Beginning Farmer Series Will Aim To Teach Skills, Help Increase Income
If Eddie Joe Maynard isn’t at his full-time job with the CSX Railroad he might be cutting grass or planting sweet corn, lettuce, or tomatoes on his 10- acre farm in Louisa. With the help of the folks at Grow Appalachia, a community garden-based food security program housed at Berea College, Maynard and his wife Alycia have been growing and selling organic produce for three years. “ I don’t think there’s really no better thing than walking through the garden with a salt shaker and a pocket knife and eating a big juicy tomato . There’s no comparison to it,” said Maynard.
The Maynards had been talking about doing some farming but had no experience. After Maynard’s physician told him eating more healthfully could help him turn a medical condition around the Maynards purchased land. Maynard reached out to Grow Appalachia for technical support. “I know it sounds crazy but I was lost in what time a year you start a seed or how you start it. They taught me a lot just about your seed process, starting your seeds, ” said Maynard.
Along with when to grow seeds, Maynard said people with Grow Appalachia taught him and his wife many things including, weed suppression, and irrigation. The 36-year-old said they also learned how to grow in a plastic-covered structure called a high tunnel where crops are grown in the soil. He is giving a virtual tour with a video his wife Alycia took of produce grown in the high tunnel. “The cabbage and broccoli there that was really beautiful. That was the first time we put that in a high tunnel. What blew my mind is how much food you can grow in a small space. You don’t have to have a 100 -acre farm to make a difference, ” said Maynard.
Last year Maynard said they grew 4,300 pounds of vegetables. He said they’ve doubled their profit- margin every year they’ve been growing. “Before we planted and did this high tunnel everybody said, you’re crazy, you’re never going to get anything to grow out there. I’m on a ridge top, it’s clay. And we’ve raised some of the best produce I’ve seen in a long time in this area. I’m not saying it’s better than anybody around. But it’s beautiful stuff. And we owe all of our success to Grow Appalachia for that,”said Maynard.
Farms like the Maynard’s inspired the people at Grow Appalachia to create a free series of classes tailored to new and beginning farmers in eastern Kentucky. The eight-month training and curriculum program in whole-farm planning and production practices is scheduled to begin in January. Participants will attend one, 4-hour class per month. There’s also an opportunity for field days and internships.
Mark Walden, production efficiency adviser with Grow Appalachia said the classes are designed to help educate new and beginning farmers around the concept of developing farm enterprises. Enterprises he said, include vegetable production, egg production, honey or maple syrup production and sometimes livestock. “The mission of this project is to help new and beginning farmers increase their on- farm income by up to 30 percent. That of course, will be different from producer to producer. The secondary mission would be to provide detailed education on enterprises that can and have worked. And to discourage enterprises that may be costly mistakes,” reported Walden.
Walden is one of the teachers. Topics include everything from business planning to harvesting and post -harvest handling.
Funding for the series is provided by a $500,000 grant from the U. S. Department of Agriculture according to associate director at Grow Appalachia, Candace Mullins. She said the program is also a great example of how agencies across Kentucky like the Organic Association of Kentucky and Kentucky Center of Ag and Rural Development can work together. People from these organizations will assist in presenting the curriculum. Mullins said the monthly classes are being held in four locations. (Berea College, Wolfe County Cooperative Extension Office, Clay County Cooperative Extension Office and Hindman Settlement School) “So it’s awesome to be able to work together on something like this. I’m really excited to see all the field days and the peer to peer mentoring that will happen from this series,”said Mullins.
Mullins calls Eddie Joe Maynard a smart farmer. She said he’s an example of how a little bit of grit and initiative can go a long way.
The Maynards are farm-to-table partners with a few organizations. They also donate produce to people in need. “If you put a scalpel in a surgeons hands , he’s going do some amazing things. But if you put it in my hands, it’s just a cutting tool to a guy with two first names. But when you take Grow Appalachia, they provided opportunity and the know -how. They combined that with somebody determined which is me. Then you’re talking you can do something,”said Maynard.
About 40 beginning farmers from several counties including Madison, Magoffin, and Letcher are scheduled to participate in the first round of classes in January. The program is expected to last three years with more opportunities for others to sign up.
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