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Beginning program lends help

Low-cost farming methods are stressed

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

The Beginning Farmer Program traces its beginnings to the Wabasha County Give A Damns.

The grassroots farmers' group was concerned with people coming back to the community and saw a shortage of beginning farmers, said Karen Stettler, who coordinates the Beginning Farmer Program in southeastern Minnesota. They approached Land Stewardship Project for help and the program was born six years ago.

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The first year it focused on dairy production, Stettler said, but it's grown as people interested in all types of agriculture have enrolled and completed the class.

It's also spread across the state. The program is gearing up for its third session in southwestern Minnesota, said Amy Bacigalupo, who coordinates the program there.

"This program is for anyone who wants to get started, or re-started with their farm business," Bacigalupo said.

Participants learn low-cost, sustainable, farming methods, Stettler said. Of the 76 families who have completed the program, more than 60 percent are involved in farming.

Mark and Wendy Lange of Milan enrolled in the program last fall. They both work off-the-farm, but their goal is to have one off-farm income and a successful meat goat operation.

They bought their first meat goats in December and now have 26 does and three herd bucks, plus five goats to sell. They plan to market their meat to the Somalian, Muslim and Hispanic communities in the metropolitan area.

"It's a very popular meat for their holiday seasons," Wendy said.

They are also involved with the Pride of the Prairie group that markets locally grown food in western Minnesota.

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The idea of producing goats grew from the Beginning Farmer Program, she said. The program compelled them to explore different ways of farming and marketing.

"Everybody is so willing to help and offer advice," Wendy said.

They want to continue to be involved in the program and this fall and winter hope to sit in on some of the sessions.

"We want to stay really involved and try to give back a little bit," she said.

Farmer involvement is key to the success of the program, Bacigalupo said.

"It's a lot of farmer-to-farmer education," she said.

Farmers serve as presenters, mentors and field day hosts. Alumni, students and presenters also network, Stettler said.

Stettler and Bacigalupo said there is a need for the program.

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"I field many, many, many calls from people who are interested," Bacigalupo said.

"We've had very strong interest," Stettler said. "We definitely see a number of people are looking at farming as a viable option."

LSP is exploring options to expand the program. They've toyed with offering a course in the Twin Cities or northern Minnesota, Bacigalupo said. They're also searching for partners to help raise program awareness.

They're also searching for funding. A SARE grant and MISA grant were used to start the program, Stettler said, and grants are increasingly harder to find because the program isn't new.

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