Kansas Beginning Farmers Coalition invites beginning farmers and ranchers of all ages to the Kansas Beginning Farmer Day, Saturday, December 6 at Four Points by Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan, KS. The event is being held in conjunction with Kansas Farmers Union’s annual convention, December 4-5. More information on KFU’s convention can be found elsewhere in this issue of the Kansas Kontact or at www.kansasfarmersunion.org

The keynote speaker on Saturday is Cody Holmes of Norwood, MO. Cody grew up on a small dairy farm in south central Missouri. He bought his first seven dairy heifers, a 4-H project, at age 14. In 1975, at age 17, he left home, traded those dairy heifers, bought a farm, and never looked back. That project grew into the Rockin’ H Ranch, a diversified ranch, on-farm market, and agri-tourism business. The ranch has supported as many as 900 cow/calf pairs on 3,400 acres. Cody, his wife Dawnell, and their daughter Taylor raise seasonal produce and free-range chicken, pork, beef, lamb, turkey, eggs, cheese and milk without the use of antibiotics and chemicals.

Holmes has a business degree in accounting from Missouri State University, and uses that background to help ensure the financial success of the ranch. Cody’s passions are his animals, soil fertility, and leaving the land better than we found it. In fact, Dawnnell has to get away from the ranch from time to time to have a conversation that does not revolve around cattle, soil, or dung beetles. Cody is a proficient author of many articles published by magazines like Acres USA, Stockman Grassfarmer, and In Practice, the publication of Holistic Management International. He shares his thoughts through his www.holisticsystemsforstockmen.net blog Cody’s Corner group on Facebook, and has completed his much anticipated book, Ranching Full-Time on Three Hours a Day.

In 2000, the base business of the already established cow-calf operation began to change shape. Being a cowboy, Cody fought the idea for several years before adding the highly profitable and sustainable Katahdin sheep to the mix. Foraging pigs were soon also added, along with a growing herd of Jersey milk cows, and bug-chasing chickens and turkeys. A few years into this mix and browsing dairy goats were added, bringing raw goat milk and artisan cheeses to the mix, and then brought along a whopping herd of 1,200 Spanish meat goats to the farm. In 2009, they began Farm to Home Delivery through a few dropoffs after the farmers market season ended in the winter. Today, 100 customers in a 200-mile radius area buy meat, cheese, milk and produce weekly.

The Rockin’ H Ranch also offers internships and apprenticeships throughout the summer months each year. Internships offer young men and women the opportunity to live and work alongside the Holmes’ while gaining ranching and gardening experience. Apprentices will have the opportunity to learn every aspect of farm management for every enterprise on the ranch with Holistic Systems style of management.

Following Cody’s first session, the group will depart for GreenFin Gardens at 10:45 a.m. GreenFin Gardens is a pioneering aquaponic hatchery and farm in its fourth season of operation in Pottawatomie County, specializing in pure blue tilapia, bananas, and figs. According to their website, GreenFin Gardens has rapidly grown to become the largest producer of blue tilapia in the state, and one of the largest in all of North America

Along the way, GreenFin Gardens has developed some interesting experimental gardening systems. Some might say they’ve “gone a bit bananas,” but they’ll let you be the judge! For more information, check out their website: www.greenfingardens.com.
Following the tour, the group will return to the hotel for lunch, and Holmes will pick up where he left off in his first session, and wrap up with a question and answer session and final thoughts by 5:00 p.m.

During the morning session, Kansas state director for Rural Development at USDA, Patty Clark, will discuss Beginning Farmer Opportunities available through the agency. Kerri Ebert, director of Kansas Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) and director of Kansas Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Alternative Crops (KCSAAC), will present the different programs that her two groups can offer beginning farmers, including the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Grant for qualifying innovative projects. The SARE Program has many years of completed projects that farmers can review to help them research various ideas and make decisions.

Larry Biles, state forester for Kansas Forest Service, will address the audience about programs the Forest Service has to help farmers establish and benefit from trees. Many of their projects will allow farmers to participate in the conservation tree planting program to create windbreaks, protect riparian areas, and improve wildlife habitat. Larry’s staff of foresters can help producers better understand the improvements they might want to make on their farm, and help them make decisions.

Registration for the day, which covers the cost of lunch and the GreenFin Gardens tour, is $10 for beginning farmers and ranchers and $20 for all other registrants, thanks to a generous donation from Midwest Regional Insurance Agency. For those who would like to come to Manhattan the night before, or for those who would like to attend KFU’s convention December 4-5, hotel rooms are available for $75.00 a night. Please make reservations with the hotel at (785) 539-5311 by Wednesday, November 26, and ask for the Kansas Farmers Union block of rooms. Please fill out the enclosed registration form and return to KFU by Monday, December 1. For more information, and to register online, please go to www.kansasfarmersunion.com.

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