It’s go, go, go during the summer, and taking time away from the demanding routine of managing the farm can seem an insurmountable challenge. However, summer is also a great time for on-farm workshops, pasture walks and farm tours. Seeing how other farmers are handling similar production, processing, and marketing challenges can spark ideas for your farm that can improve profitability. Additionally, before taking on a new enterprise, visiting a farm engaged in that production area can help you determine how it would fit into your farm system.
Guaranteed, one of the following will definitely come out of visiting other farms:
Networks—Especially if you are attending a workshop in your area, you are bound to meet others who share your interests, farming systems, and/or markets. Workshops are often held at experienced farmers’ operations or those experimenting with cutting edge techniques. These are good people to know if you are jumping on the learning curve. You’ll often have the chance to meet service providers and technical experts as well, who can help you down the road as you develop your own farming systems.
“Aha” Moments—Seeing on-farm demonstrations of techniques, tools, tricks of the trade, etc. often encourage your own ideas or solve mysteries of production you have been struggling to figure out. There is nothing like seeing it first-hand and on-the-ground.
“No Way” Moments—Not everything you see on other farms will be applicable to your own operation, but isn’t that so much better to learn before investing the time/energy/money into implementing a new system or enterprise? For everything you read about new and innovative farm strategies, seeing the real-deal can help you determine whether it is right for you.
Perspective—Understanding where your farm is situated in the current farm business landscape will help you determine what kind of production and marketing strategies are right for your operation based on your own goals.
Appreciation—Either for how far you have come or how far you have to go in developing your farm business. And probably some appreciation for the farmers hosting and the organizers of the workshop you attend.
So how do you decide which workshops to attend when there are so many to choose from? One way would be to think about your farming operation as a chain with many links that include production, processing and marketing activities. When you think about your operation as a whole, what is the weakest link in that chain? Are you having trouble selling what you grow? Then find workshops addressing marketing. Do you need to improve your yields? Look for production oriented workshops with experienced growers. Addressing the weakest link will give you the highest return on your time investment .
The UVM Extension New Farmer Project Calendar is a great place to find out about on-farm learning events. We put a lot of effort into keeping this listing up-to-date with opportunities around the state. You can also check out the listings of individual organizations such as NOFA-VT, RAFFL, and the VT Pasture Network, to name a few. Start looking and make the time! I think you’ll be glad you did.