From Apprenticeship to Independence: Cultivating the Next Crop of New England Organic Farmers

Back when small farms proliferated the countryside and the majority of the population was focused on crop and livestock production, learning how to farm was as easy as walking outside and supporting the family business. These days, learning how to grow food takes a little more effort and often requires uprooting from one’s community.

A growing number of beginning farmers (zero to 10 years of experience) are learning how to farm by apprenticing, attending an ever expanding array of local and national workshops and conferences, doing independent research and experimentation, and pursuing college education and other formal schooling. The most committed of these farmers eventually seek out affordable land, and if they find some, try it out on their own. Many of these farmers find land in new communities – even new climates! – and have a lot still to learn in order to succeed.

Through a National Institute of Food and Agriculture USDA grant, NOFA-NH is able to support New Hampshire’s new and beginning organic farmers (zero to 10 years of experience) in whatever phase they are in by providing access to educational programming, apprenticeship opportunities, regional mentorships, and business and whole-farm planning.

The Grant has Four Main Objectives:

1. To support beginning farmers at the recruit, exploring, and planning stages by providing a complete and supportive formal apprenticeship program. NOFA-NH is developing an online tool to help match established farmers with apprentices, and we will work to support these apprenticeship relationships by providing both apprentices and farmer mentors with educational resources, support services, and social-networking opportunities that enhance the apprenticeship experience.

2. To develop a pilot Journeyperson (JP) program for beginning organic farmers in the start-up or re-strategizing phases of their farming careers. This two-year program helps bridge the gap between apprenticeship and independent farming by providing beginning farmers with hands-on, mentored farming opportunities and training. Beginning farmers are connected with mentors in their regions who are available to help guide their ventures and offer consultation and advice. The program offers both mentors and beginning farmers stipends for their participation. If you are interested in being a mentor, contact me at or 603-224-5022.

3. To support farmers in the start-up or re-strategizing stages through farmer-to-farmer mentoring. NOFA-NH will help link beginning farmers with experienced farmers within their region who are interested in mentoring the next generation of organic farmers, and help provide resources and training to enhance the mentorship experience. If you’re interested in being a mentor, please contact me.

4. To create shared learning opportunities for prospective and beginning farmers through annual winter conference workshops and on-farm skills workshops. Workshops will focus on technical training, business planning, marketing, land access, finding funding and lending sources, etc. NOFA-NH has funding available for scholarships to support beginning farmers to attend these workshops. Please contact me for information regarding scholarships, or if you have ideas for workshop topics that you would like to attend in your area.

Outside of these specific objectives, NOFA-NH also wants to collaborate with all New Hampshire organic farmers to determine what is needed to best support their efforts, and enhance their experience within the Granite State. If you are a local organic farmer (not necessarily certified organic) interested in working with the NOFA-NH Beginner Farmer Program to guide efforts to connect organic farmers throughout the state or want to share ideas as to how NOFA-NH can better serve you, please contact me at If you are an experienced organic farmer interested in being a farmer mentor, leading workshops, hosting farmer-to-farmer gatherings, and generally helping to grow the next generation of organic farmers in our state, please let us know!

This project is supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2011-49400-30510