We held our first Armed to Farm 2.0 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, February 25-March 1, 2019. This training was open to veterans who had previously attended one of our Armed to Farm training events. We had a fantastic group of 18 participants, from 10 states, for the week. They represented nine Armed to Farm events from 2013-2018. The purpose of the 2.0 training is to bring the veterans together again for a more advanced-level training. While Armed to Farm provides a broad overview of many different sustainable farming topics, we structured the 2.0 training to have more in-depth discussions on farm management and production. Of course, we couldn’t have an Armed to Farm training without farm visits! Our participants braved very cold, wet weather to visit livestock and vegetable operations. It was a challenging and fun week! Read on for more details about each day’s activities.
We started the week with introductions. Participants shared what they are doing and what they hope to be doing on their farms. NCAT Northeast Regional Director Andy Pressman then presented on whole-farm planning and facilitated a whole-farm planning group exercise. We had an open discussion about farm planning and bottlenecks/weak links on each of their farms. Monday concluded with NCAT Agriculture Specialist Nina Prater giving a great presentation on The Five Principles of Soil Health. Some participants brought their soil sample test results and Nina and Andy gave specific recommendations for improving soil health.
Our second day was all about recordkeeping and financial management. We started with a discussion about ways participants keep records. Participants shared their experiences using various recordkeeping systems, and we discussed many apps and software programs. They were excited to learn about new tools that can help on their farms.
We then moved on to financial recordkeeping. Ashley Appel, an accountant and wife/farm partner of Armed to Farm alum Travis Appel (Appel Farms), presented about the importance of financial recordkeeping. She talked about using Quickbooks, including setting up a chart of accounts, taxes, payroll, and more. Participants got practical tips for keeping track of their farm finances. Andy and NCAT Southeast Regional Director Margo Hale presented about determining costs of production for enterprises. Andy also presented about decision making strategies for farm equipment purchases. Nina ended the day with a riveting presentation about the farm records her husband kept when they raised pastured poultry, and the story those records tell. It was an honest look at farm production, financial decisions, and the tough reality of being a farmer.
Andy presented on scaling-up production and NCAT Horticulture Specialist Luke Freeman spoke about food safety requirements and on-farm practices. The group then divided into crop and livestock groups. Luke presented about crop planning, including setting up/siting vegetable production and planning to meet a market. NCAT Livestock Specialist Linda Coffey led the livestock folks in a grazing planning session. They shared specific goals for their grazing situations and got feedback on fencing and watering systems.
The weather turned cold and rainy just as we were headed out for our farm visit. We traveled to Ozark Alternatives Farm, a diversified specialty crop operation. Farmer Paul Chapraki gave us an overview of his production and marketing. Paul has three high tunnels and he and Luke talked about specifics of high-tunnel production and management. Andy gave a demonstration on tools with a BCS tractor, and Nina gave a hands-on soil assessment lesson.
We started another very cold day at Maple Gorge Farm, owned by Linda and her husband, Dr. Ken Coffey, a ruminant nutritionist with the University of Arkansas. We watched morning feeding of their sheep flock, observing signs of health, proper nutrition, and ewe and lamb management. Ken discussed hay quality and winter feeding considerations, and Nina gave a pasture soils demonstration. Ken then led a discussion and activity on electric fencing set-up. The group found shorts in the permanent electric fence, then practiced setting up and taking down electronet fencing and polywire electric fencing. The farm visit ended with hands-on experience with the sheep. Participants learned about moving the flock, catching and handling ewes, docking tails, and castrating lambs.
After lunch, we returned to the warm classroom for Dr. Ann Wells’ presentation on Holistic Animal Health. The group then divided again. Participants could stay in the classroom for a pastured poultry discussion led by Terrell “Spence” Spencer of Across the Creek Farm or travel to NCAT Horticulture Specialist Guy Ames’ orchard to learn about pruning fruit trees.
NCAT Program Specialist Robyn Metzger began the morning with a discussion on communications and branding. A few participants shared their farm logos so the group could give feedback. Robyn helped the participants think about ways to share their farm’s story to connect with customers. Luke then gave a presentation on social media marketing. He looked at participants’ social media pages and based discussion on those examples.
The training ended with each participant sharing their biggest take-away from the week and what they plan on implementing when they return to their farms.
Overall, it was a great week. It was wonderful to bring together alumni from different parts of the country. We provided tons of information and resources, but the discussions and networking among the participants were most valuable. We hope to secure funding that will allow us to bring Armed to Farm 2.0 to additional locations across the U.S. Stay tuned to www.ncat.org/armedtofarm or our NCAT Armed to Farm Facebook page, where we’ll announce any new trainings!
Did you know? You don’t have to attend an Armed to Farm training to receive FREE information and technical assistance from sustainable agriculture specialists! ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture is here to help, regardless of whether you’ve attended one of our trainings. Access our publications, podcasts, webinars, and hundreds of other resources on our website, www.attra.ncat.org. You can contact our expert staff members with farming questions by calling 1-800-346-9140 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.