By Jen Miller
With lush green pastures and hillsides surrounding us, we approached the herd of beautiful Jersey cows. A few calves romped amidst the animals as they waited expectantly but calmly to be moved to fresh pasture. When the electric fence line was taken down, the cows immediately advanced, and we watched them start to graze anew. We could hear them enthusiastically starting to eat the sweet-tasting clover before moving on to the other species presented to them, not bothered in the least by 14 farm workers standing with them in their pasture. After discussing herd management, rotational grazing, identifying a diverse array of grass species, and learning how to test the sugar levels in the grasses, the group headed back down the hill to share a potluck dinner.
All of this occurred last Sunday at the Larson Farm in Wells as part of the Rutland-Bennington CRAFT program. CRAFT stands for the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT) and is a program that seeks to educate farm workers who are interested in becoming farmers themselves by providing a diversity of on-farm educational experiences throughout the season. The program was first organized in 1994 by a group of farms located in the Hudson Valley, Berkshires, and the Pioneer Valley. There are now over 15 different CRAFT groups scattered across the country. This year marks the fourth season for the Rutland-Bennington CRAFT group which is coordinated by a partnership between RAFFL and NOFA-VT.
Our CRAFT gatherings are held monthly from May to November on farms in Rutland and Bennington Counties. This year, 17 farm workers from 10 area farms are attending the series of seven gatherings the each include a farm tour, workshop, and potluck dinner. All participants receive a resource manual with in-depth information on each topic and a guide to Vermont’s network of new farmer services. Another benefit of CRAFT is that it provides an opportunity for participants to network with other farm workers and farmers in the region; in this year’s group, people have come to farm in Vermont from places as far away as Colorado, so the importance of social networking and learning from an accessible peer network cannot be undervalued.
The topics discussed over the course of the season are planned by the farmers and are as diverse as the home states of the participants. For instance, last month, at the first CRAFT meeting of the season, Bonnie and Oliver of Earth Sky Time Community Farm taught the group about their system of raising greenhouse plants in soil blocks, a practice that no other CRAFT host farm utilizes. Upcoming topics include composting, crop planning, winter greens production, marketing, and value-added apple products. By educating aspiring farmers about many different agricultural systems, CRAFT helps to ensure that they have a solid foundation from which to launch their own farm businesses and find their own place in the sustainable food system.
Jen Miller is RAFFL’s New Farmer Program Coordinator. She co-coordinates the Rutland-Bennington CRAFT program with Scout Proft (of Someday Farm and NOFA-VT). For more information on CRAFT, contact Jen at: email@example.com or 417-7096.