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18 New Learning Center Graduates Prepare to Launch Sustainable Farm Businesses



September each year marks the graduation of a new crop of farm families from our year-long Stateline Farm Beginnings® Farmer Training program. Designed to help new farmers launch a sustainable farm enterprise, the year-long program includes classes, field days, and one-on-one mentoring for beginning and transitioning farmers. This month, 18 new farm families graduated, many of whom are already hitting the ground running with their new farm enterprises.


“This year’s class is definitely the most ambitious group we’ve ever had, “ says Learning Center Director of Farmer Training Sheri Doyel. Graduates plan to produce a diversity of products including vegetables, meat, berries, grains and beans, through a range of distribution methods including Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), farmer’s markets, farm stands, and wholesale marketing.


“It’s very impressive to see how many students have already started selling their products since beginning the last fall,” Doyel says. “And it’s not just vegetables any more. There is definitely a trend toward more diversity in terms of the products our farmers want to grow and sell.”
Graduate Bob Vierow recently began farming after being laid off from his job as an architect. This spring he launched a new CSA enterprise, Bobs’ Fresh and Local in partnership with is cousin Bob Brackmann.


“I grew up on a farm, and I’ve been wanting to do a CSA for about 20 years now,” Vierow says. “Through the Learning Center, I was able to meet and learn form other farmers, which is such a valuable asset. Without that resource I wouldn’t have been able to do this.”


Joanne and Ellis Cowart are graduates who are preparing to launch a nonprofit program focused on inner-city gardening and entrepreneurship with disadvantaged high school students in Chicago. As an accountant and a real estate controller, the couple needed to learn more about the business of farming in order to make their project successful.


“Farm Beginnings has given us the confidence we need to move forward,” Joanne Cowart says. “What keeps us all from achieving our dreams is a fear of the unknown. Farm Beginnings gives you that confidence in order to move forward. It’s a fabulous program, and hopefully it will mean more small farms in our community.”


Since the program began in 2005, The Learning Center has served 115 beginning farmers through Stateline Farm Beginnings. Read more about our Farmer Training Initiative.