Thursday, June 19, 2008

Specialty Crops Partnership with FFA

Higginsville Farmers' MarketAccording to Alice Roach at the University of Missouri, FFA members across the state are out for new ideas in agriculture. Brandon Fahrmeier is taking a new twist on the FFA experience. He was both an FFA member and advisor. Now as co-owner of Fahrmeier Farms, a produce farm in Lexington, Mo., Fahrmeier is partnering with FFA students to make Missouri’s specialty crops industry more competitive.

“We’ve had a steep learning curve in growing produce,” Fahrmeier said. “I feel like we need to give back to students who are interested in learning.”

A three-year, $208,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture facilitates the producer-FFA relationship. West-central Missouri is the program’s pilot area. Grant funds will help students purchase supplies for specialty crops projects and aid organizations, such as the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the MU Institute for Continental Climate Viticulture and Enology and the MU Center for Agroforestry, in preparing high school curriculum and workshops about specialty crops and marketing.

Specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, wine grapes and nuts. Their production provides an alternative for young people to participate in agriculture. Size and start-up costs for traditional farms have increased, which makes it harder for young people to compete in production agriculture. Fahrmeier started growing produce 12 years ago so he could keep producing on the farm his family has owned since 1947. With specialty crops, he said students can make a living on as few as two acres.

“It’s hard to encourage a high school student that there is a place for them in agriculture,” said Melisa Bertz, FFA adviser at Lafayette County High School in Higginsville, Mo. “With the specialty crops, we can find niche markets and still teach them how to work the land and give them value and meaning with what they’re doing.”

Six of Bertz’s students have specialty crops projects, such as growing sweet corn or working with Fahrmeier. Jessica Cole, a Lafayette County High School sophomore, will use grant money to raise about one acre of crops like tomatoes and potatoes. She’s looking forward to testing what varieties sell best at farmers’ markets in Higginsville and Warrensburg, Mo.

“I wanted to have different varieties,” Cole said. “People like to try something new.”

Support for specialty crops will increase communities’ access to locally produced foods and promote agritourism in the area. The Missouri Regional Cuisines Project, another organization involved with specialty crops, has designated west-central Missouri as the Old Trails Region. The project helps businesses collaboratively promote Missouri-produced products and helps tourists associate geographic regions with high-quality, distinctive products, such as Fahrmeier’s produce.

Fahrmeier has three grant-affiliated students working with him. They learn about producing crops in a “lab” that includes 11 acres of asparagus, 5.5 acres of tomatoes and greenhouses for growing tomatoes and raspberries. With their pay, students can buy produce at wholesale prices and resell it at farmers’ markets to earn a profit.

Fahrmeier wants the students to be business-savvy and experience the joy of producing.

“It’s rewarding to not only make money but also to see the reward when someone smiles and says that’s the best tomato they’ve ever had,” he said.

1 comment:

Bill Jones said...

We are so glad to see the dept. putting more efforts towards produce, farmers markets and getting youth into growing produce in Missouri. Keep up the great work!