Production and Processing

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February Production and Processing Working Group Meeting

The Production and Processing Working Group held their first meeting of 2017 on February 23.   Members reviewed the priority indicators chosen in last spring's meeting and heard reports on some of the following activities:

- Meeting with the Farmland Access WG to talk about issues around farm succession. (summer 2016)

- Co- chair participation in the NESAWG Beginning Farmer Training Workshop. (November 2016)

- Talking with dairy farmers who had started their own operations to talk about resources and gaps. (Winter 16)

-  Meeting with the director and program manager of the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program (Winter 16)

- Presenting DGA program to the House Agriculture Committee (January 2017)

The Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program began in WI a few years ago based on the idea that most trades and occupations have a defined set of skills that need to be mastered in order to practice in any given field.  The same idea can be applied to grass based dairy farming and would better prepare new and young farmers for success on their own farms.  DGA has master graziers who are certified by the program and apprentices who can list themselves as available through the website.  Matched apprentices spend 4000 hours over two years learning needed skills.  The vast majority are with the mentor but there are also online course requirements and community networking. 

Two farmers are currently signed up as mentors in Vermont and grass based entities in Vermont are working to extend the program further into the farm community with the hopes of having a larger base of available mentors to train new and beginning farmers.

The vegetable growing community is developing a program on a similar track.  New Entry Sustainable Farming Project is starting a National Apprenticeship Network  https://nesfp.org/food-systems/national-apprenticeship-learning-network.  They hope to develop a learning network of apprenticeship programs so that they can learn from each other.  They will also be developing a comprehensive toolkit for starting an apprenticeship program and will be hosting a national gathering each year for the next three years as webinars and regional farm mentor training.

The discussion led to the following questions and possibilities:

-  Would existing farmers be more open to succession conversations if new farmers were better prepared to start their own operations?

-  Could Vermont be seen as a training ground for new farmers from across the country if there were well established and supported mentorship opportunities?

- Can we influence other parts of the training string with new farmers (tech center, colleges, TA providers) to coordinate pathways for interested young and new farmers to move towards successful launch on their own farms?