Beginning farmer training for military veterans

Norm Conrad

Norm Conrad of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT)

Military veterans prefer hands-on learning with people they trust. Veterans want to “do” rather than listen to lectures. Successful educators build relationships with veterans and create Beginning Farmer training techniques that address veterans’ unique learning style.

Effective educators offer training and other beginning farmer services for veterans by connecting and engaging with their audience. Norm Conrad suggested agricultural training programs created for veterans include plenty of hand-on experiences for this high-energy group. Veterans learn their technical skills through haptic or hands-on, experiential learning. They are accustomed to demonstrating those skills to peers or sharing skills with other veterans.

Conrad strongly suggests having extra materials on-hand as well as an extra group exercise or activity in the curriculum. Veterans are often more focused, productive and efficient than other workshop attendees. Educators may find events or activities finished early.  [Read the full story here.]

Bittersweet Farm raises heritage pigs

Heritage pigs at Bittersweet Farm

Heritage pigs at Bittersweet Farm

Brian Bennett of Bittersweet Farm has been living with pigs for over 30 years. Each year, he raises 10-12 liters of certified organic pigs with 6-8 piglets per liter. The pigs live as families outdoors not packed together in huge barns. All the farm’s pigs have names. “I like to know who is coming to dinner,” said Bennett with a smile.

To people offended by smelly pig barns, Bennett reminds them that he does not run a confinement operation. Farrowing huts may smell of manure and afterbirth, but it’s all connected: “Energy, passion, life process and life force.”

Bennett’s favorite heritage breeds are Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spots. These breeds are known as great mothers. Bennett used to raise Yorkshire pigs but their large liters lost too many piglets, especially in extended subzero periods in upstate NY. Heritage pigs thrive on pasture, in woodlands and with diverse diets. Bennett and his family raise much of the pigs’ food on the farm. [Read more here.]

The healthy, profitable business at Green Pastures Farm

Greg Judy

Greg Judy

Greg Judy runs a profitable, managed grazing operation at Green Pastures Farm. He uses pasture stockpiling so his livestock collect their own winter feed. Known by many as The Grass Whisperer, Judy manages his pastures for healthy soils, drought resistance and diversified forage. His ruminants improve land, soil and water quality without the use of fossil fuels.

Judy views himself as a “steward of the land and the animals.” Green Pastures Farm does not own a tractor. Judy described livestock in feedlots as “fossil fuel consumers.” Feedlot meat producers use fuels to plant, fertilize, harvest and transport corn, soybeans and other feed. They use more fuel to remove and spread animal manure.

Diversity matters to Judy. He values livestock, plant, wildlife AND soil species diversity. He said, “For every new species you welcome to your farm, you make room for eight more.” Judy views an ecosystem like a spider web. Remove any strand and you weaken the whole web. He welcomes spiders in his fields; to Judy, that means his ecosystems are healthy. [Learn more here.]

Maine Mead Works

Maine Mead Works

According to the American Mead Makers Association, in 2000, there were under two dozen commercial meaderies in the United States. By 2015, there are nearly 250. In 2014 alone, 40 new meaderies have opened. Maine Mead Works is one of the leading American meaderies. Their meads have received numerous awards. Owners, Ben Alexander, Carly Cope and Nick Higgins handcraft small batches of mead including Cyser (a style of mead) and Chai (flavored mead).

Maine Mead Works shares the oldest fermented beverage – Mead – with their customers. Using wildflower honey, pure water and a proprietary yeast strain, mead maker Nick Higgins blends ancient traditions with modern science to produce distinctive honey wines (meads).

Award-winning mead maker Dr. Garth Cambray, founder of South African Makana Meadery, helped Alexander start Maine Mead Works in Portland, Maine in 2007. These two meaderies produce their mead with the only two state-of-the-art, continuous vertical mead fermentation systems in the world. [Learn more here.]

How Skinny Dip Farm grows winter storage crops

Ben and Hannah Wolbach of Skinny Dip Farm

Ben & Hannah Wolbach at Skinny Dip Farm

Each fall, the farmers market offerings and CSA shares from Skinny Dip Farm include cabbages, leeks, winter squashes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and a variety of root crops including potatoes ( fingerling and good storing varieties like German Butterball and Sangre), garlic, shallots, onions (six varieties), carrots and beets. Hannah and Ben Wolbach also grow less common storage crops like celeriac, fennel, parsnips, radishes, kohlrabi, Napa cabbage, turnips and popcorn.

Soil Fertility

In their workshop, the Wolbachs described their soil fertility management practices. Farm soils receive mineral supplements as recommended by soil tests. Hannah and Ben plant cover crops after harvest for winter cover and between crops to improve soil fertility and organic matter. Fields that will be planted in summer for fall harvest will have spring planted cover crop blends of either oats or barley with peas, clover and vetch. Oats and peas will cover fields destined for early spring plantings because oats are generally winterkilled in Westport, MA, making spring bed preparation easy.


Crop rotation helps to minimize pest and disease pressure. For example, all the brassica family crops grow together in a block. Next year the brassicas will be planted across the farm. [Learn more here.]

How to make your farm more profitable

Chris Blanchard

Chris Blanchard

Farmers need to make informed choices about labor management and when to invest in farm equipment. It is important to track and be able to extrapolate and weigh labor costs and capacity against hiring staff or investing in tractors or other equipment.

Having accurate data and using careful budget analysis, farmers can maximize profits and make fewer poor decisions. Chris Blanchard of Purple Pitchfork ( shared his experience gathering accurate farm costs and production data for investment decisions at the 2014 Beginning Farmer Learning Network (BFLN) Conference held in Albany, New York. [Read more here.]

Prepare for your first farm loan & get ready for credit – Part 2

Benneth Phelps of the Carrot Project

Benneth Phelps of the Carrot Project

Beginning farmers can secure their first farm loan if they develop a plan for how the money will be spent, and how the loan will be repaid. A plan can allow a farmer to purchase equipment using a low interest cash flow loan instead of building expensive credit card debt to finance farm operations until harvests bring income.

Before visiting a lender, gather and review personal financial records and farm business documents. Correct any typos and math errors to present a strong case. Verify that your credit score is high enough. [Learn more here.]