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
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
“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
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
“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
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.