Last week we launched the 2017 Growing New Farmers Program, aimed at providing hands-on experience and valuable lessons in sustainable agriculture. This year welcomes the 8th class to go through the course. Soon, they will join the other 146 graduates who’ve become a variety of principal players in the Lowcountry’s local food system – from owning their own farm to highly successful roles in local agriculture.

This “up-beet” bunch has a lot to learn from now until September, but they’ve already shown they can learn fast! The first days of class demonstrated the interconnectedness and importance of local food, community and sustainable agriculture. This relationship will continue to be a major theme throughout the six months, as they cover everything from soil science to production techniques to market preparation. With such a wide range in topics, the class will be participating in multiple field trips to nearby farmers markets, operations and purveyors. Guest speakers will also be a part of the interactive learning experience, coming in to share their expertise in detail.

However, the real fun (as well as most of the hard work) takes place during work days at Middleton Place USDA Certified Organic Farm. Here is where the knowledge gained in class will be fully applied and utilized. Last week, the students toured and became familiar with the farm. The farm manager of Middleton Place, Josh Adams, wasted no time in getting everyone to work the following week. While the participants harvested and prepared beets for market most of the morning, they also learned about the significance of sanitation, food safety, and record keeping. Preparing for real-world sales and distribution can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful beginning farmer.  Their field work days provide direct experience with various markets.  During the first half of the season, the students will focus on wholesale and restaurant sales. They will spend the second half learning about CSA and farmers market sales.

Along with the program, there is an optional apprenticeship. This year, we have matched 26 participants with 19 mentor farmers in the Lowcountry! Josh Adams, the current farm manager and 2015 program graduate, attributes his success to his two apprenticeships, demonstrating how valuable this learning experience can be.

“It’s come full circle for me. Through this program, I went from knowing almost nothing to now helping [facilitate] the classes,” says Josh Adams.

We’re proud to say that the number of apprentices has doubled since last year, and the amount of mentors has also grown! Some new mentors such as Tiger Corner Farms explore developing areas of sustainable farming like aeroponics. Every year, we see the network and community we’re fostering continue to expand as interest and participation increases. They’ve even formed a team to take the Eat Local Challenge together throughout the month of April. The opportunities that the program provides to dig in to the local scene are seemingly endless and we certainly look forward to witnessing the bountiful futures of these new farmers and leaders!

This program is made possible by support from:

Charleston County Economic Development
Charleston Wine & Food Festival
College of Charleston School of Professional Studies
Edible Charleston
The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnolley Foundation
Middleton Place
Tiger Corner Farms
Pathfinder Foundation
Singing for Change
USDA Rural Development
US Small Business Association
The Spaulding-Paolozzi Foundation

Lowcountry Local First is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Brian Wheat
Growing New Farmers Program Manager

Director of Sustainable Agriculture