Learn the ‘wisdom’ of sustainable ag

SALEM, Ohio – Innovative Farmers of Ohio is about to give fresh meaning to the words “intensive learning.”
Over the next year and a half, people new to sustainable agriculture can learn from the best teachers out there: farmers.
Thanks to a grant from the USDA, Innovative Farmers of Ohio
launched an intensive learning program, called Wisdom in the Land, this month.
The way it works. Central Ohio farmers who want to learn about sustainable farming will partner with experienced producers who will mentor them during the 15-month program.
Although the new farmers may be referred to as “new” or “beginners,” that isn’t necessarily the case, said Sharon Sachs, the group’s consulting director.
The program is, in fact, open to beginners but it’s also open to current farmers who are interested in adopting sustainable practices.
Other states have structures to help these farmers transition, but Ohio does not, Sachs said. The goal is to use Wisdom in the Land to build a permanent program for the state, she added.
Since this is a new experience, participation is limited to 40 farmers and 40 mentors. Farmers must be from Champaign, Delaware, Fairfield, Fayette, Franklin, Knox, Licking, Logan, Madison, Marion, Morrow, Pickaway or Union counties.
Half the group will begin in November and the other half in February. Application forms for both farmers and mentors are available.
Hands on. This isn’t a relax-in-the-back-of-the-classroom program. Instead it’s dubbed “self-directed learning.”
When each group meets for the first time, there will be an introduction to holistic farming.
Then participants will decide which interests they have in common and what topics they want to know more about.
From this, Innovative Farmers of Ohio will organize six one-day sessions geared toward these areas over the next 15 months. In addition, the group will recommend ideas for six on-farm workshops.
The program is open to farmers specializing in all areas of agriculture, and all size farms. Because of this, if farmers’ interests vary too widely, Sachs said they may be split into smaller groups.
Guidance. The linchpin of this program is the mentors.
Sachs said she is looking for competent, contented farmers who either have an operation now or did in the past.
It’s not just having the agricultural expertise, though, she said. They also need to be able to foster a mentoring relationship, be a good listener and communicator, and have a passion for holistic farming.
Before the first meeting, Sachs said all participants will receive profiles on each member of the group and they will be able to choose their own mentors.
Mentors will be committed to spending 30 hours with the farmers, offering advice, visiting the farm and answering questions. Before they meet with the farmers, they’ll also participate in a brief training program, Sachs said.
Paid to learn. Farmers will receive $100 for travel, $100 fee reimbursement for an educational event they choose, and $50 for publications of their choice from the Sustainable Agriculture Network.
Mentors will also receive the travel and educational event money, along with a $600 stipend.
Farmers and mentors will be featured in a special publication to highlight their efforts, Sachs said.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 23 or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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