The Organic Farm School

Multi-colored vegetables, goats, chickens, hogs, and fabulous young people learning to be organic farmers. What is not to like about this scene? For the past three years it has been my great joy to volunteer as an adult mentor at the Organic Farm School in the Maxwelton Valley of Whidbey Island.

Sunny day in early spring, courtesy of Organic Farm School

Baby goat, courtesy of Organic Farm School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Chicken tractors” protect the young chicks from predators, but can be moved daily for foraging in new places. Ann Linnea photo

The young people range in age from mid-twenties to mid-forties and come from all over the U.S. to join the ranks of future farmers focused on growing healthy food. It is a six-month, full time, intensive training. They learn soil management, seed production, marketing, and business planning through a combination of classes, field work, and community interaction. (The latter was challenging during the pandemic, but we shifted, adapted, and had a successful year with a smaller class in 2020. We are back up to full capacity at 12 this year.)

In one of our recent teaching sessions the students were each giving a 4-minute statement on why they choose to farm at this time. We were meeting in the open-air picnic shelter. The air temperature was 45 degrees F. and there was a light wind blowing. I found myself wishing I had donned long underwear. Even though it was April, there had been a morning frost.

Student working with seeds and seedlings in one of the greenhouse, courtesy of Organic Farm School

I was busy taking notes so I could reflect back to them the general gist of their statements. Every one of them was articulate about why they were choosing to farm at a time when the number of farmers in the U.S. is slowly decreasing, farmland is being bought up by big corporations, and U.S. Department of Agriculture policies continue to largely favor the “big farmer.”

Many of them spoke about wanting to change the way farming is done in this country. Some focused on wanting to learn essential life skills. Several referenced seeking a spiritual connection to the land. All of them were inspirational to listen to—courageous, taking a big leap of faith, working bone hard every single day. These are the people I want to invest in!

Transplanting seedlings from the greenhouse to the field, Ann Linnea photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The focus of OFS teaching by the farm manager, assistant farm manager, and the instructor is on regenerative agriculture. A shorthand explanation of that might be a farmer saying, “I focus on the health of my soil. If it is healthy, I am being successful.”

Regenerative ag farmers use a variety of techniques ranging from cover crops to crop rotation to no till farming to rotational grazing. In many ways they look at farming more like a 1950s farmer growing a variety of crops, not using pesticides or herbicides, having some animals as a source of manure and “tilling,” and planning to have a farm whose soils can support crop growing for generations to come.

Everyone learns to drive the tractor, courtesy of Organic Farm School

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also built into the program is an emphasis on communication and interaction. The students host a farm stand, offer cooking and tasting sessions, and even Friday evening pizza oven gatherings. All of these programs involve community volunteers.

“Communication” is where my friend and colleague Sharon Betcher and I come into the program. We offer weekly supplemental classes, like the one articulated above. The umbrella title for our classes is “The Holistic Farmer. We, and invited community members, provide an hour-long session on topics ranging from developing working agreements, to a history of the area, to working with conflict and disagreement, to functional fitness, to civics for farmers, to ethics of slaughter.

Inside one of the large green houses, courtesy of Organic Farm School

We have a course outline for the remaining Mondays of this year’s sessions. We know the curriculum will need to be adapted as suggestions and needs come forward from the students. Like the soil, plants, and animals, like weather and seasons, change is the norm in this outdoor lifestyle. To stand alongside and contribute to this program is challenging, wonderful, and a great privilege. I come home with my arms full of very fresh vegetables, and my heart full of confidence in the future of farming.

Aerial early spring view of OFS, courtesy of Organic Farm School

Young hogs “tilling and fertilizing” a stretch of sod, photo by Ann Linnea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30 replies
  1. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    Oh my gosh….this sounds utterly wonderful. I wonder if I can find a similar volunteer job where I’m heading? I hope so…I would love to support this movement. Love to you both!

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      For someone who loves to have her hands in the earth as much as you do I know you will find such a place!

      Reply
  2. Deb Lund
    Deb Lund says:

    Thank you for your investment of time and effort in teaching and promoting sustainable agriculture. Helping these “new” farmers is the kind of work that will save us all.

    Reply
  3. Sara Harris
    Sara Harris says:

    SO inspiring, Ann! And how wise they are to have volunteers like you to tend to other aspects of their growth as well. I get very excited when I read about all of the work on the soil. Thanks for telling us this story!

