Curious to know what graduates have thought about their experience at the Organic Farm School? Want to know what they’re doing now? Here’s what just a few of our recent graduates had to say:
"I was initially attracted to the program because of the curriculum and the focus on business planning. I was also interested in the combination of structured academic learning and hands on experiential learning. I came to the program with very little farm experience. I grew up gardening with my family but not to the scale and volume that OFS operates. The most useful skills I learned were the crop and business planning, but above all I think the most valuable thing I gained was confidence in myself as a farmer. I learned how to trust my intuition and also how to back it up with relevant resources and research. My year as a farm student was full of new information and hard work. I learned so much in those 8 months and even more as the farm assistant the following year. As the farm assistant I got an opportunity to work on my leadership skills and further solidify all that I had learned the year before. Something I didn't expect was to develop such a love for seed production. The Organic Seed Project is hands down what gets me most excited about this program. The students get to be involved in every part of growing, harvesting and processing the seed crops. I fell in love with the work and getting lost in the many little tasks involved in it. The Organic Farm School's close relationship with the Organic Seed Alliance, which is based just a ferry ride away in Port Townsend, is such an amazing resource. I've continued my relationship with OSA and am now involved with the California Organic Seed Network. I intend to continue to grow seed and eventually start my own seed company."
“I came to the Organic Farm School after working on farms for a few years and was ready to have a more focused learning experience where I would be able to fill in the gaps and get ready to start my own farm. The OFS program gave me the space to reconnect and revitalize my passion for sustainable agriculture and gave me the confidence and tools to start my career as a farmer and small business owner. This experience also connected me with other farmers, and the regional community supporting sustainable agriculture, which has provided many opportunities to pursue my farming goals. I am so grateful to have been a part of the supportive community at the Farm and beautiful Whidbey Island.”
"The Organic Farm School attracted me for two main reasons. First, I wanted the experience of living and working on a farm for an entire season, so that I could experience farming as a lifestyle, participate in all aspects of the farm, and have that continuity that lends to a better understanding of the living being that a farm is. Secondly, I was attracted to the business training aspect. Having the opportunity to stay on a second year and start a small incubator farm was invaluable in both those respects. It allowed me to test the knowledge I learned in my first year, but unlike striking out and finding land on my own, it allowed me the safety net of an inexpensive lease, access to equipment, infrastructure that was already in place, and most importantly, the continued support of the farm manager and the opportunity to go through the farm school curriculum again with a new perspective and sense of investment. As someone who hopes to contribute to the revitalization of small-scale sustainable farming, it was also invaluable to be able to work with the incoming group of first-year students and watch them learn, while also putting my knowledge to the test by practicing the skill of passing it along to others."
“I knew I wanted to farm, but was unsure where to start. My friend referred me to the Organic Farm School (OFS), a type of trade school program that implements two curriculums including organic farming methods (emphasizing sustainable, agro-ecological practices) and farm business planning. The OFS teaches a variety of techniques of farming with nature, and not against it – some of which include perennial beds to attract beneficial insects and pollinators, reduced tillage practices, and hedgerow plantings with native plants to maintain the natural ecology and habitat of the land.
After graduating the program, I returned as the Field Assistant to the farm manager and students. Additionally, Iparticipated in the farm’s Incubator Program, which enables graduates to rent land on the farm to build their farm enterprise in a low-cost/low-risk situation, allowing the new farmer to jumpstart their farm business and build equity.
I could never have imagined to be where I am now – the Organic Farm School program equipped me with the knowledge, resources, and confidence to start a successful farm business, whereas at other farm internships, it may have taken years to build the necessary skill set to farm on my own. The Incubator Program is a big added bonus and is one of only a small handful of farm incubators in the country! I would recommend the Organic Farm School to anyone who is ready to get started on building their own farm business – and learn how to make a living doing it! “
“I looked at a number of programs before I chose the Organic Farm School. I decided to do the OFS program, because I didn’t want to spend 3-5 years bouncing from farm to farm to hopefully get seeding and weeding skills in one place, tractor operating skills in another, irrigation and business skills at yet another farm, etc., etc…. I knew I wanted to obtain all the skills I would need to run my own farm in as little time as possible.
