New or aspiring farmers invited to apply for educational program

Aspiring Illinois farmers, new growers with less than five years’ experience, commodity farmers interested in diversifying to include fruit or vegetable production, and high school and community college agriculture teachers are invited to apply for the next session of a free training program offered through the University of Illinois crop sciences department.

“Preparing a New Generation of Illinois Fruit and Vegetable Farmers” will accept applications for its third session through Oct. 24 or until capacity is reached. Participants can apply for the program at www.newillinoisfarmers.org/new_generation_app.php.

There is no fee for participants who complete the program. 

The program, which features classroom, hands-on, and in-field instruction, is offered at three locations in Illinois: the UIUC campus in Urbana, U of I’s Dixon Springs Agricultural Center in Simpson, and at the Kane County U of I Extension office in St. Charles. Classes will be held one Saturday a month at each location from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., running December 2014 through November 2015.

A Spanish language program is also offered through a partnership with the Illinois Migrant Council. Mary Hosier, project manager for the program, said that the format of the Spanish program will be tailored to the needs of the participants at each location, which will likely include four months of instruction from start to finish with shorter meetings on weeknights and a few extended “hands-on” field trips, she said. Sites will be determined based on enrollment. Sites last year for the Spanish language program included Harvard, Kanakee, and Anna.

U of I crop sciences professor Rick Weinzierl and co-workers received a grant from the Beginning Farmer-Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, to implement the three-year project to provide education to aspiring Illinois farmers. The first session started in fall of 2012.

Hosier said because the program has become more popular, enrollment has become more competitive. There are a limited number of spaces in the program, and Hosier added that applicants are encouraged to provide as much information about themselves and their interest in the program on the additional comments section of their online application.

While there is no fee for the program if the participant attends at least 10 of the 12 sessions, those who enroll but do not complete the program are asked to give their deposit to a local food bank, Hosier said.

Topics to be covered in the program include land acquisition and transfer, business planning, legal issues, marketing, farm safety, food safety, farm to school, high tunnel construction and operation, soils and soil testing, pest and disease scouting, harvest practices, conventional and organic production methods, and more.

The program will also include visits to established produce farms, discussions with experienced farmers, and access to incubator plots.

For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/NewIllinoisFarmers.

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