Pocantico Hills, NY (December 7, 2012) — On December 12, the first day of its popular annual Young Farmers Conference, Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture will launch the Virtual Grange, an online hub for beginning farmers that will include a wide range of resources to help these farming entrepreneurs succeed.
The Virtual Grange is the first of its kind—a comprehensive online site where beginning, sustainability-minded farmers can find technical tutorials, learn about innovations in sustainable farming and connect with mentors and peers. It is by farmers and for farmers: while maintained by Stone Barns Center, with resources from its own farmers and apprentices, in time much of the site’s content will be contributed by the broader community of farmers.
“After working with beginning farmers for many years, we know that the Virtual Grange is an essential tool that’s been sorely lacking in the young-farmer space,” says Nena Johnson, director of Stone Barns Center’s Growing Farmers Initiative. “It’s designed to bring beginning farmers together to think creatively and solve some of the toughest problems facing agriculture today.”
Historically, far-flung American farmers gathered in the local grange hall to socialize, organize and share experiences. (“Grange” means farm, from the medieval Latin “granica,” or grain.) But as small farms disappeared over the past several decades, so too did these community meeting places. The Virtual Grange is a new type of grange hall for a new generation of farmers who embrace sustainable agriculture. While the average age of U.S. farmers today is 57, the average age of organic farmers is 34. Most did not grow up on farms and lack the practical and technical skills to help them succeed in their chosen field.
The Virtual Grange will launch during the 2012 Young Farmers Conference, the 5th annual meeting of beginning farmers hosted by Stone Barns Center. More than 250 young and beginning farmers from across the United States and Canada will gather in Pocantico Hills for the event, held December 12 – 14. This year, Adam Davidson, co-founder and co-host of Planet Money, a co-production of NPR and This American Life, and a New York Times columnist, will deliver the keynote address.
Over the course of three days, conference-goers will attend a range of 60 workshop offerings and network with peers and mentors, helping them build the community necessary to support their farm enterprises in the seasons to come. New in the 2012 conference lineup are a half-day pre-conference session on soil and biochar organized by Johannes Lehmann, of Cornell University’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences; and a Business Planning Track, a five-workshop series focused on establishing systems to promote efficiency and helping farmers find their market niche. Panel discussions will feature experts and leaders in farm-based education, the co-operative business model, agriculture and ethics, and new-farmer case studies.
Since 2008, demand for the beginning farmer education offered at the Young Farmers Conference has grown exponentially. This year’s conference sold out in 36 hours.
For more information on the Virtual Grange: virtualgrange.org
For more information on Stone Barns Center and the Young Farmers Conference: stonebarnscenter.org