Would-be farmers get chance to lease land on education farm

virginiaThe Fauquier Education Farm is offering four would-be farmers the chance to cultivate their own quarter-acre garden plot.

The education farm has been introducing would-be farmers and gardeners to professional farm practices since 2011, said Jim Hankins, FEF executive director. But this new leasing opportunity takes the program a step further.

“During the winter, we offer two different multi-week education courses. One is six weeks and one is eight weeks. Our workshop series are primarily geared to prospective farmers and serious gardeners. So this is a natural step,” Hankins said.

The FEF Incubator Program is taking applications until March 1, and preference will be given to former students of the Northern Virginia Beginning Farmer program and military veterans. The four selected for the program will enroll in a one-year lease, renewable up to three years. The first year is free, and there will be a $100 lease fee for the second two years. While the education farm relies on volunteer labor, each of the incubator farms will be managed by the four farmers.

“They are expected to try to market their crops,” Hankins said. “Business plans are a very important part of what they’re doing. We’ll ask first for the most basic level plan, and over the years they’re with us they’ll modify and improve them.

“Our hope is that by the time three years go by, they will be well-positioned to go into a lease agreement. A lot of landowners would love to have someone lease their property and farm it. But it’s a really tough proposition if you’re a rookie farmer.”

More details about the farm incubator program are available at beginningfarmers.org/small-farm-incubator-program-in-virginia/, and you can request an application form from Hankins at fauquieredfarm@gmail.com.

Located on part of an old dairy farm that was donated to the county, the Fauquier Education Farm is co-sponsored by the Fauquier County Farm Bureau, Virginia Cooperative Extension and a number of community partners. Last year the farm donated 60,867 pounds of fresh produce to area food banks.

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