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Mentors, interns sought for ASD's Farmer and Rancher program

Submitted by Sylvia Crum • Jun 21, 2020 at 5:52 PM

Appalachian Sustainable Development is recruiting both forest farming mentors and interns in the third year of the 200-hour, on-farm Farmer and Rancher Mentoring program. Northeast Tennessee or Southwest Virginia mentors, with at least three years of forest farming experience, and interns, preferably with at least one year of agriculture experience, are encouraged to apply.

Forest farming is the production of edible, medicinal and ornamental non-timber forest products (NTFPs), such as ginseng, pawpaws, shiitake mushrooms, maple syrup and woody florals, in the forest understory.

F.A.R.M. prepares aspiring and beginning farmers for successful careers in farming and food production by providing them with a hands-on, direct learning experience with farmer mentors willing to transfer practical knowledge. The program serves a diverse group of beginning farmers — youth, adults and military veterans, giving them opportunities to learn about careers in agriculture as well as attainable pathways to employment.

Jenni Roop, ASD’s regional coalition coordinator explains, “Our goal is to boost economic opportunities by creating a regional workforce of successful farmers. To meet the growing demand for local food, we need more food farmers. And we also need various kinds of farmers growing other crops. There is growing demand for Appalachian herbs from herbal supplement and cosmetic manufacturers. To meet that demand, we connect interns with forest farming mentors who sustainably grow and harvest herbs and other items from their land.”

F.A.R.M. was launched in 2018 as a three-year program in partnership with Appalachian RC&D Council and Rural Resources. Serving Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, F.A.R.M. is funded by a USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program grant.

“We feel the best way to prepare new farmers for success, no matter what they’re growing, is to pair them with experienced mentors, on working farms,” Roop said. “In 2018, four interns worked on four farms with mentors. In 2019, that number increased to 12 interns and 10 mentors. There is growing interest in products grown in Central Appalachia and a strong pool of a variety of mentors and interns are critical to this program’s future.”

Nationally known and respected for its commitment to local farmers, ASD is celebrating its 25th year in 2020. ASD’s mission is to transition Appalachia to a more resilient economy and a healthier population by supporting local agriculture, exploring new economic opportunities and connecting people to healthy food. ASD operates programs that create jobs in farming and agriculture and address food insecurity.

Since 1995, ASD has been working in 15 counties in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. ASD’s reach has since expanded to include partners in eastern West Virginia and Kentucky and southeast Ohio using six strategies to accomplish its work: education, increasing local food production, developing markets, increasing distribution of local agriculture products, engaging strategic partners, and researching/consulting and advising.

To learn more or to apply for the F.A.R.M. program, visit www.asdevelop.org/farm.

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