We are very excited to announce big news for McCollum Orchards! We have been selected for the Journeyperson program by the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New York (NOFA-NY). And, we have found not one but TWO great farm mentors willing to help us learn over the next year. We are honored that both Promised Land CSA, a 200-person CSA serving Buffalo, and Elderberry Pond Farm, an organic orchard/farm/restaurant/country store, located in the Finger Lakes region, have agreed to be farm mentors.
“What is this Journeyperson program?”, you might ask. It is not a rock band fan club, although Wheel in the Sky should be our theme song. The Journeyperson program is “part of a multi-state project to support farmers in their first few years of independent farming,” according to NOFA-NY. The program offers stipends for education, business planning and a farm mentorship for new farmers. It is in its pilot year and modeled after a highly successful long-running beginning farmer mentorship program run by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). We are one of only two New York farms selected to participate this year.
The business planning and educational stipends will be very useful - in fact we have already completed a Cornell class and NOFA workshop. But, the biggest draw for us is a the farm mentor component.
Setting up a relationship with a more experienced farmer will help us with reflective learning. It is also a HUGE testament to the generosity and openness of the farming community. We can't think of another industry where people are so welcoming and helpful to newcomers. Since we started this venture last year, we have been supported, encouraged, helped and advised by countless people and organizations - from Bree’s dad, a retired citrus farmer, to friendly neighbors who worked on the farm, and we have gained access to excellent agricultural resources through Cornell Beginning Farmers Project, Niagara County Farm Bureau and NOFA-NY. Through it all, the biggest idea is that nothing - no amount of book learning - can replace grower experience.
The mentors are willing to answer our questions on everything from land preparation and seeding through harvest and packaging. In April, we spent a few hours touring each farm. We saw how they have evolved and are continuing to learn. That is another amazing aspect of farming - it is never the same thing day-in-day-out - a farmer is always learning, trying new things and adapting. We look forward to learning more from these mentors, and we hope that having us as their attentive mentees is a good experience for them, too!
Joining this program means a lot to us. Our situation prevented us from taking the more traditional beginning farmer route and apprentice on other farms for years or learn farming growing up. We had to jump in with both feet. At times, it is overwhelming and easy to lose the orchard through the trees, so to speak. We just got to get out there and keep at it. We are so thankful that there has been a strong network that inspires us to keep progressing. Through the program, we get to connect to a larger group of beginning farmers and Journeypeople in the seven states in the Northeast.
Our vision of providing our community with healthy, organic, sustainable fruits, vegetables and hops AND a safe, fun place to connect with farming and history AND getting to preserve this lovely, special place for future generations will certainly be a journey longer than two years. Becoming Journeypeople make us feel like we are not out on a lone vision quest, but in the midst of a big farmer parade! So, that wheel in the sky can keep on turning, we plan to be right here tomorrow. Back at it.