-hand on a scale that I could never attempt at home. Jim is a teacher by nature and I have learned a lot by listening to him and seeing everything in action. Looking forward to next season!
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