Our students don't disappear when they graduate. More often than not, they jump right into farming - either as farm owners or managers. Even those who don't actively farm, report on the way the OFS program has changed how they show up in the world. We consider staying in touch with them to be part of our role as farmer educators. It allows us to share news, upcoming events, continuing ed, and opportunities for sharing resources. It also allows us to know how they're doing.
Here are a few of the recent updates we have from our grads.
I graduated in 2012 and worked with Sebastian Aguilar on his farm in Ashland, OR during the 2013 season. My wife and I returned to the island in 2014 and purchased property in Freeland adjacent to fellow grads Annie & Nathaniel (Deep Harvest Farm). 2015 was a year of land development and construction. Finally, 2016 was the first production year of our Foxtail Farm, a certified organic mixed vegetable farm. We market our produce at an onsite farm stand, farmers market, stores and restaurants. After a successful initial season we are doubling our cultivated acres in 2017. - Feb. 2017
UnderToe Farm will be entering year 4 in 2017, and will gain organic certification on our vegetables, and fruit.
Gaining in popularity in Northwest lower peninsula Michigan (Antrim County), we have been slowly growing our operation each season without accumulating any financial debt, yet increasing profit margin each season.
We currently have a 35 member Farm - Share program, and will likely take on a few more in 2017. We sell at one farmers market in the town of Elk Rapids which spans 18 weeks. We directly sell to one main grocery outlet in Elk Rapids called Village Market. We move some product, mostly our Asian greens mix, to a refined American seafood restaurant also in downtown Elk Rapids. We also move bulk onions, peppers, and specialty winter squashes through a Michigan only wholesaler, Cherry Capital Foods. - Feb. 2017
I'm managing the market garden of BioHof Quellen in Wistedt, Germany. My garden makes up 3.5 acres of the 100 acre mixed agricultural business with livestock, as well as feed and grain production accounting for most of the acreage. Our vegetable marketing is conducted mostly through the CSA (SoLaWi in German) "SoLaWi Nordheide" of which I am also an organizer. You can check out our website at solawi-nordheide.de.
The Organic Farm School on Whidbey Island really changed our lives. After we left for Reno, I started a small CSA at Rosewater Ranch on the outskirts of town there. When it came time to really invest, Kristin and I decided we just couldn't commit to another 6 years in the states. We ended up heading back to Germany where I found a great job as a farm manager. Thanks to the program at the OFS and the skills I gained there, I've more than doubled our production and income in the last six months and am able to supply around 300 people with food straight from the field this year while paying my employees and myself a decent living wage. I've even translated the OFS Crop Plan and adapted it to our business to keep everything running smoothly here. - Feb. 2017
I am finishing up my caretaking/permaculture apprenticeship at Bean Tree Farm. This year, I got a chance to take a permaculture design course and expand my horizons beyond European vegetables and cultivated foods into the realm of wild foods and holistic land stewardship. I have been given the opportunity and playscape to dive deeply into natural building, rainwater harvesting, dry lands agriculture, farm design, community education and outreach and of course, growing food!
I was able to quickly find part time work on local family farms because of my experience at OFS. For a while I worked at a honeybee/egg production farm but decided that work was not for me. I now work part time (in addition to my live-in position at Bean Tree Farm) at a 1 acre, intensive vegetable farm in one of Tucson's many many food deserts. We are supplying a farmers market, CSA, food bank and many restaurants with local, certified naturally grown food.
I have lead and co-lead many workshops this year in partnership with the community food bank about wild, native desert foods and how to grow them, care for them, process them and cook with them. It has really sparked an interest in me for community education and I am looking forward to more opportunities to skill share with underprivileged, marginalized neighborhoods in my local foodshed.
