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News from the Cornell Small Farms Program, Winter 2020

In Case You Missed It, We Have a New Website and New Course Platform 

In August we launched our new website, designed with our new logo and branding. This more up-to-date website makes all of our work and resources more easily accessible. It also allows us to better serve our mission to help farmers get expert assistance to facilitate all phases of small farm business development, from initial growth to optimization to maturity. 

We are continuing to add content about innovative research, extension initiatives, educational opportunities and more. Visit our new website at the same URL: smallfarms.cornell.edu. 

We also moved of our suite of online courses to a new, more user-friendly platform. Now registrants have permanent, year-round access to their course content. Also, courses have tiered pricing from $199 – $299, based on household size and income to make access to the courses more affordable and equitable for everyone. 

Our program offers more than 20 online courses to help farmers improve their technical and business skills. These courses cover a range of technical and business topics any farmer needs to succeed. Learn from experienced farmers and extension educators through about six-week-long courses that include weekly live webinars, videos, and resources. 

The bulk of the course happens on your own time, with discussions, readings, and assignments in Teachable, our online course platform. To add to the experience, webinars will be woven into the interface of the course for 6 weeks each year to allow you to meet on a weekly basis to learn from presenters and ask questions in real time. If you miss one, they are always recorded and posted for later viewing. 

Registration is now open for all courses, with the next round of live webinar content starting at the end of January for our third block of courses:  

Exploring Markets and Profits 

  • Have an idea for a farm enterprise but not sure if it’s feasible? This course will help you explore the potential markets and profitability of your ideas, picking up where BF 101: Starting at Square One left off. (Note: BF 101 is not a prerequisite.) 

Holistic Financial Planning 

  • If you’ve been struggling to make your farm operation profitable without driving yourself into the ground, this financial planning course is for you. You will learn how to make financial decisions toward farm and family values and goals. 

Introduction to Beekeeping 

  • Whether you are currently keeping honey bees, or are considering adding them to your farm, a basic knowledge of bee biology, diseases, pests, and setting up your colony are essential for success. This course will give you real-world experiences paired with academic concepts. 

Introduction to Tree Fruit Production 

  • Tree fruit are an important component of the agricultural and homeowner landscape. This course trains beginning tree fruit growers in fundamental concepts in orchard planning and management. 

Season Extension with High Tunnels 

  • Adding weeks to either end of your growing season can mean attaining a premium for having products available well before (or long after) other local growers. This course will introduce you to unheated plastic-covered high tunnels or hoop houses,” and covers cost, management considerations and more. 

Sheep Production 

  • Have sheep or thinking about getting a flock? Producers of all experience levels will find something for them in this lively, wide-ranging course. There is no one right way to raise sheep — this course covers many of these different options. 

Vegetable Production II 

  • This course continues where BF 120 ends, covering vegetable production from transplanting to harvest, including: in-season fertility, integrated pest management, weed control, harvesting, and marketing. (Note: BF 120 is not a prerequisite.) 

Woodland Mushroom Cultivation 

  • With a bit of practice, mushrooms can be easily grown in the woods on many products. This course trains new and experienced farmers in the background, techniques, and economics of farm scale woodland mushroom production. 

You can browse all of our course offerings on our websitesmallfarms.cornell.edu/online-courses/  

Join Workshops on Soil Health for Vegetables in January 

Reduced tillage practices are important for building soil health. Our project works to help growers at diverse scales reduce tillage while managing vegetable production systems that build better soils. 

There are two upcoming conferences where you will have the opportunity to learn all about soil health with our project team. The Empire State Producers EXPO (January 14 – 16) and the NOFA-NY Winter Conference (January 17 – 19) are back-to-back in downtown Syracuse, NY, this winter.

At EXPO, come to hear from leading researchers and farmers about soil biology, cover crops, no-till tools, and tillage equipment. 

