The Bulletin via Associated Press

BEND, Ore. (AP) -- Every year, Prineville's Dancing Cow farm gets about 200 to 250 calls and e-mails from people all over the country who want to come and learn how to grow vegetables and produce the beef, lamb and eggs the farm sells at farmers markets, said owner Sean Dodson.

But he has to turn away the prospective farmers, often young people exploring potential careers.

"Right now, there just isn't a system in place to really meet any of those needs," he said.

A new farm school in Central Oregon, however, hopes to change that.

Sarahlee Lawrence, of Rainshadow Organics just west of Terrebonne, and her neighbor, Sweet Medicine Nation, with the Four Winds Foundation, are starting up the Plots to Plates farm school this spring, with the goal of teaching people how to grow, harvest and market organic produce.

"There are a lot of people who want to learn about where their food comes from," Lawrence said. "And there's this building consciousness, it seems like, of people wanting to get closer to their food and understand where it comes from, and even maybe be farmers themselves."

Rainshadow Organics is a family farm that grows vegetables and distributes them to local restaurants and through a Community Supported Agriculture program. The Four Winds Foundation is an education nonprofit focusing on cultural and environmental awareness and teaching Native American ways of living, according to its website.

Nation's farm will be the site of classrooms and campsites for students, Lawrence said.

The partners set up the school, in part, because Oregon laws don't allow people to volunteer to work at a farm, Lawrence said, which makes it hard for people to get hands-on experience working the soil.

As students, though, people can live and work on the farm, for anywhere from two weeks to six months between May 1 and Oct. 15. The school will cost $600 per month for people to live at Deer Haven farm next door, or $300 for two weeks, including room and board, Lawrence said. For people who want to commute, the cost will be $475 per month. Students will get a certificate of completion at the end of their study, she said.

Students will spend about half the day in the field, learning and helping as Lawrence works in the field, and then classroom time, with readings and discussion, for the other half.

"Understanding how to feed yourself and your community is what you're going to learn here," Lawrence said.

"Understanding how to feed yourself and your community is what you're going to learn here," Lawrence said.

Kristin Jarvis, a former teacher, said that the timing of the new farm worked out perfectly for her.

"I decided that this year was going to be the year that I pursued my lifelong dream of having a small farm," Jarvis said.

She has signed up for the Master Gardener program through Oregon State University's Extension Service, and was considering a farming school in California -- but that wouldn't teach her specifically about farming in Central Oregon, she said.

"I just stumbled on (Lawrence's) school, looking at her website. My jaw just dropped," Jarvis said. "I'm so excited."

In addition to working on projects in a farm plot, students like Jarvis will take classes that could cover everything from irrigation and water conservation to choosing which variety of carrot to plant or which plants to grow together to how to compost, start seeds, weed rows, harvest produce, market directly to consumers and generally manage an organic farm.

The curriculum is based on programs at the University of California, Santa Cruz, as well as the Rogue Farm Corps in Southern Oregon.

She's working on gathering experts in the area to help teach their specialties, including people from the slow-food movement and others like Dodson, who raise livestock as well as vegetables.

"We look at this as an opportunity to get new people in farming, and let them explore whether they really want to be farmers," Dodson said.

Potential farmers can go through the university system, but that cost could quickly add up, he said.

Ashley Joyce, a garden educator who has worked with OSU's Extension Service and the Bend Park & Recreation District, said there are opportunities for people to learn about growing vegetables, but not too many chances for them to get their hands dirty actually doing the work.

"It's really hard to find an apprenticeship or internship," said Joyce, who completed the Santa Cruz program.

And beginning a farm is difficult, she said -- people have to be good not only at growing things, but have mechanical, marketing and accounting skills.

"There's just so many skills, and you're not going to learn all of those skills in one season," she said. "But doing something like this farm school would hopefully give people a taste of what's important."

Lawrence thinks people need an opportunity to try farming before they commit to it.

"I'm just excited for people who want to come and be out here and learn, and be part of this community," Lawrence said.


Information from: The Bulletin,

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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