Warm summer greetings!
Enterprise Farmer Mark Nuneviller and his daughter Elizabeth in front of a Nuneviller Farm high tunnel.
It's high season at The Seed Farm. Our apprentices are busy in the fields, harvesting, planting cover crop, and learning valuable lessons in weed and soil management. They're also devoting time to tractor and equipment training, as well as selling produce to restaurants and individuals across the Lehigh Valley. Our incubator farmers, meanwhile, are balancing production and marketing demands on their farms, and even making media appearances.
And while it may feel like the farming season has barely begun, it is already time to start formulating farming plans for next year and working on preliminary business plans! Within the next month, The Seed Farm will begin accepting applications for the 2016 season of our new farmer training program and farm business incubator...
[Please click here to read the rest of our summer newsletter]
On May 20, 2014, The Seed Farm hosted, Penn State Extension's “Introduction to Organic Vegetable Production.” With the assistance of instructors Sara Runkel and Becca Munro, participants had the opportunity to use different push seeders, learn how to hand-transplant more efficiently, and trial the water-wheel transplanter. The class learned about the advantages and disadvantages of the different equipment, discussed the efficiencies of mechanical planting techniques and how to implement such efficiencies into a farming system. Participants had the opportunity to trial 6 different push-seeders and observe 2 mechanical transplanters. The hands-on experience and training is, “indispensable” said many of the participants, teaching them how to improve their seeding and transplanting techniques and allowing them to make informed decisions when investing in equipment.
The Introduction to Organic Vegetable Production course is a multi-session series lead by extension instructor Tianna Dupont. The course introduces aspiring and new vegetable producers to diverse production strategies and provides a framework for effective farm production planning. Please visit the extension.psu.edu/start-farming for more information.
In early April, when the season's first seedlings were just starting to peek out of the soil in the greenhouse, The Seed Farm welcomed Muhlenberg College Environmental Science students to the farm for a lesson and tour.
The students spent time with Farm Steward Emma Cunniff, who just launched Kneehigh Farm on our site this spring. Fresh out of college herself, Emma is in a unique position to talk with students about the challenges and opportunities that young farmers face.
They also toured the still-quiet fields with Farm Manager/Educator Becca Munro. Students had a chance to ask questions and discuss with Becca the principles of sustainable farming, including the importance of cover crops, pest management and soil health.
"We talk pretty extensively about agriculture in class - so seeing it first hand, locally, was very exciting for them," said professor Karen Tuerk. "The students were captivated. 'Best trip ever!' was expressed by more than one."
The Seed Farm welcomes groups of students to the farm at any time of year. More information about scheduling a tour for your students can be found here.
The Seed Farm apprentices joined other enthusiastic new farmers to learn about greenhouse management at Eagle Point Farm in Kutztown PA this week. They learned about how important it is to moderate temperature and moisture to keep plants healthy, techniques for seeding and transplanting and how to make a good organic potting mix. This was their first farm visit as part of Penn State Extension's Introduction to Organic Vegetable Production. Thank you to Seed Farm Board members Steve and Gayle for hosting!
Seed Farm apprentice Renee Lang says that Exploring the Small Farm Dream “helped me to understand some of the specific administrative tasks associated with farming as well as the farm skills themselves. It's a structured way to assess the different skills needed to run an agriculture business.”
This Penn State Extension course and two others (Introduction to Organic Vegetable Production and Vegetable Business Planner) are part of The Seed Farm's 600-hour new farmer training program. Please visit Penn State Extension's blog to read more about Exploring the Small Farm Dream.
Seed Farm Apprentices graduated from the Penn State’s Vegetable Business Planner with complete farm plans this winter and are busy planning for farm start-up in 2014.
Farming is a complicated career. Experts say successful farmers have to be highly skilled in sixteen areas from business, accounting and marketing, to horticulture, and mechanics. During the season apprentices honed their practical skills through hours in the field, on the tractor and at the market. Then it was time for the books! “This winter we sat down with apprentices to take them through critical business and planning aspects of farming,” explained Penn State Extension instructor Tianna DuPont. Visiting instructors from Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit and Phil Baker insurance helped them through the process of thinking about their financing options and how to manage risk. Students discussed the potential markets in the area and analyzed how to zero in on their ideal customer. “Classes are ripe with discussion. Each week participants present a small part of their farm plan and get input from their peers to improve it,” says DuPont.
The Vegetable Business Planner Class was the culminating step for the year, bringing together knowledge hard earned throughout the season as apprentices managed their crop projects, practiced their skills on the farm, learned to run equipment and visited new farms in the area. But boy is it great to see it all in one place!
