Lowcountry Local First, in partnership with the College of Charleston’s School of Professional Studies, has opened up a call for applications to the 2017 Growing New Farmers Program. This program provides 6 months of experiential, hands-on training at Middleton Place USDA Certified Organic Farm, coupled with curriculum-based instruction in a classroom setting and an optional apprenticeship. Topics covered range from seed starting, to post-harvest handling, to business planning. Applications are being accepted on a rolling basis now through March 17, 2017. The class size will be capped at 30 participants.
The Growing New Farmers Program is a Lowcountry Local First program that began in 2010 in order to train the next generation of farmers and food system leaders. “The average age of a South Carolina farmer today is 59-years-old and only six percent of farmers are under the age of 35. Creating the next generation of farmers is critical for a healthy local food system,” says Jamee Haley, Executive Director at Lowcountry Local First.
Lowcountry Local First is addressing the supply side issues facing the local food system by ensuring there are new farmers entering the market and all farmers interested in operating sustainable businesses are provided the tools, training and network to achieve their goals. Participants are also provided the opportunity to be matched with one of more than 20 qualified local farmers or food system mentors to gain hands-on experience relevant to their interests. The program is expanding in 2017 to offer apprenticeships in areas such as farmers’ market management, urban farming, nursery production, aeroponics, and other industry related businesses, which will increase the diversity of experiences available.
Participants will receive a minimum of 250 training hours and receive a Certificate in Sustainable Agriculture from the College of Charleston’s School of Professional Studies. A new, optional 8-week business planning course and challenge will be offered through Clemson Extension and in conjunction with South Carolina Community Loan Fund's “Feeding Innovation Program.” This program will be made available through separate application during September and October.
“When I came into this program, I really didn’t know what I was going to do. Now I know that I want to be a farmer and I am ready to take the next steps required to become one,” says Emery Thomas, a 2016 graduate.
With 146 graduates to date, past participants have gone on to become active business members in our food system, including Spade and Clover Gardens, Compost in My Shoe, Rooting Down Farms, The Green Heart Project, the Johns Island Farmers Market, Wit Meets Grit, Sunday Brunch Farmers Market, and Murray’s Heirlooms.
Applications are being accepted now through March 17, 2017. The program will begin on April 3 and conclude September 22, with a two-week break in July. The program cost is $2,000, paid in monthly installments. Limited, income-based financial aid is available via application.