I continue to feel the impacts of OFS and not a week goes by where I am not sharing experiences and thoughts about my time as a farm school student. So much has stuck with me. I am able to use my skills in insect and disease identification, learned quick pace, knowing what needs to happen and when and pretty much all the field skills. I also really value that I had a chance to work intensively within a system that I could improve to my own farm tastes. Now I practice no-till farming with heavy crop mulching, look to my native food plants first, learn about the edible value of the weeds and so much more than was not emphasized at OFS. On the flip side, i have been able to hone in on what did work for me at greenbank and fuse my personal farming styles with the textbook style of the farm school. Yay! - Feb. 2017
After attending the Organic Farm School for my first full-time season farming, I continued cultivating my passion for sustainable food systems by continuing seasonal work on farms in the mid-Atlantic, acquiring a culinary education, and working a farm-to-table job at a restaurant in Philadelphia, and the farm that provides it vegetables. I am now the assistant manager at Heritage Farm in Philadelphia, a mixed vegetable and flower farm that markets primarily to restaurants in the city. They have a strong emphasis on community outreach, being based at a non-profit that provides housing and work opportunities for formerly homeless and abused Philadelphians. The Organic Farm School is one of the most integral parts of my farming career because it gave me experienced based learning that I reference in the field daily. Not only was the experience valuable to me growing as a farmer, but it also provides a plethora of resources, experiences, and relationships to help you, depending on your life experience, to get farming jobs or start your own farm business.
I do still feel an impact from the program, it was the most in depth farming season I have had and I don't think I would be as much of a well-rounded farmer as I am now without it. The value of having classroom education with field experience is like jamming years of farming experience into 8 months. So great! - Feb. 2017
I'm managing Lavender Wind Farm (a six acre perennial farm with heavy agritourism and two farm stores). We just got back from the lavender growers conference. It was surprisingly cool. I spent the summer also managing a small veggie market garden, harvesting&selling strawberries and apples, and pressing cider for an island farm. Beau and I just purchased 5.7 acres in Coupeville that we're going to put an acre garden on this year (slowly expanding to some livestock and eventually building our home).
Because of the farm school I have the confidence to lead employees and make thoughtful, educated decisions. I may not be growing vegetables, but OFS prepared me for the workload and changed the way I think about life in general. One of the biggest struggles for folks is land and money access. OFS definitely taught me how to apply for a loan and plan my business around that appropriately. When I graduated, I was too young (19 and had no credit) to be taken seriously in the loan office, but now that I'm partnered and have built my credit (something I knew to do because of the business classes) I'm able to apply and receive loans. Comparing my knowledge with folks that have worked on farms the same amount of time (internship or employee), I am much more prepared because of the OFS. The farmers I’ve seen come off of internships can grow things well, but they aren't always prepared to plan. - Feb. 2017
Jon and I moved to southern OR last year to be near family, and spent the season getting to know the area by working for old-time mixed vegetable and seed garlic farmers in the Applegate valley. The farm has a vibrant farm store and a fermented foods business, with a commercial kitchen in the works. This year, continuing on the inspiration to grow organic seed instilled at the OFS, we have serendipitously found ourselves in an ideal organic seed growing region with a wonderful community. In 2017 we will be subleasing a portion of their land and growing out several seed contracts, while still working part time for the farm. We are also getting into making black garlic as a value added product. It's a great way for us to transition into running our own operation, while our bosses transition into semi retirement! - Feb. 2017
I attended the OFS the year before I started my MBA program at Pinchot University on Bainbridge Island. My previous work experience was in the conventional wine industry where I became disheartened by the trend towards monoculture. I came to OFS to learn about organic and biodynamic agriculture and how the holistic approach to soil/ecosystem management could increase food quality and yield. I believe the education in small farm management was an essential part of my success in my graduate program and career with California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). The practical and technical knowledge in food production gained in the OFS program helped me identify which sector of organic agriculture I most wanted to focus on in my work. I’ve now worked for CCOF for five years, where I currently serve as the Handler Certification Department Supervisor. Throughout my time at CCOF I have facilitated the organic certification for food processors large and small. My understanding of the challenges and upfront investment required for small-scale organic food production has helped me build meaningful relationship with my clients, many who are entrepreneurs starting their first organic food brand. I view my education and time on Whidbey Island as a personal and professional transformation which helped shape the rewarding career I have now. - Feb. 2017
