The Lowcountry's freshest farmers!
Oct 11, 2017
As we begin the transition from warm summer days into cool fall nights, there’s more than just pumpkins and sweet potatoes that will soon be ready to harvest. The 2017 Growing New Farmers Program participants have wrapped up their six-month long journey into the world of farm production and business planning. Since its inception in 2010, the Growing New Farmers Program has trained 146 new farmers and will add 22 more to the roster this year. With backgrounds ranging from food and beverage to education to health care, all participants share the same passion for strengthening local food systems and sustainable agriculture.
Over the past six months, the participants have diligently been learning the ins and outs of what it takes to be a farmer. Each week, this group of future farmers got their hands dirty working the fields at Middleton Place USDA Certified Organic Farm producing fresh, organic produce. Through this hands on approach, the participants were able to put skills learned in a classroom setting into functional practice. Covering topics from seed starting to crop rotation to pest management, the participants were able to gain first-hand experience in running a successful, working farm. The program dives even deeper into the Lowcountry’s agriculture community by providing an optional apprenticeship where participants are matched with a local farmer or organization.
Peachey Trudell, a 2017 program graduate, just moved to a new property on James Island, where she will be growing cut flowers for her new business, One Wild Acre. “My biggest takeaway is a huge increase in self-confidence. I feel so confident and comfortable pursuing a farm of my own,” Peachy said at this year’s graduation ceremony. “I’ll never forget the moment when my mentor, Jim Martin (Compost in My Shoe) stopped and looked at me and said ‘Peachy, you are going to be a great grower.’”
Allie Kreutzer, another recent graduate, is a school teacher in McClellanville who plans to run a certified organic farm at her school. She found her apprenticeship to be one of her favorite parts of the program! “Working with the Green Heart Project was perfect because I was able to understand how to fit the farming concept into a school calendar.”
It’s no secret that weather plays a vital role in a farmer’s life and the participants experienced their fair share of difficulties during the program. Between excessive rainfall and intense flooding in the Lowcountry, they were able to directly learn how to be flexible, make difficult decisions, and deal with these problems that they will inevitably face in their future farming days. Ditch digging is an art and a skill, as the participants have recently discovered. These are invaluable lessons that are otherwise hard to convey through textbooks. Experiences like these are just one of many examples of how the Growing New Farmers Program sets individuals with a passion for agriculture up for success.
When the participants weren’t busy seeding kale or transplanting tomatoes, you could find their friendly faces at the West Ashley Farmers Market selling produce from Middleton Place and their mentor farmers. Along with learning about farm production, the Growing New Farmers Program teaches participants practical skills like sales, marketing, and business planning which are all integral parts of running a successful farm. In addition to piloting their first farmers market stand, we visited local wholesale distributor, Limehouse Produce and local food hub, GrowFood Carolina, to gain an understanding of how to navigate the wholesale market. Likely their favorite class, though, would have been when we enjoyed lunch at Middleton Place Restaurant and talked with their Director of Food and Beverage regarding selling to local chefs.
Looking back over their experience, everyone can agree the skills they have developed and connections made would have been non existent without this program. Kristy Imschweiler, a 2017 program graduate, believes that the Growing New Farmers Program has provided her with the resources and knowledge to successfully achieve her dream of one day running a farm for inner-city youth. “Putting practical application to what I learned in the classroom through hands-on experience along with being able to see other local farms proved to be invaluable for me.”
We are so excited to see what the future holds for this new crop of farmers. With their passion and determination, they are a welcome addition to our ever growing local food scene!
Written by LauraKate Anderson