College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Institute of Applied Agriculture

IAA Hosts New Farmer Pathways

By Glori Hyman

We need a doctor once a year, a dentist twice a year, and a farmer three times a day. Farmers provide the food we eat and the fiber for the clothes we wear. But who will become the next generation of farmers and how will they get there?

The Institute of Applied Agriculture teamed up with Future Harvest and UMD Green Dining to host “New Farmer Pathways,” a panel discussion with new young farmers. Panelists Connor Horne of Little Gunpowder Farm, Laura Beth Resnick of Butterbee Farm, Alison Worman of Whitelock Community Farm, and Guy Kilpatric of UMD’s Terp Farm, came to UMD’s College Park campus to share their stories and inspire new farmers. While the panelists came from such diverse backgrounds as art, religion and environmental sciences, all agreed that farming requires “self-motivation and a temperament that allows you to be flexible on how your day is going to go,” according to Horne.

Worman relies on her art background to enhance her observation skills. “Observation is the most important skill for me. I need to keep an eye on everything.”

Horne and Resnick found their WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) experiences extremely valuable before starting their own operations; however, all experiences are valuable. “I’m pouring all my experiences into my job at the Terp Farm,” Kilpatric explained when asked about his background.

“I am a small business owner,” said Resnick. “That’s what I want people to know. You need the skills to run a business.”

Admittedly, farming is challenging. “Land costs are high, weather is unpredictable, and time is limited,” said Kilpatric. However, the challenges make their jobs fun and create so many different roles for farmers. Resnick advised that new farmers to find “the role in farming that you love and focus on that.”

“Figuring out the balance in our markets and scaling our production to those markets whether it’s CSAs, restaurants, or farmers markets is our biggest challenge,” said Horne.
As far as advice for new farmers, Kilpatric said, “Clean and sharpen your tools and put them away. A farmer is only as good as the tools. The #1 tool is the farmer—his or her health and mind.”

Horne advised new farmers to be mindful of perceptions. “There’s a belief that a farmer should look or act a certain way. Be aware of that image and the public’s perception of what you should be. We are not wearing overalls and straw hats. There are many different paths to farming and all of them are valid.”

“You would think we are competitors first, but we have great relationships now in this age of the young farmers,” said Worman. “We share information and help each other.”

The event fostered personal and passionate discussion about what it means to be a farmer. “I found the evening to be both inspiring and validating of what we do here at the IAA,” said Meredith Epstein, a lecturer and advisor in the Agricultural Business Management and Sustainable Agriculture programs. “Hearing these young and dedicated agriculturalists describe the need for training in production skills and business management echoes a call I am hearing across the country. The IAA is here to answer that call in the Mid-Atlantic. We are here to support the educational and professional needs of the next generation of farmers!”

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