Thursday, May 3, 2012

Start Farming

High tunnel greenhouses extend the farming season
This is a gardening blog so you might think farming is not up your alley. But as gardeners, you have a lot in common with farmers. You watch the weather more closely than most people. You have an intimate relationship with insects… some friendly, some adversarial. You grow more of your own food than most folks. You know the names of beet varieties… because you grow them.

And I’ll bet that some of you have farming fantasies. You can see yourself selling stuff at the local farmers market rather than buying. You stare at tractors, longingly. The smell of manure is like perfume. As you might suspect, you are in a minority. So are farmers. Census data says that about one percent of the U.S. population identifies its occupation as farming. And that group is aging. About 40 percent are over 55. There is legitimate concern about where the next generation of farmers will come from.

What’s Penn State got to do with it? Well, as many of you know, we’ve been in the farming education business since about 1862. Many of today’s farmers were not born on farms. They followed a dream of farming and made it a reality. I can quickly name a Bucks County dairy farmer who grew up in Philadelphia, a vegetable grower who was an electrician and a commercial fruit producer who is a nurse. Each of them would tell you that Penn State has played a role in their success.

Recently, a federal grant was initiated specifically to help beginning farmers get started. Tianna Dupont, Penn State Extension Educator, is heading up the Start Farming program in Southeastern Pennsylvania. In the last two years, this program has reached more than 950 new and beginning farmers through 36 courses with names such as: ABCs of Beekeeping, Exploring the Small Farm Dream, Pasture School, Sheep Short Course, Introduction to Organic Vegetable Production and Small Scale Poultry. About half of the participants had no farm background or farming experience prior to taking the courses. These courses are ideal for working people, those between jobs, folks nearing retirement, and others who cannot devote time to full-time undergraduate course work, but still want to receive high quality education in agriculture.

For those who are ready to take on four years of study, Penn State has about 20 majors in agriculture. And they are popular! From the years 20005 to 2010, College of Ag enrollment at Penn State was up 42 percent. To see what the curriculum in agriculture looks like at Penn State see this.

It is interesting that at a time when concerns about where the next generation of farmers will come from, enthusiasm for food production is sky high….from both consumers and prospective producers. Want to start farming? See what Penn State has to offer.