After just three months into the program at the Organic Farm School, my boyfriend and I felt empowered with the knowledge and skills we were getting to start our own agricultural enterprise. So in May, we asked the program director and farm manager if we could run our own winter CSA on the farm’s property – and they said yes! The Organic Farm School was the first place we had ever farmed, yet it took us just a few months of living and working on the farm to feel like we could really become successful farmers. Now, just 2 months after the program’s end in mid-October, we are running a successful winter CSA business!
This program is more practical, tangible, and empowering than college or the years it could take apprenticing on private farms (according to many friends who are doing just that). If someone doesn’t have the money to cover the costs, scholarships are available, or they can use earned Americorps Education Grants (if they previously volunteered with that program).
I know some people are thrown off by an agricultural training program that costs something, when there are many opportunities to apprentice on private farms for free. However, paying for this training is money well spent as it brought us an incredible diversity of practical and essential skills as well as the confidence we needed to start farming on our own.”
“Amazing program! I recently finished a year at the Organic Farm School and feel well on my way to starting my own farm business. The blend of experiential and classroom-based learning proved extremely effective, and allowed us to step back and relate our own farming experiences into a broader context of organic farming practices and business models. In the program we learned how to operate tractors; build basic infrastructure such as greenhouses, chicken tractors and deer fences; improve soil health through compost, utilize cover cropping, and conservation tillage; grow, manage and market over 40 difference types of vegetable and fruit crops; manage various markets such as CSA, farmers market and wholesale accounts; and much more. One of the most rewarding components of the program was learning about various small farm business models and creating our own business plan. Our teacher was incredible, equipped both with an encyclopedic mind full of farming wisdom as well as the patience and people skills necessary to impart this knowledge on to others. I couldn’t recommend this program more highly. The cost of the program is well worth the value of the education!”
Below is an excerpt from an article Alison wrote for Grit magazine, May/June 2011. Alison is a 2010 graduate who now lives and farms in Wisconsin.
“My husband, Alan, and I wanted to become farmers. We wanted to make our livelihood growing food for a community and spend our future working a vegetable garden and tending animals. Overwhelmed and unsatisfied with the current industrial agriculture system, we were looking for a way to do something positive, to become a part of a sustainable future. That future was going to involve growing food. Inspired and passionate, we had only one problem –:our skills were limited. We knew enough to know that we liked farming, but if there was any way our dream was going to become a reality, a farm-based education would be of paramount importance.
Making the connection
The Organic Farm School’s description fit our situation to a T. “Our program is designed for participants who, through experience, are committed to pursuing a career in sustainable agriculture and desire a formal and thorough academic and experiential education in the business and production aspects of small-scale sustainable farming.” Alan and I were looking for exactly that.
The eight of us in the program hailed from all over the country and had different farming backgrounds and worldviews, brought together by the desire for the same skill – the skill to grow food in a way that benefits the earth, our communities and ourselves. Sebastian Aguilar, Farm Manager, and a successful farmer who raised his family by working the earth and growing produce, was prepared to lead us down the path under his superior tutelage.
The classroom topics matched the projects in the field. After a lesson on compost, we built our composting system out of reused wood pallets, and we drove the tractor after our talk on tillage. Studies focused on different methods of irrigation right when the heat of summer hit. We covered cover crops while broadcasting a variety of grass and legume mixes onto the bare portions of the field.
In addition to farming and classroom curriculum, each participant reported once a month on a book of his or her own choosing. Each student also completed three research projects. Topics covered everything from starting a goat dairy to growing barley and hops for beer brewing to pastured poultry options. I researched shiitake mushroom production and beekeeping, agricultural ventures that interested me but weren’t covered in our curriculum.
So, what now? On the program’s website, the Organic Farm School's staff states, “Our goal is to have participants acquire the skills and knowledge to confidently enter the growing field of sustainable agricultural producers.”
Alan and I got what we wanted: the knowledge to start a farm business and the farming skills to succeed. Certain realities are required to operate a small-farm business, and we have stopped fantasizing about what our life could be like out on the farm. Instead, we are taking action and working toward our goal.”