“I am proud to have produced this farm plan which is entirely my own, and I am very excited to implement it next year. When I first started farming I had no idea I would be planning my own farm after only three years, and I want to thank everyone at the Seed Farm for completely exceeding my expectations with the program and myself.” Tyler McCullough
“Before the 2013 season began, I completed an assessment of my competence in areas related to small-scale vegetable production. I was surprised at how little I knew, despite four years of previous farming experience. Having completed the season, I feel immense gratitude, as well as pride, at all I have experienced and retained. I am now proficient in tractor operation, irrigation management, production management, greenhouse propagation, market management, and financial planning. By working in an environment where education and hands-on experience are the priority, I have gathered countless insights and skills that will continue to influence my farm practice.” Emma Cunnif
Date: March 12, 19, 26 and April 2 2014
Time: 6:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m.
Location: Lehigh County Agriculture Center
4184 Dorney Park Rd
Allentown, PA 18104
Are you considering launching a small farm enterprise, but are not sure where to start? This is the course for you! “Exploring the Small Farm Dream” bridges the gap between ideas and action by guiding you through an exploratory decision making process. It is geared towards career changers and farm newbies who what to break into agricultural pursuits, as well as farm apprentices interested in launching their own farm business start-ups.
The Explorer course takes a learner-centered approach to exploring agriculture as a career. As a participant in the course, you will be guided through an in depth self-assessment process, designed to help you identify the specific aptitudes, interests, skills and resources that you can bring to your new farm business. You will receive support through the process of researching opportunities in agriculture. And you will meet other serious gardeners, livestock enthusiasts, and entrepreneurs who are also asking themselves, “is farming right for me?”
Expect creative exercises, research, and class discussions that will help you assess your skills and resources. You will interview local farm-business owners that will assist you in deciding how to carry your dream forward.
Included in your registration is “Exploring the Small Farm Dream” a workbook developed by the New England Small Farm Institute, twelve hours of detailed instruction and class exercises led by Extension Educators and successful, local farmers, and supplemental handouts and literature. Refreshments provided at each session.
To register visit http://extension.psu.edu/
We are proud to announce that The Seed Farm has received $40,000 from the US Department of Agriculture as part of its Risk Management Education Partnership Program. The very foundation of The Seed Farm's training program is to mitigate the risk associated with starting new farm businesses, so we are delighted to have this opportunity to partner with the USDA as we train new farmers in 2014.
Through the intensive training provided by our Farm Manager/Educator Becca Munro, along with classes taught in collaboration with Penn State Extension, our apprentices and farm stewards will learn to identify and manage production, financial and human risk. On-farm workshops will allow us to provide additional risk management education to the larger farming community.
Through classes, on-farm lessons and workshops, The Seed Farm teaches new farmers about crop insurance options; marketing and farm financial management; good farming practices; pest, disease and soil management; equipment use and tractor safety.
This cooperative agreement with the USDA is designed to "help ensure that farmers and ranchers effectively manage their risk through difficult periods, helping to maintain America’s robust food supply and the sustainability of small, limited resource, socially disadvantaged and other traditionally underserved farmers."
Cooperative Agreement #13-IE-53102-092
Dear Friends of The Seed Farm,
I am delighted to announce that two recent Seed Farm graduates are on the verge of launching their own farm businesses on The Seed Farm's 42-acre site in the spring of 2014. These brand-new farms, Knee High Farm and Easy Pace Market Garden, will grow fresh, high-quality food for the local community as well as area restaurants and grocers.
Meanwhile, Good Work Farm, which has been operating at The Seed Farm since 2011, is growing steadily and will be transitioning to a more permanent location where it will expand its CSA to 85 members in the upcoming year.
In addition, we are excited to welcome six new apprentices into our training program next spring.
Steward farmer Anton Shannon started Good Work Farm in 2011.
The Seed Farm team is incredibly proud of these developments and inspired by our apprentices' progress. We sincerely hope you will join us in supporting these new farmers as they pursue their dreams of farm ownership and provide healthy food for their communities.
Please consider making a year end tax-deductible donation to The Seed Farm. Your gift will support our work of training new farmers and assisting them in starting new farm businesses, thereby strengthening our local food system. When you make a contribution beforeDecember 31, 2013, you will be eligible to win $100 of Seed Farm veggies in the new year!
We are so grateful for the generous support that we received in 2013. Whether you purchased vegetables from our stand at the Emmaus Farmers' Market, attended one of our events, made a monetary contribution, or just came out to the farm for a tour, you have helped us to train new farmers for the future. We look forward to continuing to work together as we grow a new crop of farmers in the Lehigh Valley.
On behalf of The Seed Farm's staff and board of directors, thank you for your ongoing support of our mission.
Sending warm wishes for a Happy New Year,
Dreams are the seeds of change.
Nothing ever grows without a seed, and nothing ever changes without a dream.
- Debby Boone
Apprentice graduates Emma Cunniff and Tyler McCullough will be launching their new farms
at The Seed Farm in 2014.
All photos courtesy of Allison Czapp.
