As numbers of startup farms increase in Vermont and across the U.S., and established operations scale up or shift production and marketing efforts to support local demand for farm produce, challenges have been identified for small farm operators that potentially threaten their business viability. New farm operators that sell direct to consumer markets are more likely to be college educated than established, larger-scale farmers, so effective experiential farm training programs at colleges and universities pose opportunities to provide training that will improve their overall success. In this paper, characteristics of successful student farm programs are identified, and farmer training opportunities at the University of Vermont (UVM) examined to identify improvements that will enhance student satisfaction and increase graduates’ success with farm operations. In a survey of graduates from the UVM Plant and Soil Science (PSS) department and participants in the Common Ground Student run farm, several improvements in instructional programming and student farm operation were suggested. Respondents indicated a desire for increased on-farm experiential learning opportunities that relate classroom learning to real farm practices. Increased instruction in farm planning and business management was requested, and improved management of the Common Ground farm suggested through appointing a staff-level farm manager that would coordinate specialty crop production activities that would support formal teaching programs. The UVM Continuing Education Farmer Training Program (FTP), a non-credit certificate program that teaches skills for diversified farm management and has operated since 2011, is identified as a successful program whose concepts may be adopted by undergraduate programs to improve teaching of farm management skills. This plan proposes a reorganization of the UVM Horticulture Research Center (HRC) to develop an interdisciplinary, diversified teaching farm that will support instruction in farm management from Continuing Education and Plant and Soil Science while linking farm production into the greater UVM Food System by:
· Hiring a Production Manager under the cooperative direction of the HRC and FTP and funded by HRC, FTP, and PSS, who will implement a comprehensive management plan for all specialty crop production plots used in teaching programs.
· Developing an interdisciplinary farm brand under which all produce sales at the HRC will be coordinated to provide experiential opportunities in farm production, processing, and marketing; improve produce consistency and quality; and increase marketing of produce within the UVM community, while capturing produce revenue to support farm management.
· Refining present PSS courses and increasing summer course opportunities and collaborations with other departments to increase experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students.
· Coordinating production and teaching functions between CALS departments and the FTP to reduce duplication and increase collaboration between similar programs offered to undergraduate and noncredit students.
· Marketing this comprehensive, interdisciplinary farm program in the early fall prior to the growing season to UVM undergraduates, students from other colleges and universities, non-credit farmer trainees, Vermont farmers and food system practitioners, and high school science teachers to increase student diversity and maintain robust enrollment.
Bradshaw, Terence L., "Coordinated Teaching, Research and Outreach Programs at the University of Vermont Horticulture Research Center: A Proposal to Improve Student Experiential Learning in Applied Farm Management" (2013). College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Faculty Publications. 184.