As a member of the first class and having served on the board of the Organic Farm School for the past four years, I have developed a deep appreciation for the depth of the educational training and hands-on experience that this program provides. I entered into farming at a later stage in life than most, but now own and operate a market garden produce business which is
entering its sixth year. Through my participation in the Organic Farm School program I have established a number of long lasting personal connections that have helped me in my business and my life. I have had the opportunity to employ one of the graduates of the school program, as well as collaborate with other graduates of the program that have now begun their
farming careers here on Whidbey Island. It is especially pleasing for me to see how well these graduates of the program are doing.- Feb. 2017
After the last two years since the OFS program, which I'm always looking back fondly on, I managed Kiss the Ground as their Executive Director and helped them develop a management team, build a board, and become the regenerative agriculture storytelling voice, and they are just completing their documentary, "Kiss the Ground", out next year. I'm now gardening in my backyard and working with groups to figure out a new LA food-shed by helping buyers work with farmers to transition to Carbon Farming and begin adopting the 15 Carbon Farm practices. As I slowly work to get myself back on a farm I'm also taking a role in Sacred Capital to find new ways for farmers and good companies to get needed funding and be valued properly in the marketplace for the good they do to society and the environment. - Feb. 2017
I like to look back on the OFS experience as the "weeder class"; the class that determines who is really cut out for the field they are going into (puns totally intended!). As a chemistry major in undergrad, the weeder class was Organic Chemistry. If you dont pass, you just know you aren't cut out for the job!
Although I am not currently in agriculture as a means of employment, the OFS in Whidbey prepped me with nearly all I needed to know in order to run a for-profit farm. I chose to utilize the skills I obtained through OFS to improve my agricultural skills on a smaller, home garden level. Because of OFS I know better how to work the land/garden in a way that reduces my impact on the environment without compromising quality. The OFS experience made me a better community member; improved my business sense, farming technique, weed management, land care, and harvest practice; and last but not least, the OFS made me better at being a more connected and compassionate "me".
My partner and I bought a house in July 2015 with a cute little open spot of south facing land. This May I finish Grad school so I will have the time to break in my property with plenty of veggies. The neighbor down the street is generously driving his tractor to me in March to plow a 30' x 50' patch in the yard. I am really excited to get back to my OFS roots and connect to this land! - Feb. 2017
The Organic Farm School provides a pioneering example of the vital role small farms play in a local food system.
Since graduating from OFS, I started and continue to coordinate the Maxwelton Valley Food Network. The network is an informal association of families who gather monthly to share good company and the food they've grown. Network members cooperate in farm building projects and in cultivating particular crops.
I've also expanded my beekeeping and sell honey at the local farmers' market. I currently serve as President of the Whidbey Island Beekeepers Association. I also continue to grow abundant fruits and vegetables for my family.
I value my connection with the Organic Farm School and renew and strengthen that connection by serving on the OFS board and by teaching beekeeping to OFS students. - Feb. 2017
Melissa and Drew
Melissa and I attended the Organic Farm School (OFS) in 2015. After graduating, we started a vegetable and flower farm on an acre and a half of land that we leased near Savannah, Georgia. We sold our vegetables and flowers at a farmers’ market and to several local restaurants and grocery stores.
We eventually decided to move back to the northeast, where we both grew up, to continue our farming journey. We were recently hired as farm managers at Stonewood Farm, a small, certified-organic vegetable and flower farm in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley region. Here, we will also be selling our vegetables and flowers at a local farmers’ market, restaurant, and grocery stores.
Aside from the obvious benefit of meeting each other during our time at OFS, Melissa and I formed the groundwork for how we wanted to farm alongside other student-apprentices (and great friends!) who were just as passionate about farming as we were. We learned in one year at OFS what could otherwise have taken us several years to learn had we not attended a farmer-training program. Plus, we loved farming among the awe-inspiring natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. We highly recommend OFS to anyone who is serious about learning to farm. - Feb. 2017