Agriculture incubator program links new farmers with land, training
Many area residents may remember the old Seem Seed Farm on Vera Cruz Road outside of Emmaus, where they tasseled corn as one of their first jobs. Now a new generation of farmers is working the land and continuing the long tradition of agriculture in the region.
The Seem Farm is now home to the Seed Farm, an agricultural incubator project launched in 2009 that works with Lehigh County and the Penn State Extension.
The county purchased the 453-acre Seem Farm in 1974 and various proposals were entertained for its use. Jeff Zehr, Seed Farm Board treasurer and director of Lehigh County’s Farmland Preservation Program, said the opportunity to launch a farm incubator in the late-2000s presented a “creative use” for the land and an alternative to conventional farming that would still preserve the land for agriculture.
“The county a long time ago recognized the fact that we need to do something to protect the good and high-quality farmland that we have in Lehigh County and the Lehigh Valley,” Zehr said. “As we were preserving all this land, and spending a lot of money to preserve this land, we began to think about the need for land for the next generation and helping new farmers get onto the land.”
The county’s Farmland Preservation Program has preserved 251 farms comprising 20,761 acres of farmland since 1989. However, as the farming population in Pennsylvania and across the nation continues to age and enters retirement, the need for new farmers is becoming paramount.
“It comes down to the fact that we need new farmers because we need to replace those who will be retiring soon and who are retiring now,” Zehr said.
“I think there is a recognition that it’s difficult to start farming. Especially young people who want to get started, they don’t have the capital to purchase a new farm and all the equipment that might be necessary, and we just want to help facilitate that and make it easier for [them] to start farming,” he added.
The Seed Farm – which comprises 25 acres of the original Seem Farm – aims to address the main barriers to farm entry: lack of access to capital, to land and to training.
Farmer apprentices are involved in all aspects of farm management – from crop planning to cultivation, pest and disease control, harvest and sales – and also take classes at the Penn State Extension.
“They learn not only how to farm but how to make a business plan, marketing, the financial process involved in starting a farm. So it’s not just the farming side of it, but also how to turn farming into a farm business,” Seed Farm Executive Director Lindsey Parks said.
After completing the apprenticeship, aspiring farmers can apply to the farm stewardship program, which allows them to rent – at a discount – acreage to further develop their own business models. Farm stewards also have access to equipment and the knowledge and expertise of the farm manager.
Anton Shannon, a farm steward for the past three years and owner/operator of Good Work Farm, said that the Seed Farm has provided him “with the main means of farming that are, most times, unaffordable.
“You usually have to go into debt the first couple years to buy a tractor or a greenhouse or both, while at the same time figuring out the marketing and the business and the vegetable production.”
Being at the Seed Farm allows him to focus more on refining his production techniques and business plan. For the 2014 season, Shannon will be moving his business off the Seed Farm to continue farming with his partner Lisa Miskelly.
The three apprentices currently working on the Seed Farm have all come to the program by different routes, but they all share a passion for working the land, growing delicious and healthy food in environmentally sustainable ways, and contributing to a more robust, local food system.
“The apprentices’ dedication to learning the finer points of farming and having some experience and knowing that [farming] is really what they want to pursue really changes the dynamic of the farm,” Farm Manager Becca Munro, a Harleysville native, said.
“It’s amazing,” apprentice Emma Cuniff said. “I feel like I’m getting a huge variety of experience, rather than just one method or one way of farming. And just having an opportunity to test [equipment and ideas] out before I really invest a lot has been really important to me.”
The program is funded through a combination of county assistance; federal and private grants; fundraisers, including an annual bike ride and fun run on the farm; a Farm to Table dinner taking place Oct. 6; the Lehigh Valley Harvest event, co-sponsored by Buy Fresh Buy Local Greater Lehigh Valley, at the Allentown Brew Works on Oct. 27; and, of course, produce sales. The Seed Farm, which is working toward organic certification, sells its produce weekly at the Emmaus Farmers’ Market and has various wholesale connections with restaurants and caterers in the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia areas.
“We’re growing a really wide variety of vegetables here, partially as a demonstration of how to grow everything,” Munro said, adding that the program allows new farmers to experiment and grow things they have never tried before. “It’s really interesting and fun to play with that diversity and try those new flavors.”
Now in its fifth year of production, the Seed Farm continues to build its infrastructure and further its network-building capabilities.
“It’s a really exciting time for the Seed Farm because there are so many different ways we can grow right now,” according to Parks. “We’re looking at the local food economy and the Seed Farm’s place in that system, trying to reach out more to the community.”
“In general people are seeing that trying to build up a strong local food system is important ... for the economy and the health of the people in the Lehigh Valley,” Zehr said.
To learn more about the Seed Farm and its events, or to inquire about volunteer opportunities, visit www.theseedfarm.org.