    Reply
  4. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    Your Organic Farm School story warms my heart and gives me an abundance of hope for the future! The youth of today are impressive, indeed and definitely in good hands with great elder counsel to guide their goals and aspirations. Thanks for being one of those valuable elders, Ann, as it serves the world, one young farmer at a time. Thanks for sharing this inspiring event!

    Reply
  5. Cynthia Trenshaw
    Cynthia Trenshaw says:

    I love driving to the OFS every Wednesday to pick up the vegetables I’ve ordered. Everything is so beautiful – I’m sometimes tempted to put the lettuces into vases instead of salad bowls! And getting my weekly “hit” of the energy and enthusiasm of the students is almost as nourishing as the turnips and pak choy. Last week I wandered into the test kitchen, had a cup of wheat berry chili, and tasted four different salad dressings that had just been invented by Anne Belov. I swapped info about how I make yogurt (the simplest way ever!), and asked about making pesto from arugula. It almost made me wish I were young enough and strong enough to be an OFS student! But I think I’ll just be the age and the condition that I am, and be a devoted appreciator of the OFS and all that they – and you, Ann – do for us who love to eat and prefer to eat healthy.

    Reply
  6. Suzanne
    Suzanne says:

    I love that our community hosts this endeavor and that so many from our community are involved. Thank you for your service.

    Reply
  7. Prescott
    Prescott says:

    Thank you for featuring the Organic Farm School in your blog, Ann. Regenerating the soil is key to healthy food and this planet’s future. I’m impressed by this evolution of OFS’s curricula.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, they are now in their 12th year. In the new location in the Maxwelton Valley many new things are possible.

      Reply
  8. Martin Siesta
    Martin Siesta says:

    Ann, what a wonderful for you and for the venue! We do quite a bit with a Preserve and Food Bank but ow with Finn our Border Collie Pup, we need to find some additional learning experiences for him.

    Reply
  9. Karen Eichelberger
    Karen Eichelberger says:

    Thank you so much for your inspiring story today. We’ve just opened our sixth season of a Community Garden next to our church in Muskegon Heights, MI, a food desert with lots of blight. It’s been a joy in many ways for all the reasons noted in your article, with neighbors, church members and a local community deveopment organization supporting our efforts. No animals in the city, but 24 beds with lots of vegetables, a native garden and wildflower garden. A pavilon provides space for rest, gatherings and annual harvest celebrations. It also beautifies the neighborhood. Blessings on your work, Ann.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      I love this story, Karen! People gather around food. We always have and we always will! Makes perfect sense to really gather around the most basic of basics about food—how we grow it!

      Reply
  10. Tenneson Woolf
    Tenneson Woolf says:

    Oh my! This is is wonderful to hear. Thank you Ann. I love your long journey with the school and the Maxwelton Valley. Reading your reflection adds spark to me — for living in as right of relations as I can with the land I’m on. And continuing to do the inner work.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you, Tenneson. As always, a wonderful articulation of the larger intention I had for sharing this.

      Reply
  11. Laura Collins
    Laura Collins says:

    Very pleased to learn that this program exists and that you get to be part of it. Many “kids” the ages of mine seem to have an interest in simpler ways of living that are kind to the earth. What a privilege for you, to help in their optimistic approach to the future.

    Reply
  12. Rose Hood
    Rose Hood says:

    This is so wonderful & inspiring. I am thrilled to read about an enterprise like this happening, especially with your teaching and others like you dedicated to Planet Earth and Mother Nature. Feeling great gratitude!

    Reply
  13. Bonnie Rae Nygren
    Bonnie Rae Nygren says:

    Not sure how I missed this but it is just fabulous ! What a great thing it is even just to know that it is happening and that there are individuals committed to such a valuable endeavor for the future. I worry sometimes that people will throw up their hands in despair when so much beautiful farmland is being swallowed up by builders and corporations. It seems an uphill battle and it does a heart good to hear about places like this. Hope I can see it for myself in October !

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Dear Bonnie Rae, For the reasons you speak, I felt it important to shed light on a local endeavor determined to make a difference in the big scheme of things. Thank you for taking the time to write. Ann

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply to Laura Collins Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *