Cultivating Community through Growing New Farmers
Mar 4, 2015
On a cold day in March, I stand bundled up outside the birthing pen at Jeremiah Farm and Goat Dairy on Johns Island while goats of all sizes nuzzle and play in fresh shavings. Farmer Casey Price has invited me to take part in the kidding process that marks the beginning of milking season on her farm. As a mentor farmer in the Lowcountry Local First Growing New Farmers Program, she is passionate about sharing her knowledge of goats, chickens, and homesteading with people of all ages.
As is often the case with Price, our conversation is woven together with the details of our personal lives, questions and answers about farming, and updates on her current apprentices. We fall easily into our long-established role of mentor and apprentice as I stand by to assist two goats being brought into the world by Price’s gentle hands.
Four years ago, I started my journey in farming through the Growing New Farmers apprenticeship program as one of the first participants during the pilot year. The experience was a life changer, introducing me to a farming community made up of some of the most hardworking, passionate, innovative, and generous people. Every day brought something new, whether it was riding on the tractor with Joseph Fields or product tasting with chefs in the kitchen during deliveries. As the program came to an end, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my career to working in agriculture. In 2011, I realized this dream when I became the director of sustainable agriculture for Lowcountry Local First.
Since that time the program has experienced incredible growth. The Growing New Farmers Program has expanded to include the Dirt Works Incubator Farm and the first phases of a land-matching service. To date, 95 people have graduated from the program while working with more than 14 mentor farmers. For participants in the current program, a nationally recognized and locally adapted curriculum guides their 10-month experience, which combines classroom training, work-days at Dirt Works, and field trips with on-farm mentorship.
As the first formal farm apprenticeship program and farm incubator in South Carolina, Growing New Farmers has created both opportunities and networks for small farmers and food system leaders to learn, grow, and succeed. Every year the program introduces a thread of new individuals to the fabric of the local agricultural community, strengthening the capacity of the local food system. Past and current program participants often become mentors, advocates, and leaders; each has a unique story and these are just a few. Continue reading at the Charleston City Paper.
Also check out the most recent VIDEO about the program or get more info.
The preceding is an excerpt from an article published on April 30, 2014 in the Charleston City Paper “Apprentice Program weaves a fabric of community among graduates,” by LLF’s Director of Sustainable Agriculture, Nikki Seibert Kelley.