For details on the agenda and to register, visit: nysvga.org/expo/information/  

At NOFA-NY our project team will be digging into compost management with reduced and no-till practices. Join us to learn more about the compost we are using, how it is changing our soils, and recent research using compost as mulch with less tillage.  

Find the complete agenda at:nofany-winterconference.squarespace.com 

Our Specialty Mushroom Project Is Launching a New Community Educator Program  

The Specialty Mushroom project recently wrapped up its first year of a multi-year project focused on developing educational resources and conducting production research for small scale indoor mushroom production. This includes new guidebooks and video resources, a curriculum for educators, and hands-on workshops and trainings for growers. 

Find more about the latest project developments at www.CornellMushrooms.org  

We also recently wrapped up out monthly webinar series featuring the latest information and guest speakers, all of which are archived for viewing at:tinyurl.com/MushroomWebinars.  

Coming in 2020, we are launching our Community Mushroom Educator program, an immersive two-year opportunity for educators and service providers who want to become confident in teaching their audience the basics of mushroom cultivation and enterprise development.  

Complete information and requirements to participant are now posted at:smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/mushrooms/cme  

Applications for the program are being accepted until early February. Any questions can be directed to Steve Gabriel, sfg53@cornell.edu. 

Learn to Be a Better Farm Manager with Our Labor Ready Trainings 

Managing people is a skill that can be learned, much like operating equipment or growing crops. Do you expect yourself, or your employees, to learn those other skills on your own? Most people are not born with people management skills and benefit from coaching. Labor is one of your farm’s biggest expenses — how well are you managing it? 

Our Labor Ready project works to ensure that new farmers and advancing employees in our region can access high-quality information, supportive networks and proven tactics essential to effective management of labor. These efforts support new farmers scaling up and Latino agricultural employees to move up the ladder of management on existing farms. 

We are offering another series of our “Farm Management Master Classes” this year to support farm owners and farm managers in improving HR management. These two-day intensive workshops will give you the skills you need to effectively hire, train and supervise your farm’s employees.  

The Eastern New York workshop will be held on March 2 and 3 at the CCE Dutchess County office in Millbrook, NY.  

 The Western New York workshop will be held on March 16 and 17 at the CCE Orleans County office in Albion, NY. 

This class is led by Richard Stup, director of the Cornell University Ag Workforce Development Program; Elizabeth Higgins, the Ag Business Management Specialist with CCE’s Eastern NY Commercial Hort Team; and Mark Wiltberger, the Ag Business Management Specialist with CCE’s Lake Ontario Fruit Team. 

Included in the workshop’s two-day agenda: 

Moving From Individual Performer to Supervisor – “People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers.” The skills that make someone a top performer on the farm do not necessarily translate to being a great manager of people but supervisors are often selected from the pool of high performers in an organization to reward them for their contribution to the organization, without consideration of their people management skills or aptitude. This session will help you identify the skills needed to be a great supervisor of people, and how you can develop and apply those skills on your farm. 

Onboarding New Employees – Onboarding is a relatively new term that describes the process of bringing new employees into the business. The goal of onboarding is to have safe, productive, and engaged farm employees, from day one. Learn to create an employee onboarding program for your farm with clearly assigned responsibilities, designed training experiences, full regulatory compliance, and basic evaluation. You will also learn about the onboarding program being developed by a team of ag industry professionals and how your farm can participate. 

Performance Management – This is where the rubber hits the road in management. One of the hardest challenges of management is effectively communicating performance expectations to employees and ensuring that those expectations are carried out. This session will cover effective communication, developing training and assessment programs that get your employees off to a good start and providing timely and supportive feedback to get the best out of your staff. Tools we will discuss include using standard operating procedures, other communication strategies, training resources and feedback and incentives. 

For more information about the workshops, including the opening of registration, sign-up to our newsletter at: smallfarms.cornell.edu/contact/e-news-sign-up/. 


New Project to Support Urban Farmers Releases Study 

Building a viable small farm business in an urban area requires different planning than for rural farms. Our new project highlights important considerations to farm in an urban environment as well as examples of successful urban farms.  

