WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A group from Purdue University will learn more about best practices for small farms at one of the oldest organic farms in Pennsylvania so they can develop programs to help start such operations across Indiana.

The training in no-till organic systems, composting, soil health, nutrient management, integrating livestock in organic production and related topics will be May 12-15 at the Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pa.

The course, titled “Enhancing Environmental Protection through Organic Production,” will include field demonstrations and a three-decade comparison of organic and conventional grain cropping systems.

“This is premier training,” said Tamara Benjamin, sustainable agriculture and natural resources scientist in Purdue’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology who is organizing the trip. “There is demand for locally grown food as we’re more conscious as a society about where our food is coming from and how it is produced.

“The hope is that we can build a strong base of small farmers who can support each other. We also will be exploring how to incorporate these practices to improve conservation cropping systems across the state on all sizes of farms.”

Attending from Purdue will be seven Extension educators, an Extension specialist, a faculty member and a manager of the student-run farm. Representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Soil and Water Conservation Districts will also accompany the delegation.

The experience will enable the team to provide workshops for training other Extension educators, conservation partnership employees and farmers interested in organic farming and to set up demonstration plots at various sites across the state by next year.

The group will provide education and training not only for new farmers, but also for large-scale production agriculture farmers wanting to diversify by setting aside plots to grow fruits and vegetables. These farmers also are interested in conservation practices that organic farming systems, such as Rodale, have used for years.

The training also will be for people who have been engaged in small farms perhaps for many years, but need more education to improve their operations.

Benjamin, who was hired at Purdue to support new farmers and those wanting to diversify, said young people thinking about getting into farming also might be interested in the training and learn about adding value to their operations such as through agritourism and selling their produce at farmers markets.

“It is difficult for young people to get into large-scale production agriculture today because farmland prices have skyrocketed in recent years and because of the needed equipment, which also is very costly,” she said.

An option they have, Benjamin noted, is to start a small farm, which the USDA defines as consisting of no more than 180 acres. Such farms can be highly profitable, but on a smaller scale.

The training, planned specifically for the Indiana group, was funded by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and NRCS.