The Beginning Farmer Course is a four-day course on the topics of starting or expanding a farm to produce local, sustainable food. Experienced, local farmers in sustainable agriculture teach the course over the middle two weekends of February.
The course originally started as a one-credit course on Friday afternoons during the spring semester at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point College of Natural Resources. Now, the course is put on by the Central Rivers Farmshed and occurs over two weekends. It attracts to a wide array of people from the region, even as far as Minnesota.
Each day covered a different theme. “We had a day on CSAs, or community supported agriculture farms. So, we had a few different farmers that had CSA farms come in and talk about their strategies,” said Holly Petrillo, Assistant Professor of Forestry at UWSP.
“We had a day focused on animals, and so a few different farmers that keep animals came in. It's really interesting to get the different perspectives of the same topics from different farmers, to see how everyone does things differently.” said Petrillo.
The focus of the other two days included resources, organic grains, a field trip, specialty crops, perennials and value added processing.
“We wanted to attract a lot of people that are interested in farming, kind of beginning farmers—that is how the name got there, but you are not going to come out in four days and be a farmer,” Petrillo said.
The main focus of the course is how to start a farm, not necessarily how to run a farm. The topic of resources was mentioned frequently as being a key component of new farm start-up.
Ken Schroeder, UW-Extension Agriculture Agent, discussed resources and services available for beginning farmers. Other presenters discussed state and federal funding sources, opportunities and programs.
Local community members and UWSP students mainly attended the course, with some attendees from Minnesota.
“Most of the students that I have worked with are kind of at that stage where they have done farming enough that they know that they want to keep doing it. They want to figure out how to move on, to become the farmer instead of just the intern or [discover] some resources available for acquiring land and that kind of thing,” Petrillo said.
Six UWSP students, half of whom are members of the Sustainable Agriculture in Communities Society (SACS), attended the course. By getting involved, the students have access to several resources to help them achieve their goals, whatever they may be, while being able to work harmoniously alongside peers.
“I had the opportunity to meet farmers and community members of the Central Wisconsin area. I find those connections especially important when looking for job opportunities or connections with resourceful farmers when starting fresh,” said Megan Hogfeldt, sophomore at UWSP and member of SACS.
“It is a great way to get exposure, to see what is out there, to help get motivated and really to see what the possibilities are and to, I think, realize that it is doable.” Petrillo said. “You know, you really can be a farmer if that is what you really want.”