COLUMBIA, Mo. — Where can you find conversations about pasture-raised chicken and organic farming next to talks on soil and social media? Online.
The Missouri Beginning Farmer Program’s Online Learning Community from University of Missouri Extension lets everyone learn from experienced farmers. More than a year of archived workshops, webinars and discussions are now free online, allowing individuals to use expert information at their convenience.
“It’s farmers learning from farmers,” said Mary Hendrickson, who runs the Missouri Beginning Farmers Program for MU Extension. “People like to talk to others with lots experience and great information and who can say, ‘I’ve been there before and had these problems.’ It’s a great way to bring both the farmers’ experience and all the expertise we have in MU Extension to the table together.”
Fall offers farmers a perfect time to learn new techniques and strategies as they turn their eyes toward planning for next year. For beginning farmers, this can mean tackling new areas of farming.
“It’s not just animal production or vegetable production, but it’s also food safety, financing and marketing,” Hendrickson said. “It’s kind of horizontal learning, with people learning from others with the same kind of experiences. We’re really there to help facilitate by pulling it together in this one spot.”
The Missouri Beginning Farmers Program identifies producers skilled in specific areas to present webinars. MU Extension specialists provide extension guides and other information to complement presenters’ information. Those presentations, participant discussions and related documents are then archived by topic and date. Online forums moderated by MU Extension specialists allow participants to bounce ideas off each other.
These resources help beginning farmers create a support network that novices and experts alike find valuable. They connect via Facebook, the Missouri Beginning Farmers blog and through the webinar archive forum.
“Networking is key for many of these folks because it’s easy to think you’re alone in this world with all these crazy ideas or get discouraged because you’re trying to farm but don’t have experience,” said Debi Kelly, Missouri Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education co-coordinator and MU Extension Beginning Farmers guru.
Missourians of all ages and experience levels attend the face-to-face workshops. Online participants range from people in their 20s just starting out in farming to traditional farmers transitioning to organic produce, and older individuals looking to put their land to good use.
Beginning Farmers webinars bring these people together from across the state, saving time and money for producers.
“They love not having to leave home, how they can get access to really good information without driving a long way,” Hendrickson said. “This online community helps us reach a more diverse and dispersed audience, but keeping a high-touch atmosphere is why we integrate aspects like the online forums to make it as interactive as possible.”
This encyclopedia of farming knowledge will expand as new webinars happen each month. Participant ideas guide the selection of future speakers and topics. Presenters share challenges and tribulations experienced on their farms.
“They talk about their successes but also share their failures in their farming enterprises, because learning about people’s failures is just as important to those starting out,” Kelly said.
The Missouri Beginning Farmers Program began in 2009 and is funded through a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant. Through its online and in-person workshops, the program hopes to serve an ever-growing number of people who are exploring how to put their land to work for them, whether as a full-time business or as a source of supplemental income.
Find more about the Missouri Beginning Farmers Program at http://beginningfarmers.missouri.edu. A link to archived webinars is on the right.