Workshops help startup farms expand, flourish
By PATTY MAMULA
For the Capital Press
Building Farmers in the West, part of a federally funded initiative, is helping to grow a new crop of farmers and ranchers.
Bart Eleveld, Oregon State University Extension economist, coordinates the Oregon program. The initiative is a seven-state effort.
"Our niche is the economics and the marketing and business planning," he said.
The project assists beginning food producers to launch or grow their operations in emerging markets for specialty fresh produce and livestock products, based on growing demand for local and fresh foods.
This is the third and final year of the $750,000 grant. Of that amount, Oregon received $47,000. The first year was spent on curriculum development.
The second and third years were focused on presenting that curriculum in workshops.
Kent Fleming, OSU Extension economist and grant coordinator, said that of the seven states involved Colorado had the highest participation, then Oregon, Idaho and Utah and Nevada were next, followed by Washington and New Mexico.
The funding was part of $19 million distributed in fiscal 2012 under the farm bill's Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program. The total amount appropriated for the program from 2009 to 2012 was $75 million.
Beginning farmers, like any startup business, stimulate the economy and are especially beneficial to rural communities.
The Oregon workshops focus on finances.
"We work on writing a business plan to communicate with lenders or other investors," Eleveld said. "We're targeting smaller producers of specialty products."
Working sessions, when participants work on their individual business plans, are part of the workshops. Participants will write their own on-farm plan and aspiring farmers use a case study, Eleveld said.
One of the participants from last year's workshop in Eugene, Tenzin Botsford, said the course provided useful tools and resources.
"The practice of designing a business plan was very helpful," he said. "It made the process seem manageable, it showed us the importance of and gave us a format for recording the plans and calculating the requirements and returns."
He credits the sessions with steering them toward their current positions managing a diversified pasture-based livestock operation.
"My wife manages on-farm operations and I manage wholesale marketing and hog production," he said.
Botsford said he and his wife still plan to own and operate their own farm at some time in the future.
"Courses like these help give us the ability to feel good about how we plan and design farming enterprises," he said.