Young woman riding tractor in field of hay

New paper scans programs for training a new generation of North American farmers

June 2018

Farmers play a critical role in food systems, rural economies, ecological sustainability, and the social fabric of communities. As farmers age, new farmers are needed to maintain the stability of the agricultural sector. Without skilled individuals willing and able to take up farming as a career, the future of domestic food production is in jeopardy. This has a range of environmental, social, and economic implications.

In a new JAFSCD viewpoint article, authors Laura Schreiner, Charles Z. Levkoe, and Theresa Schumilas present initial findings from an exploratory community-campus partnership research study that aimed to explore, document, and categorize existing and emergent models of practical farmer training in North America.

KEY FINDINGS
After reviewing practical farmer training programs across North America, the authors propose a typology of five categories:

  1. Informal farm internship associations
  2. Centralized internship programs
  3. Private, nonprofit course-based programs
  4. Formal academic programs
  5. Independent and self-directed learning

This typology can serve as a springboard to support future research—and to better support the development of new practical farmer training programs.

STUDY BACKGROUND
This research emerged out of a recognition of the limited information on practical training for new farmers. The research was guided by an advisory committee made up of farmers and farmer-led non-profit organizations that met regularly to discuss the design and implementation of the research and to evaluate and provide feedback on the findings. The intention of the study was to scan a diverse sample of farmer training programs in order to develop a preliminary typology for the benefit of academics, farmers, agriculture associations and non-profit organizations that hoped to develop a better understanding of the kinds of programs being run elsewhere. The analysis was conducted based on a thorough review of all the information collected to identify emergent patterns and create the categories. This analysis was led by the authors, and the research team verified the findings through reviews of various drafts of the proposed categories and conclusions.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR POLICY, PRACTICE AND RESEARCH

  • Given the strong interest encountered from farmers, researchers, and other practitioners, more research in this area is warranted.
  • A more complete census and further documentation and analysis of farmer training programs is needed, both within and beyond North America, to flesh out and evaluate the initial typology the authors developed.
  • A recurring census would help to assess the distribution of the five program categories and track changes over time.
  • Important topics for future research include:
    • prospective training models
    • connection between farmer training and formalized education
    • paths to becoming a farmer
    • funding and institutional support structures for all farmer training programs

Read the full article here: https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2018.082.012