JONESBURG, Mo. – Justin Knoll strolled underneath the sunscreen netting that sheltered the potted flowers, grasses and other plants that are staples of Seven Cedars Farm.
While other 20-somethings have left the farm, Justin recently returned to manage the family farm in Jonesburg. His parents, John and Melissa Knoll, decided to diversify with the help of the University of Missouri Extension Grow Your Farm program.
“We want to give Justin an opportunity as a young farmer to succeed,” John Knoll said. “We had ideas coming in, but the program reinforced our plans, gave us direction and actually excited my son and made him eager.”
At the Warrenton MU Extension center last summer, the Knolls attended Grow Your Farm classes with six other families, including those with established farms, some with “town jobs,” and those without land who are just now deciding to get into farming.
“It’s about helping them think more holistically about their land, what’s available to them and how they might use those resources to better allow them to do the thing they love most,” said Shelley Bush Rowe, MU Extension community development specialist in Warrenton. “It could be as simple as looking at a different way to package their product, at a different group of consumers or clients to buy their product, or diversifying their income opportunities.”
The program helps individuals interested in farming to refine business strategies, develop marketing and diversify traditional farms with alternative endeavors. Participants meet 11 times over a 16- to 18-week period. The classes cover topics from business plans and financing and include presentations from a variety of successful farm operations.
“We cover setting a mission statement, but we don’t try to be ominous about it,” Bush Rowe said. “We talk a lot about things bankers want to see and assistance programs that are available, so that the mystery and fear of going to the bank for financing are gone.”
With help from the class, the Knolls now have a plan to bolster their hay sales and expand their greenhouse operation from 650 square feet to 4,000 square feet by next year. They also outlined ideas to expand their grass-fed Simmental cattle sales and incorporate Justin’s budding photography business in the next five years.
“We learned from the class, but also learned from each other,” said Melissa Knoll. “We met so many new people, from people wanting to be farmers to ones who had 500 acres.”
The program inspired her family to apply and receive a grant to construct a high tunnel. “We would have never even pursued that if not for the Grow Your Farm program,” she said.
Justin Knoll is optimistic about the farm’s future and how he can incorporate his interests into the big picture.
“Scenery is important to the type of photography I’d like to be doing,” he said. “Developing the photography business as part of our farm’s plans is another thing to add value and income.”
Learn more about the Grow Your Farm program and classes offered near you at www.extension.missouri.edu/growyourfarm/.