Purdue Offers New Support to Small-Scale Farm Entrepreneurs
Walking around Amy Matthew’s one-and-a-half acre South Circle Farm, you’ll pass five types of kale, 12 types of Asian greens, fennel, blackberries and about 50 other food crops. To the east and west, brick business buildings and a scrap yard are the farm’s neighbors. Looking north on Meridian Street, which borders the farm, the Indianapolis skyline looms a few dozen blocks away.
A small vegetable farm run by an under-40 female in the middle of the city may seem unusual for Indiana agriculture, but according the U.S. Census of Agriculture the number of small farms, the number of vegetable farms and the number for female farmers in Indiana are all on the rise.
Purdue Extension noticed these trends and began building resources to support new small scale farms around the state.
Purdue Extension is the research-based education provider for Indiana’s land grant university, Purdue University, and has been providing agricultural resources to Indiana residents for more than 100 years. In response to the uptick in startup farm education needs, Purdue Extension developed programs like the Indiana Small Farm Conference, the Purdue Beginning Farmers Program and the Purdue Urban Farm Incubator to help startups succeed.
Indiana Small Farm Conference
The Indiana Small Farm Conference is an annual gathering in its fourth year and participation has more than doubled since its start in 2013. Conference chair and Purdue Extension - Delaware County Agriculture Educator, Michael O’Donnell, expects around 500 attendees this year. At the conference, they will have the opportunity to hear from Purdue specialists and farmer peers on diversified production and farm management.
“We want this conference to serve as the annual educational networking event for the Indiana small scale farming community,” O’Donnell said. “One of the big things is that we need this community of food entrepreneurs and small scale farmers to get together regularly.”
The conference will take place March 3-5 at the Hendricks County Fairgrounds in Danville with more than 20 sessions. Notable speakers include Indiana farmer and author of Lean Farming, Ben Hartman, and keynote speaker Mary Berry, a farmer in Henry County, Kentucky and daughter of Lanes Landing farmer Wendell Berry. The first day will kick off with all-day workshops focused on topics like “How to Start and Sustain Your Small Acre Farm” and “Producing Meat for Local Communities on a Small Farm.”
“The unique thing about this conference as a Purdue program is that it has a balance of Purdue experts and farmers, which gives great research-based information and real world perspective,” O’Donnell said.
Registration is open now and remains at the lowest rate until Valentine’s Day.
Purdue Beginning Farmers Program
To complement to the annual Indiana Small Farm Conference gathering, Purdue Extension has new year-round programming to support beginning farmer entrepreneurs: the Purdue Beginning Farmers Program. New farmers can plug into resources like regional workshops, national field trips and 10 Indiana farm tours in 2016. The program offers many educational opportunities for farmers, but is also training Purdue Extension staff to be prepared to serve this growing population of clients.
In the program’s first year, it reached more than 200 Indiana beginning farmers with education and 20 Purdue Extension Educators in 20 different counties with training, according to Tamara Benjamin, Purdue Extension Assistant Program Leader for Diversified Food and Farming Systems. She helps coordinate the program, which is led Professor Kevin Gibson of Purdue’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology,
“We are ramping up Purdue Extension’s resources to support new farmer entrepreneurs,” Benjamin said. “The great thing about training educators in different counties is that you have the multiplier effect when they reach their local clients.”
Purdue Urban Farm Incubator
In addition to statewide efforts, Purdue Extension has county-level programs supporting startup farms like the Purdue Urban Farm Incubator in Marion County. In Marion County, new small scale farming takes the form of urban farms, typically two acres or less, and Purdue Extension created a unique land-based resource to serve urban farmer entrepreneurs.
The Purdue Urban Farm Incubator is a space where beginning urban farmers can try out their business idea on a farm plot with lower costs and lower risk than normal. The first growing season for incubator farmers will begin this March.
The site will consist of seven vacant residential lots, on the northwest of downtown Indianapolis, that will be converted into a community farm space. The urban farmers on site will receive mentorship from an experienced urban farmer, ongoing educational opportunities and basic infrastructure—like water access and tool storage—to get them started. As the Purdue Extension - Marion County Urban Agriculture Educator, I lead the program with the help of Butler University’s Center for Urban Ecology AmeriCorps VISTA, Mimi Zakem, and several crucial community partners.
With resources like a statewide, annual conference, ongoing programming for new farmers and even a farm incubator supported by the Purdue Extension, Indiana’s new crop of farmer entrepreneurs have a place to turn to for assistance and guidance as they get started.