Urban farms can not only be commercially viable and economically self-sufficient small farm businesses, they also offer a multitude of quality of life benefits for community residents. These farms serve to build community cohesion, teach about food and farming, connect urban and rural producers, and generate fresh produce (and sometimes meat) for local eaters. Building a successful commercial urban farm requires careful consideration of unique issues created by farming in the urban environment. 

Our director Anu Rangarajan worked with Molly Riordan under a cooperative agreement between our program and USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to research factors affecting the commercial viability of urban agricultureThey explored the challenges and circumstances required for urban agriculture to provide opportunities for economic gain and improve access to fresh foods in urban centers. 

Their resulting report, “The Promise of Urban AgricultureNational Study of Commercial Farming in Urban Areas,” is now available online.  

The study posits that urban farms have the potential to be commercially viable and economically self-sufficient, while offering a multitude of quality of life benefits for community residents, which may include: 

  • economic security and sustainability
  • empowerment of small business owners and entrepreneurs; 
  • access to employment opportunities, job training, and skill development; 
  • expanded access to nutritious food;
  • community beautification and safety; and 
  • greater opportunities for interpersonal connection.

Observations are drawn primarily from the experience of 14 commercial-scale urban farms located in 13 cities across the United States. The testimony provided by farmers associated with these urban farms is further enriched by interviews with more than 160 subject matter experts in the field of urban agriculture including: policymakers, urban planners, funders, additional non-case study farmers, and representatives of nonprofit and community-based organizations engaged in urban agriculture and local food systems. 

Learn more about this new project and read the report at: smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/urban-ag/ 

Farm Ops Team Reflects on Year of Supporting Farmer Veterans 

Now that the quiet blankets of frost and snow cover the fields and forests of our state’s farms and production-landscapes, let’s take a moment to pause and reflect on the past year’s efforts to support veterans in agriculture. 

The Farm OPS project, supported by the Cornell Small Farms Program team, hosted 12 single-day workshops and two, week-long intensive trainings. We also connected participating veterans to regional training and networking opportunities, online educational courses, as well as additional print and electronic support materials.   

The single-day trainings, hosted at the EquiCenter Farm in Menden, NY, were led by an array of professional instructors from Cornell University and Cooperative Extension, as well as experts from the public sector. The trainings consisted of both lecture and field components. The content was rich and well received, often provoking further independent exploration and interrogation of the subject matter. The single-day trainings covered the topics of: high tunnel production, mushroom production and use, soil health, tarping for reduced tillage, pasture management, holistic planned grazing, solar dryer construction, microgreen production, and agroforestry.   

The week-long intensives saw similar success, bringing together farmer veterans from across New York State. Farm Ops, in support of our partners at NCAT, held the first Armed to Farm 2.0, a secondary intensive consisting of lectures, workshops, farm tours, panel discussions, one-on-one consultations, and networking functions developed specifically for past Armed to Farm 1.0 participants. Both weeks had ideal enrollment and a great deal of positive feedback.  

Looking ahead, the Farm Ops project is excited to provide this unique programming again in 2020. The structure of the programs will largely remain unchanged, however the periods of instruction will see fresh content, revised material, as well as deeper dives into foundational topics. These developments are aggregated from ground-level feedback, advancements in research, updates in the scientific literature, emerging trends, and novel reports from the bleating edge of the sector.  

It is a privilege and honor to represent Cornell University’s efforts to support veterans in agriculture, and we look forward to the coming year and the opportunities to empower and assist our servicemen and women in their agricultural pursuits.  

Learn more about the Farm Ops project at: smallfarms.cornell.edu/projects/farm-ops/ 

Kacey Deamer

Kacey is the Communications Manager for the Cornell Small Farms Program. In this role, she manages all storytelling and outreach across the program’s website, social media, e-newsletter, magazine and more. Kacey has worked in communications and journalism for more than a decade, with a primary focus on science and sustainability.