The Next Generation of Small Farmers
4H teens learn about the hard work and creativity needed to run a successful small farm during Career Exploration Days on the Cornell University Campus.
Each summer, 4H teens across New York visit the Cornell University campus to explore academic fields and career exploration, develop leadership skills, and get hands-on experience in a college setting. This fall, we are featuring Emaleigh Perry’s essay on her experience participating in the “Exploring the Small Farm Dream” Career Exploration program.
During the 4H Career Explorations program, I took part in the ‘Exploring the Small Farm Dream’ group. In this group we learned about and visited small farms that have found ways to thrive and fit the lives of the owners. These farms included Dilmun Hill Farm, Boyce Thompson Research Farm, Northland Sheep Dairy and Cherry Knoll Berry Farm.
The first day we arrived, we went to visit the Dilmun Hill Farm which is the student run farm located on Cornell campus. Here we got to see many different ways of gardening. There were terraced gardens on the hill side and also raised beds down below the barns. On top of the hill was a permaculture garden. In this garden we got to see multiple layers, short and tall, of different plants that were all perennials. This was a neat garden to see because it was one that they did very little work to each year. During our visit, we got to harvest lettuce and winter sorrel. Then we used shovels to clear an area. We filled up the wheelbarrow with compost to place on the cleared area, and then planted rhubarb. This was a fun experience and taught me a lot about different ways you can garden and put a variety of plants around the same area.
The second day we started out by visiting the Thompson Research Farm in Freeville. It was amazing to see how big this facility really was. Here we got to see how crops are rotated through the fields every year and learn how they irrigate plants. They use a drip line system that they have made so it works along the rows of plants very well. They also use a sprinkler system but wind prevents the plants from getting the full water amount they need. We also observed how they used materials that they had to fit what they needed. They had a planter that was the combination of three different pieces of equipment and it was amazing to hear what they went through to put it together. We also learned that part of the way they make their profit is renting plots out to different groups who want to experiment for different reasons. One plot we looked at, the professor who rented that spot was testing different types of pesticides on one type of plant. Visiting the research farm was very interesting and showed us a different type of farming.
Then we traveled out to the Northland Sheep Dairy. At this farm they process the sheep wool as well as the milk. They have their own shop area with all the proper equipment to make sheep milk cheese. They keep it extremely clean and it is inspected so they are approved to make it. They also are going eco friendly and using horses to do the farm work that needs to get done. While we were there, their intern for the year was out raking hay being pulled by a horse. It was interesting to see a farm based on animals.
The last place we visited was the Cherry Knoll Berry Farm. This farm is family owned and has been in the same family for generations. They have acres of different types of blueberries and do u-pick when blueberry season comes around. The farmer does a lot of weeding and make sure the plants are accessible. He also has these small cannon machines that make a loud noise every few minutes to keep the birds from eating his crop. He keeps his farm going year after year by focusing on one crop which many of the other farms did not do. Seeing how much time and effort was put into this place, showed us what we truly had to do to make a farm successful. The owner also makes blueberry wine and vinegar to diversify the products that he can sell.
The last day we stayed on campus and played the Exploring the Farm Dream Game. In this game we were given land and a financial scenario, and one or more difficulties that may go wrong. With what we were given we had to design a farm about what we were given. Some people chose dairy, some chose beef and many others also chose horses. Looking at all these things we were given showed us many different ways you could make land work for you. It gave us a good idea of what we would like to do for a future and was fun and enjoyable.
Overall, this small farms group was very enjoyable. We had fun and learned a lot. I think everyone would agree that we definitely explored the small farm dream.
To learn more about 4H, visit http://nys4h.cce.cornell.edu
Emaleigh Perry is a 4-H member in Cortland County with the Mechanics and Metals club. She can be reached via the Cortland County Cooperative Extension at 607- 753-5077.