Maybe right after a storm that dumped four feet of snow on top of cattle and crops isn't the best time to encourage folks to get into farming. But as friends of the blog know, I am an eternal optimist!
After four years of cultivating new farmers in East River, Dakota Rural Action taking its successful Farm Beginnings program to West River. Whom will you meet in the Rapid City round of Farm Beginnings, and what will you learn?
Farm Beginnings participants can be of any age, do not need to currently own land, and come from wide range of experiences and farming and ranching interests. Nearly 40 families have enrolled in the course over the last four years and 83% of graduates are currently engaged in farming activities (only 30% reported involvement in farming activities before taking the class).
...Farm Beginnings classes are held November to March and focus on topics such as whole farm planning, financial and business planning, marketing, and connecting with resources and mentors. All classes are led by established farmers and ranchers and agricultural professionals. There are opportunities for students to further their skills by participating in mentorships with local farmers and 4-6 field days are offered through Dakota Rural Action’s Farmer Network in the summer. Over eighty-percent of course graduates participate in these on-farm activities after finishing the course [Dakota Rural Action, press release, September 2013].
And when DRA says on-farm activities, don't think they mean going into permanent hock for two sections of land and a mega-tractor. Susan Randall and Mark Sanderson of Sioux Falls took Dakota Beginnings last year. Look what they have made of their Dakota Beginnings experience:
Three days each week, Susan Randall and her husband, Mark Sanderson, travel from Sioux Falls to Brookings to care for their 80-acre parcel of land.
This spring, the couple planted 600 plants of 18 herb varieties on one-quarter acre. They now sell their Deer Creek Herbs at Pomegranate Market and The Co-op Natural Foods along with farmers markets in Sioux Falls and Brookings [Virginia Olson, "Program Helps Aspiring Farmers," that Sioux Falls paper, 2013.09.17].
Farm Beginnings graduates can tell many more stories about successful independent farm entrepreneurship built on Dakota Rural Action's outreach and education. Anne and Josh Hauglid are raising good eggs (and chickens!) near Wentworth. Aymee and Danny Dyck started their Deep Root Gardens community-supported agriculture operation last year, had full orders this year, and are already signing up subscribers for 2014.
Dakota Rural Action is helping Susan, Mark, Anne, Josh, Aymee, Danny, and more of our neighbors realize what sounds an awful lot like the South Dakota dream: work with your hands, sell things you grow, and be your own boss, answering to no one but yourself, the land, and the sky.
That snow will melt, the Cheyenne River will run (for a few weeks, at least!), and those Black Hills meadows will green up again next year. If you'd like to make a living with your own grand garden next year, sign up for the Farm Beginnings class. Give Heidi at Dakota Rural Action a shout, find out about tuition and times, and come see how much of the South Dakota dream you can dig.