Farmers Afield

Every year, we graduate more than 12 aspiring farmers from our Growing Farmers Initiative apprentice program, sending them off into the world to do good things for resilient agriculture. In addition to their training on the farm, we also offer a range of resources and tools to help them succeed in their chosen ventures. Chief among those is the National Young Farmers Conference.

The 2013 conference, to be held December 4 – 6, features new offerings designed to strengthen business skills for small-farm success. A full-day pre-conference will focus on farm business training, and the conference business track has been expanded to include new food safety standards, food law and “consulting blocks” during which farmers can meet one-on-one with food lawyers, farm financing specialists and farm-business experts. As we gear up for the conference, we caught up with a few of our apprentice graduates to see where they are now.

Mike Krug, 31, was a landscape apprentice at Stone Barns in 2011. Through our Private Lands Project, Mike found land to work at The Back Forty Farm, a Connecticut farm owned by Stone Barns board member Bill King and his wife, Lesley. Mike runs an intensive vegetable and herb operation, egg-laying chickens and an apiary on three acres. Most of his produce is sold wholesale to Organic Planet and other restaurants in and around Greenwich, while one-third is sold at farmers markets. Mike has signed the Northeast Organic Farming Association pledge to grow organically. His biggest challenge is devising a business plan for the farm. We can’t wait to see what Mike does next.

Erin Woodard, 33, worked two back-to-back apprenticeships in greenhouse propagation and field growing in 2011. In early 2012, she and her husband bought property in Putnam County, N.Y., on which she runs a one-acre vegetable, herb and cut-flower operation. She sells mainly to the Green Hill Food Co-op in Brooklyn, delivering there once a week, with extra produce sold locally to a restaurant and a farm stand. The most pressing challenge for her is improving the land’s acidic soil.

Jason Grauer, 28, was a 2011 – 2012 greenhouse apprentice. Today, he assists with research in Cornell University’s Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics. Jason works with Assistant Professor Michael Mazourek, a Stone Barns partner whom he met during his apprenticeship, on organic vegetable breeding projects and developing a four-season greenhouse classroom. On the side, he is working to build his own business, pickacarrot.com, an aggregator website for seed catalogues. His biggest challenge is “finding a way to stay financially afloat while keeping my hands in the soil.”